Build your number skills with playing cards
Playing cards are so versatile and most of us have a set at home. Here are some simple games you can play with them to build number skills.
For these games, you will need to remove the face cards (Jack, King, Queen, Joker) from the pack. Aces become 1s.
1. Biggest Number Wins
Shuffle the pack and share the cards between the players. All the players take the first card from the top of their pile and place it on the table face up. The player with the biggest number on their card wins all the cards. The winner of the game is the person with the most cards (or all of the cards) at the end.
- You can also play 'smallest number wins'.
- For a challenge, each player draws two cards instead of just one. They must rearrange the cards to make the biggest number and win the round e.g. if you draw 4 and 9 it can be 49 or 94.
2. Go Fish
You've probably played Go Fish before, and may have your own version. It's great for practising number recognition and matching.
Deal the cards so that each player has five cards. Place the rest of the pack face down. The aim of the game is to make as many sets of the same number as possible (e.g. four 3s or four 9s). Everyone starts by looking at their cards. If they have a set of four, place it down as one point and collect four more cards from the pack.
Now Player One selects a number that they have in their hand. They ask another player (Player Two) to give them any cards of that number e.g. "Do you have any 2s?" If Player Two has any 2s, they have to hand them over, picking up cards from the pack to make 5 once more. If Player One wins some cards, they get another go and continue until a go fails.
However, if Player Two doesn't have any 2s, they say 'Go Fish!' and Player One has to take a card from the pack.
Carry on until all the cards are used up. Then count up the sets of four to find the winner.
- Play with pairs of cards instead of sets of 4 for a faster-scoring game.
- For more challenge: play for pairs that add to make 10. For example, if you have a 2 in your hand, go fishing for an 8 to make 10. Most pairs that make 10 win.
3. Mind Reading
Play with a buddy. The first player chooses a card at random and, without looking at it, holds it on their forehead, face out. They must now work out what their card is by asking their buddy questions. You might ask: is my number bigger than 3? Smaller than 7? Is it 2 + 2? Is it my age? Is it the number of toes on my foot? Try to work out the number with the fewest questions possible.
Variation: ask questions with yes or no answers only. Try to guess the colour or suit of the card, too (e.g. 3 of hearts, 6 of spades).
4. Counting on and basic facts
This is a simple way to practise counting on and basic facts. Split your pack of cards into two and place the bundles of cards side by side, face down. Turn over the top two cards. Add them together. You can do this by counting on or (as you start to remember them) the basic facts that you know (for example, you may know already that 3 + 1 = 4, so you don't need to count for this one). How may pairs of cards can you do?
Tips for counting on: remember, you don't need to count up from one. Pick the biggest number. Put that number in your head (tap your forehead and say the number), then count on from that number using your fingers or the dots on the card to help. For example, if you got 9 and 4 on your cards, put 9 in your head (it's the biggest number), say '9', then count up '10, 11, 12, 13'.
5. Builder's Paradise
This is a simple game that practises ordering numbers and also matching suits and colours. The aim of this game is to be first to lay down all your cards.
Pull out the number 6 cards from the pack and lay them in a row. Deal out the rest of the cards between the players. In round one, the players can build on to the 6 by adding 7s above or 5s below.
Players check their packs and lay down any 7s or 5s they have. Be sure to keep all cards of the same suit together in a column. If a player has no 6s or 8s, they pass that go. In the next round, players can add on 8s and 4s. Continue until one player has used up all their cards. They are the winner!
Ideally, you need two packs of cards for this.
Deal 16 cards to each player. They lay these out in a 4 by 4 grid.
The Bingo Caller takes the second pack of cards. Turning over the cards one at a time, they call out the number and suit (or number and colour, if you want to keep it simple). If a player has a matching card in their grid, they turn it over. Play for first to get a row or for Full House, when all cards are turned over.
7. Pairs or Pelmanism
This is an absorbing memory game to play alone or with a buddy.
Simply, lay out your cards in a grid, face down. Take turns to turn over two cards. If they match, you have a pair. Set the pair to one side: this is one point to you. If the cards don't match, just turn them back over again. Keep going until all the cards are used up. Count how many pairs you have made.
Tips: when you or your buddy turns over a card without making a pair, try to remember what the card is and where you can find it when you need it. Try to keep the cards in the grid formation as it makes it easier to remember where different numbers are.
Variations: pairs can be the same number or, slightly tricker, the same number and colour (e.g. two red 5s).
Did you know that playing Snap! is great subitising practice?
For two players, divide the pack into two equal piles and place them face down. Players take turn to turn over a card, laying them in piles side by side. The first person to spot two cards the same wins all the cards that have been turned over in that go. They add these to the bottom of their pack and carry on. The winner is the person with the most cards (or all the cards) at the end of the game.
Remember: agree between you what snap looks like in our game. You might decide that any two cards with the same number are snap. Or you might decide that they have to have the same colour, two e.g. two red 6s are snap, but not a red 6 and a black 6.