It’s All in the Cards: Working with Numerical Operations in One Game!


While I worked at a university to offer professional development to other teachers, my colleague and I offered a workshop on card games to help with computational skills.  We both explained that it is best to have the children understand the concepts first before doing these games, because if not, they would just be games and not supplementals for learning.  It should be fun and have a connection to meaning as well.  What is great about playing with cards is that, as parents, we do not need to have any set up time to do this.  It also gets us to do something as a family and gets us at the dinner table to interact.  It has great benefits too with siblings, having them play together.

I think many of us parents want to know how to help our child in “knowing the facts”, but sometimes the only resource we have is printing off worksheets from the internet.  What if you had a deck of cards, or number cards, at home that could do just that, help your child with numerical operations like addition, subtraction, and multiplication?  Well, you can 🙂

Have you ever played the card game “War”?  Well, it is much like that.


  • You need 1 deck of cards
  • Or number cards
  • Take out the Joker cards if you have a deck of playing cards and do not use the 0 card in the number cards (you can if you wish)
  • Ace cards count as a 1.  King, Queen, and Jack cards count as 10 (you may want to take these out at first as it may be confusing).
  • Each player (2 players at most) gets 7 cards each.
  • Count to three and each player puts out 1 card on the table, face up.
  • The first player who can subtract the cards (larger value-lesser value) gets the pair
  • The player with the most pairs, wins
  • To make this more with learning and helping to remember the answers, have the player say it aloud to get the pairs after the first run.
    • Example:  “10 minus 6 is 4”, or “10 times 4 is 40”.
    • Once the winner get the pair, have them both write out the equation, or written sentence of the math problem.
      • Example (1):  Ten minus six is four, or 10 minus 6 is 4 (written sentence of what they said verbally).
      • Example (2):  10-6=4 (written equation)
  • Note:  Have the players play this with just the cards for a few tries.  Then have them play one to two rounds with verbally saying the math problem and/or writing it down.  Make if fun first!  You might want to include some crackers or popcorn to use as tools to figure out the subtraction too!

Something To Think About:

At this moment, my son understands the concept of subtraction and counts with his fingers from time to time.  Counting with fingers is a strategy that helps the child with subtraction.  I tend to look up in the air to one corner to think about the subtraction because I am visualizing it in my head and that is a strategy.

There are a number of ways to think about subtraction whether you build a model, draw a picture, verbally explain your thinking, act it out, or write an equation on it to compute.  Sometimes we need blocks, fingers, or pictures to help us think about certain operations like subtraction, addition, and so forth.

Always remember that we can do this game as adults to help us strengthen our memory as well.  Doing this card game is never a reflection on our intelligence.  Regardless of where we are at in life with mathematics, from time to time, we need a bit of a mental warm up.  If stretching and warming up your muscles before exercising is recommended, then so should doing some mental exercises for math!  🙂  Enjoy and have fun!

copyright 2018 Christina Grossman. All Rights Reserved


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