I have a three year old daughter who, like nearly all kids this age, loves to learn. There are countless products out there that promise, and many surely deliver, important learning outcomes for an eager kid. As a new mom, I felt utterly overwhelmed by the choices before me in regards to items to buy. I felt pressured to buy and have the right gear. I fretted over buying the right food. I worried if I was preparing my child for school even though that was years away, and I am a seasoned classroom teacher for Heaven’s sake! Now that I have a few years of motherhood under my belt I have really tried to relax, both inwardly and outwardly, in regards to “preparing” my kids for the future.
Using a deck of cards was one way that I found that there are opportunities to teach kids all around us and they needn’t be expensive or purchased at a specialty store nor executed by an education professional.
I also have found that using a deck of cards is handy for those who don’t have kids. My friends and child care providers who don’t have kids (and thus untold numbers of toys at home) could use a deck of cards or simply apply the same mindset to any other learning opportunity. For example, I have only a faint idea of what the game “Dominoes” is about, but the next time I see a set at a yard sale I am snapping it up because I can imagine the fun matching, stacking, and sorting games we could play with the tiles.
Here are the “games” I play with my toddler that are educational and simple using a deck of cards. No, Texas Hold ‘Em won’t be on the list but as I mentioned, dear readers, we have lots of time ahead to prepare for the future.
I started out showing my daughter the different shapes on the cards. Diamonds and hearts were easy of course and the spade shape brought about the opportunity to talk about gardening tools like spades and shovels. The club is a lot like a clover, and now my girl uses both words to describe the club.
You might be unimpressed as a deck typically has only two colors. Most decks have a variety of colors present on the face cards and knowing the colors paired with the numbers and suits presents appropriate and additional challenge to the “game” of playing with cards. Being able to say, “A red, heart, 2!” is actually a lot of information for a toddler.
You can practice order number with just a handful of cards or the whole deck, depending on the age and ability of the toddler at hand. I started out by just pulling the 2,3,4 and 5 of one suit, “shuffling” them, and helping my toddler put them in number order. Build up to more number, add more suits, and practice in reverse order.
This isn’t quite a game, but I call it one and my daughter loves it. I give her the first two cards off the top and I get the next two. We look to see if any of the four cards showing match any of the others. Often they don’t. One of us draws a card from the deck. We see if that card matches the ones in our hands. Often they don’t. We take turns drawing cards (sometimes with me setting some aside if our hands get too full) until we draw a card that matches in number a card in our hand. Then there is lots of cheering because we found a match and that gets set on the table, face up. We repeat in this way, finding matches until we have four of everything or until she has tired of the game. As we find the third and fourth of each number, I can point out one that’s a heart, one that’s a spade, and so on. As I arrange the sets on the table, I try to arrange them in order so the aces and twos are on the left, and the face cards to the right.
My daughter named this Mix Up and the name stuck. She LOVES to mix the cards, face up, in a big mess on the table. Then, she draws whatever card she wants, and then looks for another like it either in suit, color, or number. It is kind of like a treasure hunt for her. I like to save “Mix Up” for the end of the card playing time because the mixing is more kinesthetic, and is more child-driven rather than Mommy-driven.
There are many variations you can feel confident in creating off of these activities. You don’t have to be a teacher, subscribe to a parenting magazine, or have your mother-in-law’s or neighbor’s or friend’s approval to create fun and free ways of teaching kids. What ways have you created learning opportunities for kids, Dear Reader? Tell me in the comment section below!