Updated: Mar 18
With the explosion of online games and gaming consoles the humble pack of cards is often overlooked as a toy for children. A pack of cards can be acquired for free, requires no electricity, is super easy to transport and can be played almost anywhere there is a scrap of flat surface. Card games are the prefect tool for teaching children hundreds of skills and lessons and I am going to show you some of these in this article.
Let’s start by looking at where the humble pack of playing cards came from.
With the explosion of online games and gaming consoles the humble pack of cards is often overlooked as a toy for children. A pack of cards can be acquired for free, requires no electricity, is super easy to transport and can be played almost anywhere there is a scrap of flat surface. Card games are the prefect tool for teaching children hundreds of skills and lessons and I am going to show you some of these in this article. The first written evidence of playing cards was in 1377 in the Latin manuscript of a German monk, Johannes, in a Swiss monastery. He mentions marked cards and several different games thAat could be played with them. In the 1400s playing cards and dice games involving gambling were often denounced in religious sermons.
Appearing in the 14th Century in Europe the 52 card deck had suits with swords, clubs, cups and coins while the Egyptian Mamluk deck had cups, coins, swords and polo-sticks. It was not until the early 15th century that the French redeveloped these icons for the four suits that we commonly use today, namely hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs. They also cemented the hierarchy of the King, Queen and Jack or Knave as the three highest cards. What set the French cards apart from their predecessors was the division of the 4 suits into 2 colours – back and red. Cards at this time were predominantly made using a German technique of wood-cutting and engraving copper to stamp many colours to make the cards aesthetically pleasing. By simplifying the cards to just 2 colours the symbols could be more easily seen and stencils were used to produce the cards at much greater speeds. The advent of the Gutenberg printing press in 1440 saw the whole process become efficient and less costly and cards became accessible to all levels of society not just the wealthy. In 1476 William Caxton returned to England from a printing internship in Cologne. He set up the first English printing shop near Westminster Cathedral and is credited to have printed many playing cards. As he took the French deck design across the channel he gave us the designs still used today on modern playing cards.
It was not until the 1850s that the New York Consolidated Card Company began printing the numbers into the top corner of the cards which they patented in 1875. Great for people who played poker and wanted to see their total without fanning out all their cards these newly numbered playing cards were not immediately popular at the time. It was, however, this final advancement in card printing and the later ability to plastic coat the cards that makes them perfect for so many games and lessons with young children. There are so many that I have in fact written an article on games you can play with cards to teach maths concepts.
So now we know where cards came from let’s see how we can use them to teach young children important life lessons.
In schools today there is as much emphasis placed on teaching content as there is on teaching each student. By this I mean that the act of helping shape a young child into the person we would like them to become is just as important as filling them with the information they need. We are all trying to build an adult who is kind, caring, considerate, knows how to share, works to preserver when there is a problem they need to solve, learns from their experiences and enjoys spending time with others. It is the simple act of playing cards that can teach so much of this to children. Let’s start by looking at the children’s card game Memory. Featured heavily on the Learn From Play site for its ability to assist children to improve their memory and engage with literacy content this card game is played by placing down a minimum of 6 cards face down. They must be 3 pairs of cards that are randomly in a rectangular shape. When playing in pairs or groups players take it in turn to flip 2 cards and if they are the same the player gets to keep this pair of cards. They keep turning pairs of cards until they flip 2 cards that are not a pair at which point the next player takes over as the card flipper.
By playing this card game in groups rather than individually children learn to take turns. They learn the need to place cards back where they found them and to be patient while someone else has a turn. Card games like Memory teach children that even if they know the answer they have to let others person have their turn, they need to remember where cards are so they can find a pair when it is their turn and they need to sit or stand while watching someone else instead of just doing things themselves. When the card game has finished they need to count their pairs of cards and they need to learn how to be a gracious loser when they do not win. This is so important that I have written an entire article on how important it is to teach children the art of losing.
At the same time as plying this card game children are also learning how to increase their memory so they can remember more cards. Similarly if you are using animals, colours, words or whatever else is the lesson of the game the cards themselves are being learnt and remembered. This could be building number identification, colour recognition, a foreign language or the names of common items.
What if? the card game were harder than just memory or snap though. What if the game were to also add an element of skill to the luck with something like 21 or Blackjack as it is also known. This is a brilliant game for teaching addition and subtraction skills. Players must be able to add the total of the cards in their hand, they must know how many points they have and how many more they need to make 21 or bust, they need to work out whether an Ace will be a 1 or an 11 based on the cards in their hands and the probability that the next card will be a card they need or, as there are 45 cards of value 9 or higher, will push them over the limit. This card game teaches children that there is more than just luck involved in life and we get to make choices about what we do with the cards we are dealt – literally. With older children this game can also be used as a gambling game to teach the negative side of gambling especially if the rules are skewed in the dealer’s favour and teaches skills inherent to card gam