When my daughter was small, I earned quite a few red badges of Crayola courage doing finger paints. There wasn’t a bottle of paint my daughter wouldn’t wear, washable or not. So I quickly learned to exile drip-dry projects to other venues, preferably nursery school, and went looking for neater activities for home. I found a wonderful antidote to anarchy in card-playing: The games are simple enough for the preschool set, and entertaining enough to keep many a toddler’s tush in the chair. And you needn’t invest in specialty decks. All you need do is dig up that dog-eared deck of cards (I have one bearing the Pan Am logo -- remember them?) and count to 52.
Here are some simple games and strategies for making play easy:
Start with games that require no independent knowledge of suits or rank. War is an excellent choice here. To begin, deal the cards out so you each receive 26. For ease of play, the child may leave his stack on the table before him and merely draw off the top of the pile. Each player turns up a card. The higher card wins. The fun begins whenever the cards match. The matching pair remains in the center and each player adds three cards face down, by saying the words, “I declare war!” The fourth card goes face up and the highest card wins all eight. With each flip of the card, you get to call the winner so the child needn’t know a thing about cards to start playing.
Steal the Old Man’s Bundle
Small hands need small stacks. Select games that require a player to hold only a few cards (no more than four) in her hands at one time. Steal the Old Man’s Bundle is one such game. In it, players are dealt four cards and must try to match their cards to other cards laid face up in the center of the table. Matched cards are collected in a “bundle” in front of each player. If a player matches the top card on an opponent’s bundle, she gets to “steal” the opponent’s bundle, something every youngster will love to do.
Play memory games to help the kids learn the names of the suits and ranks. A simple game of Concentration works wonders, and you can limit the cards played so as not to overload anyone’s neural capacity. I begin with the picture cards and make the matches straightforward: king matches king; queen matches queen; and so on. As a special challenge, ask your grandchild to match the one-eyed jacks and the two-eyed jacks. That’ll keep most kids busy for at least a few minutes.
Old Maid/Go Fish
Once a child can identify cards by name (even if he doesn’t understand suits or ranking), you can introduce games such as Old Maid and Go Fish. Since both games involve holding stacks of cards and matching them, set up an extra chair beside the youngest players (making sure the cards are not visible to others) and let them lay out their cards.
Just Do It
Teach by doing rather than explaining. A quick round or two played with everyone’s cards exposed usually works best.
Remember, you can modify the rules or make up games. My daughter loved the court jesters and invented a game using the jokers as wild cards.
Deal or No Deal
Eventually every kid wants to deal. Let them. Once again, they needn’t hold the entire deck to get the job done. Just take it one card at a time. And for those who insist on shuffling, start them off by spreading the cards on the table, swooshing them around a bit and then stacking them back up. For those who insist on a real deal, merely divide the deck into small finger-friendly piles and let them shuffle only a few cards at a time.
Anticipate cheating, especially among the younger set, and decide on an approach in advance. Something that doesn’t spoil the fun; for instance, allowing cheating to go on for a while and then insisting that Lady Luck take charge. Grandparents are also known to “lose” the first few games in order to build up their grandchild’s card-playing confidence.
And the Winner Is
You can also award prizes (Lincoln pennies with the wheat sheaves on the reverse are a personal favorite) or even, if your back allows, get wild and wacky, tossing cards in a big pot to practice motor skills.
Whatever you decide, just keep a sense of humor and you’ll avoid generational combat. One of the best things to come from card playing is random conversation. Take time to listen to such cues and you’ll learn more about your grandchild than meets the eye.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.