family playing summer math activities together at table

Best 3 Summer Math Activities with Cards for Your Students

I hope some of you reading this remember the traditional card game called War. Simple, but so much fun, I would play it for hours with my friends all summer long. A simple deck of cards could keep us entertained for hours, and it was so much fun trying to capture all the picture cards! It should come as no surprise it’s one of the featured games on our summer math activities list!

I usually get nods from the older teachers in my workshops; they often have fond memories of the same game. Today, with students on screens way too much, many have not been taught this game using a real deck of cards. So I challenge you to get playing with the games in this blog! 

In this post, you’ll find 5 summer math activities to keep your students learning and engaged over the break. You will find that there is so much more math talk, sharing, and engagement with the math when you use manipulatives, rather than when playing on a screen.

Our Start with Math Games

When I started teaching, I remembered this game and brought it into the classroom as a way for my young students to learn greater than/less than and equal to concepts. I immediately found students totally engaged and wanting to play again and again. 

This was also the start of Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks. Knowing the students were so engaged with card games for practicing math, I began using them everyday, changing the rules up so that they could practice addition, subtraction, place value, multiplication. The potential was endless, the fun obvious, and the practice and improvement noticeable.

So get out a deck of cards, and as I said to the KIDS everyday…. All Hands on Deck, Get Ready to Play.

When bringing summer math activities with cards into your lessons, there’s an important reminder I’d like to note: never play with a full deck. Be flexible with your decks as this is how you can easily differentiate the activities for your students.

Summer Math Activity #1: Face Off

Let’s start with the traditional game of comparing numbers… Face Off (known as War). This is one of the best summer math activities for Pre K – 1st for comparing numbers and learning greater than/less than. We call it Face Off… as we are always comparing values and facing off like a hockey game! 

Click the links below for the rules, and some extensions for math talk as you play. You want your students talking the math, as many of them will learn the math by hearing it over and over again as they play.

From this basic game, we developed the variations for Addition and Subtraction Face Off.

Addition Face Off

I call these Full Moon Friday games. When kids are fidgety and unfocused, the face-off-style games help them settle down and practice their math in a fun way. I usually have them play on the floor, spreading out with lots of room. 

With Addition Face Off, we can differentiate the level of play with pulling out certain card values from the deck. If you pull cards Ace = 1 to 5, students will be adding to 10. If you pull out cards Ace = 1 – 10,  students will be adding to 20.

As students get more confident, you can add the higher numbers to the decks they use to challenge.  Click here for the full rules!

Subtraction Face Off

This is a really important game to play throughout the primary years. If you watch the full video (link to subtraction face off), you will see how we use the cards as real manipulatives for getting the answer, for count back, and for count on to find the missing part. These are all great strategies for developing subtraction fluency. I use cards Ace – 1 – 10.  

Click here for the full rules!

Multiplication Face Off

Again, you don’t have to use a full deck. I usually start with cards Ace = 1 – 5, multiplying products to 25, Ace = 1 – 9 products to 81. We can skip count to find our products using the pips on the cards. It is helpful to have a multiplication chart for checking if students are still needing that support.

Click here for the full rules!

Summer Math Activity #2: Super Star Traveller

Once students have developed some operational fluency and have confidence to play harder practice games, I love to teach them Super Star Traveller. Remember the wonderful Solitaire-style games you played as a child…? I do.

I loved  traditional solitaire, clock solitaire, and pyramid styles! Playing with cards is so much more fun than on a screen. Nothing feels better than cards, (unless it’s dice!!!). They also make the perfect summer math activities for your students!

Try out this Solitaire-style game. It’s super easy to differentiate by adding higher card values or by adding more operations to the play: +, – ,X and division can all be integrated into the game. The math practice goes way beyond operational fluency and adds problem solving and multi-step operations.

This game is also great to play cooperatively with a partner!

Click here for the full rules and examples!

Summer Math Activity #3: ZAP

Last but not least, we have another favorite card game. You can play in small groups or as a family at home.

ZAP is a student favorite even though it contains a speed element. I always caution teachers and parents to avoid speed-style games as it can be cause for developing anxiety. BUT, play this game when your students are ready as they do love it.

You can make the game more difficult by increasing the card values, and adding subtraction and multiplication to the rules.  

Click here for the rules and some variations!

Are You Going to Try Any of These Summer Math Activities?

This summer, make it a card game summer, whether you’re teaching summer school, on a camping trip and need to fill a rainy day, or getting your children ready for the new school year in the Fall… get playing, and above all HAVE FUN

We have several bestselling card games for your summer school or camp, including:

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