Make learning math fun by playing cards

Learning is easier when you are having fun! Outside of the classroom, families playing together can help children learn and practice some foundations of math:

  • identifying which number is larger,
  • ordering numbers, and
  • adding and subtracting small numbers.

Here are some fun ways to support math skills using just a deck of cards!

Sort and order the cards

(Remove the face cards and jokers)

  • Have your child sort the cards into suits. Then have them put each suit in order from 1 (ace) to 10.
  • Shuffle the cards. Ask your child to put the suits in order from 10 to 1.

Variation: Have your child draw four cards from the deck and put them in order lowest to highest.

The card game War

(Remove the face cards and jokers. Or assign numerical values to these cards)

Largest number War

  • Deal all the cards out to all the players face down. (You might need to use two decks.)
  • Each player flips one card over to battle their opponent.
  • The larger number wins the battle and collects all the cards and puts them, face down, on the bottom of their stack.
  • If the numbers are the same, a war occurs.
  • Players place three cards face down and flip a fourth card face up to battle their opponent. The larger number wins all the cards.
  • The game stops when one player has no more cards to use.

Variation 1: Change the rules so that the smallest number wins.

Variation 2: Each player puts out 2 cards, and the player with the highest number out of the 4, wins all 4 cards.

Identifying which number is larger or smaller. “Which number is larger, six or four?” Answering this question helps children to understand that numbers are not only symbols but also represent a certain quantity that can be compared in size with other number symbols. This understanding gives them a toolbox for a host of more advanced math skills leading to addition and subtraction. 

Double/Triple digit War

  • Instead of flipping only one card face up, flip up two or three cards to create a two or three digit number that can be rearranged to create the largest two or three digit number possible.
  • The largest number wins the battle and all the cards.

Addition War

(Use the Count On method to help teach addition.)

  • Each player flips over two cards and calculates the answer using addition.
  • Each player announces their total. “Two plus seven equals nine.”
  • The player with the higher total takes all the cards.

Counting On is a beginning mental math strategy for addition.

    • Start with the biggest number and then count up from there. For example, to add 5+3, start with the “5” and then count up, “6,7,8.”
    • If your cards are a 6 of clubs and a 4 of hearts, say the number six and start counting. Touch each of the 4 hearts your card as you count 7, 8, 9, 10.

For a demonstration of Counting On check out MatholiaChannel on YouTube.

Children start using this Counting On strategy when they are able to conceptualize numbers. Your child might count everything if they cannot visualize what a number represents. They move from counting everything to Counting On. This addition strategy is a sign that your child is beginning to do mental math. They have to be able to “hold” a quantity in their mind and then add on to it.

Multiplication War

  • Each player flips over two cards and calculates the answer using multiplication.
  • Each player announces their total. “Three times seven equals twenty-one.”
  • The player with the higher total takes all the cards.

Nifty Fifty

The object is to come up with a math equation that has a sum or difference closest to the number 50.

  • Deal all the cards between all the players. (Use two decks for three players.)
  • Each player turns over four cards and makes a two digit + two digit number sentence or two digit – two digit number sentence that has solution is closest to 50.
  • The equation that is closest to 50 gets one point.
  • If you can create an equation that is exactly 50, it’s worth 2 points.
  • If both players have the same answer, no one gets a point. First player to five points is the winner!

During play, Aces are worth 1, and face cards and 10s are worth 0, other cards are face value. After the cards are used, they are put in a discard pile. Children can use paper and pencil to work out equations before deciding which one is closest to 50.

Make Ten Solitaire

Younger kids practice their math facts to 10.

  • Deal the cards into three rows of five face up, the rest are in a pile face down to the side.
  • If you can add two cards that equal the sum of 10, you collect the cards.
  • New cards are dealt into the holes that were left from the cards that were picked up.
  • Face cards (K, Q, J, 10) can only be picked up if you have a matching pair.
  • You win if you can pick up all the cards in the entire deck without getting stuck!

Hints from Development and Research in Early Math Education

Playing math games should be fun.

Children learn better when they are having a good time and when they aren’t worried about making mistakes. If your child makes a mistake, ask questions like: 

  • How did you get your answer?
  • Is there another way you can figure that out?
  • Do you want to try again?

Give your child time to think before they answer.

If your child is having a hard time answering and you’ve given them some time to think, here are some things you can say to help: 

  • How can we figure this out together?
  • Have you done something like this before?
  • Let’s see. How could we start?

Should I encourage my child to use her fingers when figuring out math problems?


The most recent results from psychology and neuroscience studies suggest that teachers and parents should be encouraging children to use their fingers to count.

See more at Reimagining School Readiness: A position paper with key findings


Development and Research in Early Math Education: 10 Family Card Games That Support Early Math Skills 

  • For families with pre-school to early elementary school children. Contains a useful guide to selecting the appropriate level game for your child and a downloadable game booklet.

MatholiaChannel – YouTube

3 Quick Math Games with Playing Cards by Nancy Jang 

Need more help with math? Visit Learn at Home for even more great resources, including:

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