A Surprising Way to Give Your Child an Academic Edge
by Angie Birney
Tablets and other sophisticated items are popular gifts for children.1 Kids are sure to be delighted with such presents, and get hours of entertainment out of them. But there are downsides to introducing a tablet into a child's life.2 For one thing, he or she can get too absorbed in the device and miss opportunities to connect with other kids and with adults. We've all seen young children walking into stores with their heads down and eyes on the tablet. And although technology can build learning, when a child is constantly drawn to repetitive games, he or she is missing opportunities for real growth. Adults can select gifts for their children that are far more advantageous--and far less costly. Imagine if you could give your child an academic advantage for less than your data plan each month? What if you could boost your child's mental agility with as little as a one time payment of a measly $2.00? Would you do it?
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 education writers extol the benefits of more technology,3 there is almost nothing children need more than community.4 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 gifted us with a pack of Uno cards. My family learned the simple rules together and played it during our quiet evenings, with popcorn. The game created peaceful conversations about taking turns and following the game’s rules. We took the cards outside one day and sitting in a circle with three of our friends, taught them to play. The numbers and colors were easy, but we also 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 childhood rounds of Uno, my siblings and 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. My dad taught us "War," and we also made up our own satisfying number-sorting game.
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 the ordinary Memory set you had as a child. Participating in game play involved reading and comprehending the directions, articulating the rules to a younger child, using vocabulary involving everyday items, focusing on relevant details, and studying placement of identical cards by means of rows and columns. A mundane game like Uno encourages a small child to be conscious of colors and distinguish numbers. War and card-sorting enforce numeracy. As a child grows and adds increasingly complex games to his repertoire, he quite possibly gains 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.
1 Faughnder, Ryan. “Tablets and Apps for Children Are on the Rise.” Latimes.com, Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2014, articles.latimes.com/2014/apr/08/entertainment/la-et-ct-fuhu-tablets-kids-20140408.
2 Wanshel, Elyse. “10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give A Child A Smartphone Or Tablet.” Little Things, LittleThings Inc., www.littlethings.com/reasons-not-to-give-children-technology/.
3Otero, Anxo. “Gamifying Your World Language Classes.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 13 Oct. 2017, www.edutopia.org/article/gamifying-your-world-language-classes.
4“What Is Social and Emotional Development?” Early Childhood Mental Health, The Missouri Department of Mental Health, dmh.mo.gov/healthykids/parents/social-emotional-development.html.