Card games like hearts, spades, pinochle and poker have complex strategies and rules that make them difficult for young children to play. When a child is first learning to play card games, it is best to start with simple games that allow her to become familiar with the numbers, face cards and suits.
War is a two-player game that is one of the easiest card games for children to learn. Deal the whole deck so that both players have half the cards, and have them flip over the top card of their hands at the same time. The player with the higher card takes both cards. If two cards of identical value are turned, both players lay three cards face down, then flip over another card. The winner takes all the cards that have just been played.
This simple game will allow children to quickly learn numbers, face card values and the idea that aces are generally considered the highest card. Another important aspect of war is that winning is completely dependent on the order of cards. This means that every child has the same chance of winning, which can make it less discouraging for younger kids to play against older kids.
Math war is a variation of standard war that incorporates basic math skills that kids might be learning in school. Split the deck in half and instruct the players to flip up two cards, add the values of the two cards together as fast as possible and shout out the answer. The first child to shout the correct sum takes both cards. Face cards can be counted as 10, 11 and 12 for jacks, queens, and kings, respectively. Aces are ones. For older kids, you can change the game from addition to multiplication. This is a great way to reinforce basic math skills. To make the game even harder, kids can play in groups of three or four, adding up several cards each round.
While war and math war work well for two players, Go Fish is an easy kids card game that is great for three to six players. Deal five cards to each player, scatter the rest in the middle of the playing area and pick someone to go first. The first player asks any other player if he has a certain numbered card or face card. If the player has any of the cards, she must give them to the asker. The asker can keep asking players for cards until a player does not have one of the cards. When that happens, the player being asked says, "Go fish," and the asker must draw a card from the center. Play passes to the left. Once a player collects all four of a particular card, he lays them down face-up. The player with the most sets of four wins.
Go fish is a good game for kids because it takes some strategy and memorization, without being too complex. There is also a high degree of randomness, so younger kids have a fair shot at beating more experienced players.