Using Playing Cards to Support School at Home

Posted by Carly Morgan on

Disclaimer: we use Bicycle playing cards in this post. We were sent free playing cards for the purpose of sharing them with you. All of the thoughts below are my own.

Hello, August! It's been a long, wild, weird summer and I hope you're all doing well. Here in the Morgan household, we're staring down the strangest school year we've ever faced. Our kids will eventually go back to their school (I hope!) but we'll be distance learning for the foreseeable future which means Kyle and I are getting more hands-on with their education than we usually are.

If you've been reading Ever Clever Mom for a while, you know that I've looked at homeschooling for a long time. We've done summer lessons, after school lessons, and special family night lessons but I've never actually made the jump to homeschooling. Even now, we're depending on our local school for the kids' curriculum and materials BUT we are a lot closer to homeschool than we've ever been and I know it's time to really get organized and figure out how to make this all work for our family.

Option 1: only use what the school gives us and hope that the kids are occupied enough and that they don't need additional support.

Option 2: spend lots of money on educational toys and outside programs to make sure all of our school bases are covered even if they aren't in the school building this year.

Option 3: follow the school program but supplement with inexpensive and/or free resources so they get a solid education without killing a family budget that has already been a little stretched by COVID-19.

We're going with option three.

I've spent a ton of money on educational toys and resources over the last ten years and at the end of the day most of them were only used once or twice for a lesson and then we've had to store them, donate them, or try to resell them. I much prefer getting creative with things that we have around the house, which is why I wanted to show you some things you can do with Bicycle playing cards to support learning at home.

10 Quick Ideas for Using Playing Cards to Support School at Home

*** NOTE: for many of these activities, life might be a bit easier if you remove the face cards.

1 /// Add 'em up. Play any card game that requires adding cards together to reach a certain number (like Blackjack).

2 /// Play War. For little kids, the classic card game "War" will help them get used to the concept of higher (bigger) and lower (smaller) numbers. For older kids, play Multiplication War. It's the same as War, but instead of seeing who has the highest card, the first person to correctly say the product of the two cards multiplied together gets to keep both cards.

3 /// Sequence the cards and learn the shapes. Early learners can put the cards in numerical order, sort them by color, sort them by suit, and use them to make patterns.

4 /// Build a big number. Practice place value by lining a series of cards up and turning them into a number. For example, four cards will give you a number in the thousands. Five cards gives you a number in the ten-thousands. And so on. To make it harder, build two numbers and then either add them or subtract the smaller from the larger.

5 /// Add up to one hundred. Using a deck per student, flip the cards over and add the numbers together to try to reach one hundred. The first kid to get there wins. You can also practice subtraction by going the other way.

6 /// Build math problems. Use the cards to do speed drills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, or graphing fractions. Having a dry-erase board makes this a lot easier because you can just pop new cards in to build a new math problem.

7 /// Use playing cards as number flashcards. For little kids, have them say the number or count out the right number of some math manipulative (loose dried beans, counting bears, LEGO blocks, pennies, etc.) to match the card you just pulled up. For older kids, have them add/subtract/multiply with each number you pull until the number gets too big to work with. To keep the game going longer, you can alternate adding and subtracting (although you might have to get into negative numbers).

8 /// Play Hit the Target. Flip over a card to set the "target number" and then split the deck. Kids flip cards over and have to add, subtract, multiply, and divide by each number they flip over to try to hit the target number.

9 /// Compare fractions. Have each kid pull two cards. The smaller number is the numerator and the larger number is the denominator. Compare fractions and have them figure out which one is the biggest. The biggest fraction takes the cards.

10 /// Teach your kids solitaire. In addition to being the basis for my favorite card game ever (Nertz!), solitaire is a great way to get your kids thinking strategically. There are different versions of solitaire and different ways to make it more challenging, but both of my kids are still playing the classic version. This is also a great go-to when I have one kid who finishes their work quickly and they need to wait until I'm free to help them before they can move on. A game of solitaire keeps them from bugging the sibling who is still catching up.

BONUS: try your hand at making card houses, but only if you have a lot of patience! If nothing else, this will keep your kids busy for a minute.

Back to school shopping might seem a little strange now, especially if you aren't heading back to a physical school building. For us, having new clothes and new school supplies is part of the ritual of going back to school so I'm doing a funny twist on all that by buying the kids new pajamas (for lounging around and studying at home) and backpacks filled with things we'll be using at home to support their learning.

This includes the traditional bottles of glue and boxes of crayons, but I'm also throwing in some fun extras that they wouldn't normally be taking to school (crazy water bottles, glitter pens, binoculars). I'm hoping we can keep the focus on all the creative things we get to do instead of thinking about the traditional things the kids are missing by having everything disrupted.

As you're thinking about buying school supplies this year, I'd strongly suggest getting some packs of playing cards. They're inexpensive and they come in lots of different designs so you can tailor them to your kids' interests. Calvin loves these astroid playing cards (even though I don't know who thought of putting those two things together?) and Eva likes the more decorative ones.

If you learn to play Nertz as a family (and you SHOULD!), everyone needs a distinct set of playing cards so getting personalized ones means you'll be ready. If you're looking for other game ideas, head to the Bicycle website or check out their app for play instructions.

Here's to making the best of the 2020-21 school year, whatever it looks like where you are. This will definitely be one to remember and if my kids mostly remember playing card games in their pajamas to practice their multiplication, that's fine by me!