Math Facts + a Deck of Cards = Fun Math Games!
We homeschool parents are always looking for some fun ways to mix things up and help make those math facts stick. In fact, we often spend a small fortune each year buying new curriculum or the hot new math game we think will benefit our kids. And if you’re anything like me, they end up collecting dust on your shelves.
What’s a mom to do? We need fun activities for the kids that help them learn without breaking the bank. Even better, we need activities that use what we already have in a new and creative way. Enter: playing cards. Remove the face cards, and you have a set of math games waiting to happen! The best part? Each game can be customized to meet your child’s needs!
5 Math Games You Can Play with a Deck of Cards
I’m going to share with you five math games you can play using the deck of cards you probably already have. It doesn’t even matter if some of the cards are missing! These games can take your child through all of their elementary learning and provide a lot of review and extension for your middle school kiddos, too. From the early skill of making ten all the way to using exponents and roots, these math games can add some fun to your family’s learning time.
Play these Math Games a Variety of Ways to Learn Math Facts
All of these math games can be played in several ways.
- Individually: Every game can be played by just one player. Players can try to beat the clock or their last high score.
- Collaboratively: Players are on the same team, working together to solve the math problems. This is good for learning new games.
- Collaboratively: Players compete against the clock, working together to solve as many problems as possible within a specified time. This is a good option if a child is shaky on their facts or becomes easily discouraged in competition.
- Competition: Player v. player. Players take turns trying to earn points. This provides competition but removes the stress of racing against each other.
- Competition: Player v. Player. Players work at the same time, trying to eliminate all of their cards before their opponent does. Alternately, the first person to call out the correct answer wins that round/point.
Regardless of what way you play, players should always announce the operations they’re using so the other can confirm their math is accurate.
Setting Up the Math Games
There are two main ways in which we’ll set up the cards for our math games. The Simple Setup will be used for
Here is a video modeling each math game.
Now for the games, ordered according to their complexity.
How to Play the 5 Fun Math Games
In this simple addition game, players try to make 10 with their cards. Because children playing this game are typically younger, the parent will usually handle all setup and the adding of new cards. Use the “Simplified Setup” for this game.
Object: Play as many cards as you can using two (or possibly more) to make ten.
- Lay five cards in front of each player.
- Lay three cards face up between players (or in front of the player if only setting up one hand).
- Players try to make 10 with one card from their five and one of the discard pile cards.
- Players should always have five cards in front of them until less than five cards remain. As cards are played, refill their spot with a card from the draw pile.
WAR with a Twist
This two player math game is super easy to play, and you can use as many variations as you’d like!
Object: Correctly solve the problem first to collect the cards. Player with the most cards at the end, wins!
- Split the deck between two people.
- Each person throws down a card.
- Add, subtract, multiply, or divide the numbers depending on whatever your child happens to be learning in math.
- For division, players can make fractions (and take it a step further by reducing them to simplest form).
If your child is working with negative numbers, red cards can be negative while black are positive. This can get confusing, so be sure to establish a position one and position two! Also, I’d recommend that you stick to only one sign at a time. For example, go through the whole deck with addition, then tackle subtraction, etc.
It’s best to play this game in rounds. For example, round 1: go through the entire deck with addition; round 2, entire deck with subtraction, etc.
To avoid confusion when subtracting with negative numbers or dividing, be sure to establish a position one and position two so the minuend/subtrahend or numerator/denominator are consistent.
Evens and Odds
This math game helps your kids identify even and odd numbers more fluidly.
Object: Find more even or odd numbers than your opponent (or find 10 of each, beat the clock, etc.).
Players each get a designation: evens or odds.
Set up cards using the Simplified or Spit Setup depending on preference.
The even player should attempt to make even numbers with their cards and the discard pile cards, while the odd player tries to make odds.
Spit (or Solitaire)
This game is a lot of fun, but a little more complicated to set up. Play this individually or with a partner, working together or competing against each other.
Object: Using any operation you can (including multiple operations at once to play more cards), be the first to play your whole hand.
- Divide the deck in half. Give half to each player.
- Using the Spit Setup (see video and/or image for help), lay five cards in front of you in a row as follows:
- First Card- face up.
- Next four cards- face down.
- Place a card face up on the first face down card, then three more face down cards, one on each remaining pile. You will now have five piles as follows:
- Position 1- 1 card, face up
- Position 2- 2 cards, top face up, other face down.
- Position 3- 2 cards, both face down
- Position 4- 2 cards, both face down
- Position 5- 2 cards, both face down
- Repeat beginning with pile three, one card face up, then a face down card on piles four and five.
- Continue with remaining piles. You will end up with piles as follows:
- Position 1- 1 card, face up
- Position 2- 2 cards, top face up, other face down.
- Position 3- 3 cards, top face up, others face down
- Position 4- 4 cards, top face up, others face down
- Position 5- 5 cards, top face up, others face down
- Place the remaining cards in the middle to form a draw pile.
- Players try to get rid of all the cards in all five of their piles. There should always be five cards face up at a time until less than five cards remain. So, when a card gets played, the card beneath it should be flipped over or moved from a different pile into the open position. Additionally, a card can be slid into position one so that there are always five piles.
- Players get rid of cards by “making” the number on the discard pile using addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.
- If neither player has a move to make, flip over another card from the draw pile.
For older children, use multiple cards to capture multiple operations.
Card colors can also be used to denote positive (black) and negative (red) numbers. For this variation, it may be better to set up seven piles rather than five.
This game is again, very simple to set up and understand. However, it can be quite challenging to execute! It will require solid knowledge of all four operations- addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You can even use exponents and square roots if you’d like.
Object: Make 24 using any combination of operations you can.
- Shuffle cards.
- Lay top four cards in a row. You may lay up to 16 cards in four rows, so you have four columns and four rows of four cards each.
- Using a string of operations, try to make 24.
- When someone figures it out, clear those cards and lay out four new ones. If competing, the player who first figures out how to make 24 keeps those cards. The player with the most cards at the end wins!
A Few Last Thoughts about Math Games
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I don’t know about you, but I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we must plow through the math textbook. I get caught up in worrying that I won’t get through all the content I “need” to- even though deep down I know that the most important thing is that my child really understands and retains what I teach him. As I often remind myself, teaching isn’t teaching unless someone is actually learning. Otherwise, all I did was present some information. These math games can be a great way to slow down and focus on retention. Additionally, occasionally spending a day playing math games instead of doing book work can be a great way to break up some monotony while brushing up on important skills.
Hopefully, this has shown you that there are a lot of options when it comes to using playing cards to play some fun math games! My hope is that these games provide you with some fun ways to sharpen your child’s math fact retention without needing to spend a dime! But, if you don’t have playing cards, these waterproof cards are great! Alternatively, Dutch Blitz cards can also be used (and it’s a really fun game to own!).
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