A Child’s Future Is in the Cards

 

My family and I were enjoying a memorable dinner in the restored dining room of Montana’s historic Many Glacier Hotel. There were white linens, glittering chandeliers, and live piano music. I imagined what it must have looked like at this spot 100 years ago–the same, except all the men and ladies dressed up sumptuously for dinner instead of arrayed in their pricey, earth-toned hiking togs. My four-year-old niece at the head of table contributed to the steady conversation. We talked about my incomparable roast chicken, and my sister decided she’d go for the prime rib next time. My mother and I were persuaded to take a little wine.

Partway through the meal, my brother-in-law subtly directed our attention to a table behind us. There an elderly couple sat, like us, enjoying the food and pleasing atmosphere. They had a small child with them, too. Except there was a significant difference. The napkin-swathed child, enthroned on her booster chair, was engrossed in her electronic tablet, a tiny, self-absorbed, earphone-wearing island.

We were gobsmacked. Most of us, along with our children, would admit to having our own problems with today’s ubiquitous entertainment technologies. But what these grandparents were allowing deprived the child of having to sit politely at the table, of talking with her elders, and of simply having to live real life. Before I bring the full weight of judgement to bear, though, I do understand there could have been extenuating circumstances. But I see children’s public indulgence elsewhere, too–little kids with their heads down, absorbed in their devices even while in the act of walking into an establishment. I see on Facebook that tablets are commonly presented to children as Christmas gifts–even though it strikes me that a little child doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate that he or she is receiving the most sophisticated toy in the history of the world. Adults can make far more advantageous selections as gifts for the children in their lives.

Consider, for example, the lowly pack of cards. In contrast with a glowing device, the colorful, typically fifty-two item numbered pieces of cardboard can play a bigger role in your child’s development than you realize. First, cards foster community. While the thought leaders in education extol the benefits of more technology, there is almost nothing children need more than community. A card game brings a small circle of children together–sometimes with the added connection of an adult to explain the procedures first. The game proceeds with the players in one another’s focus, not just the cards. Kids have to talk to one another, solve problems and disputes, show the littlest ones how to better hide their hand, and agree upon special rules.

When I was seven, my siblings and I had a simple set of Memory cards we had punched out of a magazine. We played the little animal match activity over and over. We played so many times, in fact, that the pieces got dog-eared and I quickly realized that one could make rapid matches with the overturned cards by recognizing a particular bent corner here or rumple there. It doesn’t sound like much, but my sister and I, who fought frequently, were brought together over this set. My toddler brother, too, who was three and learning his basics, probably participated. He would have picked up turn-taking, procedural conversations, and animal names from this game.

And then, someone in the States sent us a pack of Uno cards. My family learned the simple rules together and played it during our quiet evenings, with popcorn. (My dad also taught us War and 52 Pickup, which made him chuckle and made me remember how many cards were at play.) The game created peaceful conversations about taking turns and following the game’s rules. Then we took the cards outside one day and sitting in a circle with three of our Thai friends, taught them to play. The numbers and colors were obvious, but we showed them what “Skip” and “Wild” were for, and when to say “Uno!” even though none of us were clear on what it meant. After that, we played many games of Uno with the neighbor kids, out there on our back patio.

Cards are also advantageous in that they spark children’s creativity. Once children get tired of one game, that deck speaks to them, challenges them to figure out new uses for those colors, numbers, and symbols. After many rounds of Uno, I took to thinking about that pile of cards. How there were number sets in them, several of the same number as well as sets going from zero to nine. First, Uno became giant matching game. We arranged the cards upside down in a large rectangle and got to work, taking turns trying to match sets of two. Next, we played Fish and stacked sets of four in front of our crossed legs, with a pleasingly large pile to “fish” from.

But I knew there had to be another game in there, one involving putting stacks of cards in numerical order. And there was. The cards were first distributed evenly among the players. Each player would keep his pile upside down, and make a decision with each flipped up single card placed on the floor. Would it go in her recycle pile, start a numbered stack (if it were a one or zero), or continue one of the numbered stacks in progress? Once each card from the stack in hand was flipped up, you’d pick up your recycle pile and start again. The game was to move rapidly, perhaps cards flipped simultaneously, and whoever got rid of all cards first was the winner. I remember playing this game by myself in the garage, when there was no one to share it with. I liked the process of card-sorting, and I got that satisfied feeling of having made something new.

Besides providing social connections and encouraging creativity, card games are an inexpensive source of academic enrichment. A contest with cards brings out all sorts of opportunities for children to focus on vocabulary, language, reading, listening, distinguishing and remembering details, numeracy, and more. Think back to that ragged Memory card set we owned. Participating in game play involved reading and comprehending the directions, articulating the rules to a younger child, using vocabulary involving exotic animals, focusing on relevant details, and studying placement of identical cards by means of rows and columns. A mundane game like Uno encouraged a small child to be conscious of colors and distinguish numbers. War and card-sorting enforced numeracy. As the child grows, increasingly complex games can be added to his repertoire, quite possibly giving him an academic edge.

A deck of cards comes with many advantages, but it truly defeats the flashy competition when it comes to price. A card game is a cheap way to say “I love you.” However, add to that the gift of your time in teaching the game to the child, along with your purposeful selection of a superior present, and you’ve made an investment that is priceless.

Remember: Give a kid a tablet, and he’ll play a game . . . give him some cards, and he’ll invent three. 

There are 17 comments.

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  1. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Beautiful.  Simply beautiful.  Your kids are so blessed :)

    • #1
  2. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Trink (View Comment):
    Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Your kids are so blessed :)

    Thank you, Trink.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I think Phase 10 may be the ultimate teaching game and deck of this kind. It is a game where each player has ten goals that they have to work through, some being number matches, others runs, others color matches. Players can each be working on different phases in the same hand. Both skill and luck are involved, too.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series, which in October is on Cards in every form. I still see four openings available on this schedule, if you have been reminded of something that you would like to write about or if you just like the idea of the challenge. Our sign-up sheet is here.

    • #3
  4. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Arahant (View Comment):
    I think Phase 10 may be the ultimate teaching game and deck of this kind. It is a game where each player has ten goals that they have to work through, some being number matches, others runs, others color matches. Players can each be working on different phases in the same hand. Both skill and luck are involved, too.

    My grandparents taught me this game a few years ago. I liked it, but at the same time I was not good at it.

    • #4
  5. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    I’ve been trying to generate a post for Group Writing, but your post surpasses what I planned to write. My theme was “cards will never be obsolete.” Doing a web search, I noticed that cards are still used in teaching. Here are a couple of links:

    Hands on activities are always great for the ESL classroom

    Substitution Game. Algebra

    My wife, a High School Math Teacher, is being pushed to use computers in the classroom. But, as you point out, computers are probably not optimal for younger students.

     

     

     

    • #5
  6. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Outstanding.  Thank you, Sawatdeeka.

    Too, tablets can never be a substitute for the tactile feel of the cards, that holding those seven or three or one (Uno!) cards and manipulating them into play has got to help the brain grow in order to participate in its environment.

    • #6
  7. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Outstanding. Thank you, Sawatdeeka.

    Too, tablets can never be a substitute for the tactile feel of the cards, that holding those seven or three or one (Uno!) cards and manipulating them into play has got to help the brain grow in order to participate in its environment.

    Exactly, mongo!

    • #7
  8. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Sawatdeeka, I share your horror at the poor families who think that peace is being unable to hear each other by immersing in the internet at dinner.

    My siblings and I played lots of board and card games as kids. My parents never had a television in our summer house, although we now have internet, so we have an especially strong tradition of playing cards and board games there.

    I remember one summer evening Uno game with my uncle, sisters, and cousins. We all ganged up on the uncle, handing him Draw 2s and Wild Draw 4s and Skips and Reverses galore. In exasperation, he eploded, “A pox on you and your ancestors!” We all began laughing at him. “You are our ancestor! You just poxed yourself!”

    A couple of years ago, all my parents’ grandchildren worked together to make “Schroon Lake Clue,” in which they made up the whole game, boards and cards and all. It’s great fun to play.

     

    • #8
  9. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    I’ve been trying to generate a post for Group Writing, but your post surpasses what I planned to write. My theme was “cards will never be obsolete.” Doing a web search, I noticed that cards are still used in teaching. Here are a couple of links:

     

    As a homeschool teacher, I find that cards, dice, and board games are great teaching tools.

    Monopoly is a great way to teach children to add quickly and well. Rolling the two dice and adding the values to figure out how far to move is a huge skill. In addition, while the student is playing, he realizes that the sides of the board are tens squares, so he learns to figure out how to use this to move his piece faster (I rolled a nine; I’m on the third square from the corner; I’ll move to the next block of squares to the one that’s two from the corner.)

    I don’t stop and “teach” the student, we just play the game.

    Also the money in Monopoly. So great. Double the rent, buy the houses, calculate 10% of your wealth (or $200, which is less?).

    I use “flash” cards for teaching the alphabet, phonemes, simple words, multiplication and division, states/capitals/birds/flowers, Latin vocabulary, catechism and apologetics, and probably several other things as well that I can’t think of right now.

    I’d be interested to hear your OP!

    • #9
  10. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    oops sorry mistaken comment

    • #10
  11. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Ah, if only my parents had allowed me to immerse myself in my tablet-like device at the kitchen table, instead of taking most of my meals in my room.

    • #11
  12. Pony Convertible Member
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    My mother played cards with us all the time.  Lots of fun memories.

    • #12
  13. barbara lydick Member
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I use “flash” cards for teaching the alphabet, phonemes, simple words, multiplication and division, states/capitals/birds/flowers, Latin vocabulary, catechism and apologetics, and probably several other things as well that I can’t think of right now.

    God bless you.  In an age when rote learning is considered passe – for many utterly stupid reasons – you have said no and employ this very valuable learning tool.  Later on, your students will have necessary information readily available to them while others will have to either have to look it up or not be able to count to three without removing a mitten.

    • #13
  14. barbara lydick Member
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    I have some friends who regularly played games with their children, a habit that continues to this day.  When visiting them there is so much fun and laughter when they pull out the cards or board games after dinner for a few hours of total enjoyment.  If any of their children are visiting, it is a given that this will happen.

    • #14
  15. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    In an age when rote learning is considered passe – for many utterly stupid reasons – you have said no and employ this very valuable learning tool.

    Thank you Barbara. I am so reactionary that I make my students do handwriting from kindergarten through fifth grade.

    In sixth grade, I gift them with their own calligraphy pens when they study that delightful craft.

    I also force them to learn the five-paragraph style essay. My son’s college religion professor just asked him to thank me for training him to write well after reading my son’s midterm essays. Yip yip! (Pat myself on the back and give myself a shiny gold star sticker)

    • #15
  16. barbara lydick Member
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    I am so reactionary that I make my students do handwriting from kindergarten through fifth grade.

    Another important skill jettisoned by the Education Cartel.  For centuries it has been known that learning cursive at a young age greatly helps to develop fine motor skills. But I guess those skills aren’t needed for computers and smart phones.

    BTW, how do they learn to sign their names these days – and send actual thank you notes for gifts by snail mail?

    I’ve tried my hand at  calligraphy and truly enjoy it.

    • #16
  17. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    Another important skill jettisoned by the Education Cartel. For centuries it has been known that learning cursive at a young age greatly helps to develop fine motor skills. But I guess those skills aren’t needed for computers and smart phones.

    I don’t have a smart phone, but I guess sending a text message on those small screens needs some fine motor skills, if you exclude autocorrect.

    But you and Mama Toad are still correct.

    • #17

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