Your preschool children may or may not be ready for cribbage, but there are many math games they can play with cards. A German physicist liked to say, "Whoever wants to understand much must play much." That is especially true for young children. For more ways to encourage children to think with math and learn by playing, see grandparentsteachtoo.org and podcasts at wnmufm.org "Learning Through the Seasons."
What to do
A regular deck of playing cards helps teach many math concepts that are part of national and state math requirements. Here are some quick and easy math activities you can spread out over many sittings since children have very short attention spans.
Start by sorting and separating the red cards and the black cards. Then sort by suits: spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. Make piles of face cards, aces, and jokers. Explain what you are doing together. Have a conversation about looking for something the cards have in common and what makes them different from other piles. Count the cards in each pile together.
Turn over a 3 and look in the toy bin for three toys. Show children how to count the symbols on the cards and count the three toys. Move one toy every time you say one number. This is called one to one correspondence. One number equals one object. Point out the numeral on the card and explain this is number 3 and means three things. Children can trace it. Can your children find three more of something in the toy bin or a kitchen drawer? Take cards outside, turn over a card, and take turns hunting for a certain number of sticks or taking a number of steps. Where do you end up after four cards? Pick some more cards. Who will travel the farthest?
While putting the cards away, put them in numerical order by recognizing the numerals or counting the symbols. Do this together. Young children often skip and double count.
What else can we do
To play Memory, separate the red and black cards. To start take out two 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s. Lay the cards out on the floor in several rows with the numbers face down. Take turns turning over two cards looking for pairs. If your cards match, take the cards. If they do not match, turn the card back over and it is the other person's turn. The purpose of this game is to remember what cards have been turned over and where they are placed. The person with the most cards wins. Add more cards as your children improve at this game. Older children can also add up, subtract, or multiply the matching pairs.