By Christina Mulcahy, Julia Ratchford, and Douglas Clements
In Magician’s Tricks, your child will use magic to figure out what number is on hidden cards that the other player picks. (The magic consists of clever counting!) All you need to play are some numbered cards, which makes this game easy to play anywhere you need to entertain your child. You can use playing cards, print these cards, or make your own using sticky notes, index cards, or even torn up paper (such as a children’s restaurant menu). Cards are laid out in order (1-10) and then turned facedown. Your child—the magician—will ask you to “pick a card, any card” and then tell you what card you picked using magic. The first few times you play, choose a small number and see if your child counts from 1 to figure it out. If not, model for your child how to secretly count the cards to figure out what card was chosen. Your child might have so much fun showing off their magic tricks, they won’t even know they’re learning new ways to use counting! (Download the full game directions in PDF format here or at the bottom of this post.)
Counting is one of the most important math skills young children need to learn. Preschoolers and kindergartners need to count to participate in their classroom, and they need to know how to count to learn more advanced math like arithmetic.
Although counting seems simple, children need to learn many different things on the path to becoming counters.* To start counting objects, children need to be able to say one number word for each object they count without skipping or counting any object twice. Of course, they start by counting a small number (like 5) and as they get better at it, they can count higher and higher (like 10 and then 20 and beyond). As children progress to higher numbers, they also start to read written numbers. Later on, children are able to count backward. Then, they can start counting forward or backward from numbers other than 1.
Whether your child is just starting to count or is ready for more advanced counting skills, like counting backward, Magician’s Tricks can be adapted to help them practice the counting skills they already have and learn new ones.
You can support your child wherever they are on their path to developing counting skills by making small adjustments to the game. Below are some ideas to personalize Magician’s Tricks to help your child move to the next counting skill. Suggestions at the top of the list focus on earlier counting skills and suggestions at the bottom challenge children to develop harder counting skills.
Math has been found to be one of the most important subjects for children to learn, not only because the math itself is important, but also because it allows children to develop language and other thinking skills. You can help your child learn the most math and help grow their language, planning, and problem-solving by discussing what your child does with them. Below are examples of questions to ask while playing Magician’s Tricks.
We want to know how you used this activity. What adaptations worked for your family? What did your child like about the game? We also welcome any questions you may have. Please send your stories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*For a full explanation of children’s development of counting skills, visit our website at LearningTrajectories.org.
Christina Mulcahy is a postdoctoral fellow at the Marsico Institute of Early Learning and Literacy at the University of Denver. Julia Ratchford is a Counseling Psychology doctoral student and graduate research assistant at the University of Denver. Douglas Clements is the Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and professor at the University of Denver, and the executive director of the Marsico Institute of Early Learning and Literacy at the Morgridge College of Education. The authors are members of the DREME Network and part of the Math+ project.