Ideas and Tips for Playing Cards with Preschoolers

Now that we have mastered Uno (see my post: Playing Uno with a Preschooler), we have moved on to other, more “sophisticated” preschool card games. In fact, playing card games has become one of my favorite activities to do with my preschooler. Not only is it a fun bonding experience, but he somehow manages to learn something new every time we do it.

Advantages of Playing Card Games with Preschoolers:

  • Fun way to spend time together
  • Gives my preschooler the opportunity to practice; colors, numbers, matching, etc.
  • Expands his vocabulary to include card-related words like shuffling, dealing, hand, etc.
  • Provides a fun way to practice following instructions and remembering rules.
  • Helps my preschooler work on his fine motor skills. (Holding cards can be tough for a four year-old, and don’t get me started on shuffling.)
  • Great way to encourage good sportsmanship.

Tips for Playing Card Games with Preschoolers

Don’t Let Your Preschooler Win All of the Time
I was 18 years old before I finally beat my father in Chess. This was pretty tough on my chess-related self-esteem, but it made me a much better chess player. Now that I have my own child, I have decided to take a more flexible approach. I don’t want him to have a false sense of self-esteem, but I also don’t want him to get discouraged. The object of playing games is to have fun (and learn something). So, if he doesn’t want to play because he always loses, there isn’t much point.

My general rule of thumb for card games is this…Let him win the first couple of times we play, just so he can get his bearings. Then, make him lose so that he doesn’t get a big head. After that, I kind of play it by ear, making sure that he wins enough to stay interested and loses enough to keep from getting cocky.

The good thing about preschool card games is that a lot of them really aren’t based on skill. Of course, there are things that more experienced players can do to tip the odds in their favor. For example, in Uno, you try not to play a wild card unless you have to. In Go Fish!, you can pay attention to what your opponent has asked you for in the past. Etc. and so on. But, often they are largely based on luck. In other words, once he really understands a game, there is a roughly 50/50 chance that he will win.

No Cheating Allowed!
I am happy that Edison has not mastered cheating. This isn’t to say that he hasn’t tried…He just hasn’t mastered it yet. So, I  have had a few great opportunities to catch him in the act and call him out on it. It might be something small, like sneaking a peek at the next card in his stack in Slap Jack. But, “Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eaters” are not allowed to play.

Play Cards with Your Preschooler Often
It is so easy to pull out a deck of cards and play a quick game. We do it while Daddy finishes up making dinner or we have a few minutes before we need to leave for school. The more we play, the more fun it is.

Teach Your Preschooler How to Win and Lose Gracefully
After every game, regardless of who wins or loses, we always shake hands and say, “Good Game”. Sometimes, he is frowning pathetically as he does it. Sometimes, he is bouncing around so excitedly that he can hardly take my hand.There are also times while we are playing that I have to remind him not to gloat about winning or whine about having to pick up the pile, but that is why we practice.

Take Cards When You Travel with Your Preschooler
Card games travel very well, and they are great to whip out at the doctor’s office, restaurant, or hotel. I have started keeping one in my purse for emergencies.

Great Preschool Card Games

Go Fish!
(Find out more or buy through Amazon…)

This is a good card game to practice matching, sorting, and counting. Like any preschooler, my son’s favorite part is yelling, “Go Fish!” The only problem is that it is hard for him to hold the cards in his hands, so he spreads them out on the ground behind him. Yes…I occasionally sneak a peak, but that is just to make sure that he’s following the rules. I can also give him hints about strategy like, “You just asked if I had any red fish. Ask for something different.”


Slap Jack
(Find out more or buy through Amazon…)

Slap Jack is my preschooler’s favorite, probably because it is so kinetic. Every time a Jack pops up, he get’s to slam his hand down on it. He laughs every time, whether he wins the pile or not. Another reason he likes it (I am embarrassed to say) is because we are fairly even, skill-wise. When we sit down to play, it really is anyone’s game. Even Dad isn’t winning quite as often as he used to. This kid is quick!


(Find out more or buy through Amazon…)

Anyone who read, Playing UNO with a Preschooler knows that I love playing this with my son. It is such a fun way to practice counting, matching, colors, fine-motor skills, and following directions. Although we started with a dumbed-down version (no numbers over 5, no wilds, no draw 2’s or other special cards), we are finally using all the cards. This one is great for trips because everyone knows how to play it and there is enough strategy to keep grown-up minds from going numb.


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