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No one really knows where playing cards and card games came from. Some say Eygpt. Others attribute them to the Spanish, the Moors, the Gypsies or the French. Wherever they originated they are far and away the most popularly played game in the world!
The modern deck of 52 with 4 suits of 13 probably was invented by the Spanish or Italians around the 15th century.
Many throughout history have objected to the use of cards, claiming they inspired all sorts of negative habits. But the truth of the matter is playing card games can teach math skills- counting, number order, addition, subtraction and of course probability. Cards help develop number recognition and memory, visual alertness, and quick responses too. They also are a lot of fun!
There are other kinds of cards as well. Old Maid, Go Fish and Memory are card decks that use pictures rather than regular numbered and lettered suits. Even very young children can play these games.
Children as young as 2 or 3 can play the game of Concentration. This is a game of memory. In fact you can buy the commercially marketed game called “Memory” designed with various picture or word themes. Or you can make your own on card stock. Use markers or crayons to create your own designs.
To play Concentration turn all cards face down and take turns flipping 2 over at a time in an effort to find a match. The game continues until all cards have been turned and matched. The person with the most cards at the end wins.
It is best to start with 12 or so cards when your preschooler is learning. You can then build up to 36 or so. This game activates memory and other intellectual skills, such as organizing and classifying information. You can play with as many people as will fit around the table or on the rug around the deck.
Your child will learn to win and lose gracefully playing games. Make it fun by celebrating each win, then quickly begin the next round. Make sure to shuffle the deck well each time.
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Older preschoolers and kids 5 to 9 can play the age old “Old Maid” game. The game can be played with a regular deck of cards, but this game now exists in other “man out” character themes. Or you can create your own around other themes, such as students and teacher, fruits and vegetable, jewels and stone, dogs and dog catcher and letters and number to name a few.
If you have never played Old Maid or some variation- you are in for a treat. The game relies solely on luck, so it’s hard to get mad if you lose. The object of the game is to match pairs and lay them down and leave one player with the Old Maid or other man-out card.
If you are playing with a traditional deck, take out the queen of clubs. Deal all the cards out. Each player examines their cards, matches any pairs (suit doesn’t matter, but face and number do), and lays down their matches face up. If you have 3 that match, you can only lay 2 of them down until you find the other match. If you have 4 the same, you can lay them down because that would equal 2 matches.
When everyone has discarded their pairs play can begin. Play goes to the left. All players hold cards up like a fan, facing in. The first player reaches over and takes a card from the player on his left. If it matches any of his cards, he lays down the match. If the card makes no match, he keeps it and play goes to the next player. Continue in this manner until all matches have been made. The person who ends up with the single queen is the Old Maid!
Another popular and fairly easy game is “War”. This game is best played with 2 people, but more can play. Kids only need to remember that the Ace beats the King, the King the Queen, the Queen the Jack and the Jack the ten. A higher number card beats a lower number.
To start, shuffle the deck and deal cards face down exactly equal. Straighten your face down deck and at the same time each player turns the top card of their pile face up. The player with the higher card wins that round and takes both cards and puts them on the bottom of their cards. Repeat by turning over tops cards over and collecting winning cards until 2 cards are turned over that are the same (again suit doesn’t matter). This means War! Lay the 2 matched cards next to each other. Each player then lays another card on it face down, then a third card face up. Whichever player deals the higher card then takes all 6 cards! If the third card matches your opponent’s, this is called Double War! This calls for laying 2 cards face down, then one card up. The winner takes all 12 cards! Play continues until one player has all the cards.
This game can take 20 minutes or more, so younger players may get impatient. Holding the younger child on your lap and playing as a team against another child or grownup might work well until your child has learned the game.
War also relies on luck rather than strategy. If you object to the name “War’, rename the game “High Card” or “Challenge”! This game is fun and kids can get really excited as the suspense builds during battling.
A childhood favorite is “Go Fish”. This simple game can be purchased or a regular deck can be used. Children’s decks will have colorful pairs of objects or characters that match. There is a certain amount of strategy in this game and it calls upon your memory as well as some luck!
The object is to make pairs, lay them down, and be the first one with no cards. The game can be played with up to 6 people.
The play goes like this: Cards are shuffled and the dealer, dealing to the left gives each player 7 cards. The rest of the cards go in the “pond” in the center of the table spread out, face down.
Before play begins, each player examines their cards and lays down any pairs they have face up. The player on the dealer’s left then asks the player to their left if they have one of the cards he needs to make a pair, for example, “Do you have any Jacks?” If the player does, they must surrender the card to the asking player. The player then can lay down the pair if he has made one. But if the player he asked a card from does not have a card, he says “Go Fish!”. The first player must then go to the pond and pick a card from the pile. If it matches any of his cards, he can lay down the card. If not, he must keep the card. Play continues in this way until someone has emptied their hand thus winning the game.
There are dozens of other card games and their variations suitable for children. Among them are Rummy, Slapjack, I Doubt It, Crazy Eights and of course Solitaire. Find a good website like those listed below in the Resource section, or explore the toy shop for commercial children’s card games.
Older kids can have hours of fun building a house of cards. Children 9 to 12 should have the motor skills, visual acuity and patience to build a structure using playing cards. Following directions, available in books and on the Internet, is a good way to start. Your older child may also enjoy learning a few card tricks to amaze their friends!
A few last words: When your child is learning, it is helpful to go through a few rounds of play with an open hand, explaining as you play. You can also have your child watch a few hands or buddy up with another player. Have patience when your child is learning. Once they get the hang of a game, they won’t need any help and won’t want any either! Usually children are so motivated to play that it doesn’t take very long for them to learn. So have some inexpensive and educational fun with cards!
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