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Playing fun card games gets kids thinking

| Monday, May 18, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The Yokim family from left, Oliver, 6, mom Mandy, Josephine, 8, and dad John play a card game in their Wexford home Tuesday, May 5, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Yokim family from left, Oliver, 6, mom Mandy, Josephine, 8, and dad John play a card game in their Wexford home Tuesday, May 5, 2015.

Mandy Yokim and her family love playing cards so much, they even have made up a few of their own games.

Yokim, 40, of Wexford, and her husband, John, have played many types of card games with their kids — Josephine, 8, and Oliver, 6 — since they were toddlers. They started with the easiest games like Old Maid and Go Fish, which helped teach the youngsters about matching up numbers and pictures. Now, the family plays games including Uno, and Rummy, which the parents have just started to teach the kids how to play. And family members have invented a few games like “Suits,” a simple luck-of-the-draw match.

Playing the card games helps sharpen the kids' brains and provides fun, quality family time, Mandy Yokim observes.

“I think that anytime you play a game where they have to ... visually assess something and match things up, it helps their memory skills,” Yokim says. “Especially with a game like Uno, they are needing to know how many cards to deal out.”

Many parents and experts say playing card games teaches children valuable skills. The activity helps improve and enhance memory, conversation and friendly rivalry. And kids get quality time with parents.

Card games teach kids to think critically and strategize, says Jonathan M. Cassie, head of the Senior School at Sewickley Academy.

“There is no bad choice,” Cassie says. “Pick any card game you want and play it with your kids, and they're going to be better off, more sophisticated in their thinking than they were before.”

Cassie is writing a book about the benefits of “gamification” in education, which is applying game-like traits to learning activities and making them fun. This is a benefit of card games for children: They learn in a playful way while enjoying themselves.

“The idea is embedded with the notion that games are fun in and of themselves,” Cassie says.

Card games give kids a challenge that they can meet, he says.

“Games are meritocratic,” Cassie says. “You get rewarded not based on how old you are and how educated you are, but how you play the game.”

Games help young kids to understand things like how to recognize and organize a set, which helps develop mathematical reasoning skills.

“Their math reasoning has been made more sophisticated by the game,” Cassie says.

Audrey Quinlan, chair of the education division at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, has used playing cards as tools for teaching math to elementary-school students.

“I always thought that using a deck of playing cards ... made much more sense in teaching kids math because it's readily available,” says Quinlan, a K-12 classroom teacher before she became an education professor and administrator. “It has so many possibilities.

“Anything that can make math concrete for our students helps in many ways,” says Quinlan, also director of the master of arts program in elementary/middle-level education at Seton Hill. “You're only limited in your imagination.”

Using a card deck, kids can discern patterns in numbers and colors — like numbers in red diamonds or hearts, or black spades and clubs, Quinlan says.

The popularity of card games can go through cycles, but overall, in the past two years, sales of traditional card decks have gone up between 1 and 2 percent each year, says P.J. Katien, vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S. Playing Card Co., based in Erlanger, Ky. The company's brands include Bicycle, Bee, Kem and Hoyle.

Company officials have heard many young adults say that their parents didn't teach them to play cards.

“There's an entire generation that missed, but now, (millennials) are trying to teach their children to play cards. ... It's a retroactive trend.”

Kids can learn developmental and social skills, along with mental and cognitive skills like counting, adding and subtracting, Katien says. They can learn strategic thinking, as they plot how to play their cards. And players of any age can do seemingly infinite things with a deck of cards.

“That's one of the biggest appeals to it,” Katien says. “There's just so much ... variability with a deck of cards.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can bereached at or 412-320-7824.

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