Early Math Card Games

Playing math games is a great way to build math skills and make math learning fun. What’s even better, though, is that math games have other benefits as well. Children learn important collaboration skills as they take turns and play fair, and the act of sitting down together strengthens parent-child relationships.

In this post, you’ll find five easy card games you can play to support your child’s math skills over the summer. All you need is a standard deck of cards! Before we get into the games, here are a few general tips while playing:

  • Make it visual. Encourage your child to use tools if they need help. This means using their fingers, counting the suits on the card, drawing it out, or using other manipulatives, such as cubes.
  • Avoid making speed an element of the game. While this may be tempting, focus on helping your child build understanding of numbers and their relationships.
  • Ask questions. Have your child explain their thinking. This builds important vocabulary and helps solidify understanding. Additionally, ask questions to guide your child’s thinking avoid instead of “helping” them by telling them what to do next.
  • Discuss multiple strategies. Help your child see that math is flexible and there is more than one right answer!
  • Embrace mistakes. Making mistakes is an essential part of the learning process. If your child gets something wrong, celebrate the fact that they’re learning and encourage them to try again.

Face Off

Ages: 3+ Players: 2-4

Target Math Skill: Recognizing numerals, comparing numbers

Setup: For ages 3-5, use the aces and cards 2-5. For ages 5+, take out the face cards and use the rest of the deck. Shuffle the deck and deal equal cards to each player. Players keep their pile face down.

Play: Players say, “1, 2, 3, Face off!” and turn over the top card in their pile. The player with the highest card takes all of the cards and puts them in their winning pile. Repeat until players have no cards left. The player with the most cards in their wining pile wins!

Ask while Playing: How do you know which card is greater?

Ready for more? Have players turn over two cards instead of one, and add them together. The player with the highest sum wins that round.

Walk the Line

Ages: 3+ Players: 2-4

Target Math Skill: comparing numbers, connecting numerals (number symbols) to the number-word sequence (“one, “two,” “three”)

Setup: For ages 3-5, use the aces and cards 2-5. For ages 5+, take out the face cards and use the rest of the deck. Shuffle the deck and give an equal number to each player.

Play: Players try to make a line of cards from 1-5 (ages 3-4) or 1-10 (ages 5+). Players take turns turning over the top card in their pile and placing it in the correct space in order from 1-10 (ace is 1). If that number has already been placed, they place their card on top of that card. The player who places the last card in the number line wins!

Ask while Playing: Is your card larger or smaller than (number)? What is one more/one less than (number)?

Make 10

Ages: 5+ Players: 1-4

Target Math Skill: Understanding ten, finding different ways to make ten

Setup: Take out the face cards. Shuffle the deck and lay out 9 cards in a 3×3 grid, face up.

Play: Players take turns finding cards that make 10. Ace counts as one, and players can use as many cards as they want. After each turn, add cards to the 3×3 grid. The game ends when all of the cards are gone and there are no more cards that make ten. The player with the most cards wins!

Ask while Playing: How do you know those cards make ten?

Go Fish for 10

Ages: 5+ Players: 2-5

Target Math Skill: Understanding ten, finding numbers that make ten

Setup: Take out the face cards. Shuffle the deck and deal out 5 cards to each player. Place the rest of the deck in a random pile face down in the middle (the “ocean”).

Play: The goal is to get cards that make 10. Players take turns asking another player for a specific number card: Player A asks Player B, “Do you have a 5?” If Player B has a card with the number, they have to hand it over. If they don’t, they say, “Go fish” and Player A draws a card from the center pile. If Player A gets the card
they are fishing for, they get to go again. When a player has a set of cards that make 10, they place them face up in front of them. The game ends when a player runs out of cards or there no cards left in the pool.

Notes: A ten card counts as a “set of ten.” If a player is dealt a set of ten, they can use those cards to make ten.

Addition I Spy

Ages: 5+ Players: 2

Target Math Skill: adding, finding multiple ways to make the same sum

Setup: For ages 5-6, use the aces and cards 2-5. For ages 7+, take out the face cards and use the rest of the deck. Shuffle the deck and lay out 9 cards in a 3 x 3 grid.

Play: Player 1 challenges Player 2 to find two cards next to each other, either vertically or horizontally, that add together to make a number by saying, “I spy two cards with a sum of 8.” Player 2 picks up all of the pairs of cards that add together to make the sum. If Player 2 misses any pairs, then Player 1 may claim them. Add cards to the board to replace the taken pairs. Players swap roles and continue until there are no cards left. The winner is the player with the most cards at the end of the game.

Ready for More? Try using a 3×4 grid or a 4×5 grid!

Take Action

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