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First Card Games for Kids

Beginner Card Games: The Yay to the Nay

By Ilana Wiles

the yay to the nayOver the past two weeks, my home has turned into GAME CENTRAL. Mazzy will be three in December and now seemed like a good time to introduce her to a bunch of starter games to broaden her skill set, teach her to be a good sport, and most importantly, for us to have something new that we could all participate in as a family.

We experimented with so many games that this post will be a two-parter. Today, I am going to review beginner card games. We tried four different games, all of which required different skill levels. Some games were too hard so we adjusted and invented new ways to play them. Some Mazzy caught on to immediately. And some, I still haven’t grasped.

I’ll be judging each game based on the quality of the game, the family enjoyment factor and on my toddler’s ability to play them (keeping in mind that in a year or so, she will be better suited for a lot of them).

Here’s a rundown, in order of age appropriateness.

1) Roll & Play

In Roll & Play, you roll a large stuffed die that has a different color on each side. The colors correspond to different groupings of cards which each represent different skill sets. Each card gives the player instruction on something to do. For example, the yellow cards represent emotions so a card might say, “Make a sad face” and the red cards represent actions so the card might say, “Spin around”. Rounding out the rest of the cards are counting, body parts, colors, and animal sounds.

This game was by far the easiest game to play and the one Mazzy picked up on the quickest. I also think it was the most enjoyable for the family. The second time we played it, Mazzy so thoroughly understood the game, she “read” the cards herself by looking at the picture.

Besides teaching the various color-coded skills, it also teaches taking turns and color matching. I also liked that there is no winner or loser. You just play until your child is ready to move onto something else. Which means there is nothing about the game that would make a child frustrated. (for ages 2+)


2) Tell Me a Story

This game involves a deck of cards that each have a picture of a story telling element, like a princess, a door to a castle, a cave, a basket, etc. The object is to encourage storytelling skills by letting your child pick different cards to develop a sequence of events.

Mazzy is a little young for this game and just picked each card in the order they were laid out and then preferred me to tell the story. When it was her turn, it was interesting to see her begin to understand how to connect the pieces. She didn’t tell much of a story beyond naming the visual on the card but she did add sentence structure like, “and then she saw a castle” and “and then there was a basket”.

Tell Me a Story claims to promote pre-reading skills like sequencing, vocabulary development, narrative and comprehension skills. At the moment, Mazzy is not that interested in using this game as part of playtime. Perhaps it would work better if I pulled it out during her bedtime routine in lieu of reading a book. (for ages 3+)


3) I Never Forget a Face

This is a matching game that uses cards with faces of different children. It is meant to be used as a memory game where you turn the cards face down (thus making it suitable for 5+) but I used it as purely a matching game with the cards facing up, which made it completely age appropriate for my almost-3-year-old Mazzy.

The game teaches matching, memory, recognition and diversity, since each of the faces represents a child from a different part of the globe.

Mazzy loves this game. She’s great at matching and the 24 sets of kids made it enough of a challenge to keep her interested even though the cards were face up. Kids love looking at pictures of other kids so this increased her interest as well. And it’s great that as she gets older, she can use the game in a different way to make it more challenging, increasing it’s longevity.

Plus, it’s nice to play the game with her but she is perfectly capable of playing by herself. (for ages 5+)


4) The Hungry Caterpillar Match & Munch

This game, based off of Eric Carle’s popular children’s book, comes packaged inside a caterpillar and is kind of like Gin Rummy for kids.

Each player is dealt five cards, all of which have a picture of a fruit or a sweet on them— pears, apples, cake, cookies, etc. The object is to get either 5 oranges, 4 strawberries and 1 apple, or 3 plums and 2 pears. You do this by picking from a deck and discarding cards in your hand. First one to get one of three winning hands gets a butterfly token. Three butterflies wins the whole game.

We played the game with the cards facing up, so I could see Mazzy’s hand, otherwise there was no way she was going to know what was going on. I found it difficult to explain to her the cards that constituted a winning hand even with visual reference. In retrospect, I probably just should have said a winning hand is 5 of any one fruit.

The cards are a thick card stock which make them easy for little hands to pick but difficult to shuffle. Also, the thickness of the cards make the discard pile so tall that it topples over. I ended up making two piles. And there are barely any instructions that come with the game, so I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to start over once someone had a winning hand or keep picking from the same pile.

I do like how the sweets cards have no value in the game whatsoever, which is a valuable lesson in healthy eating. So far though, the idea that you want to discard a cupcake in favor of an orange is a hard concept for Mazzy to grasp. Over and over, she made the wrong choice, even at the expense of losing.  This game is also available via Amazon. (for ages 4+)


Final Thoughts

I recognize that every game wasn’t suited to her abilities (just yet) but she had fun playing all of them and asks to play them again. But Roll & Play is the clear winner of this group, not only because it’s age-appropriate, but because it was the most fun for us to play as a family.

What are you favorite first games for young kids? (also, come back next week when we review a few more begineer games).

About the Author

Ilana Wiles

Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a popular NYC humor blog geared towards new parents. In addition to blogging, Ilana has worked as a creative in advertisin...

Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a popular NYC humor blog geared towards new parents. In addition to blogging, Ilana has worked as a creative in advertising for the past 15 years. She lives in the East Village of NYC with her husband, her two-year-old daughter and a rapidly growing pile of stuffed animals.

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