Number bonds card games

As a child I played cards frequently. My grandmother is a bit of a card sharp and taught me dozens of games from rummy to whist and patience. We even played pontoon – gambling with matchsticks! Now as a teacher, I’m struck by how fantastic these games are for a range of skills the children will need in their education. Beyond the obvious maths links – subtising, number recognition, counting, ordering and sequencing, strategies for mental calculation for starters – card games also teach & practise sustained concentration, turn-taking, patience, organisational skills, strategic thinking, perseverance and how to win or lose with grace. There are even speaking, listening and language benefits as you chat and joke over a hand of cards.

Some games can be neatly adapted to help your child master key maths skills. I’ve videoed my daughter and I playing two old favourites that are perfect for number bonds practise so you can see how the adaptations work. We’re playing with number bonds to 10 but you could dial this back for numbers under 10 if your child is not quite ready for 10 yet. Fluency with number bonds, even for smaller numbers like 5, are significant building blocks for mental calculation going forwards.


This is a good place to start for learning number bonds as the children can take as long as they need to find the total. You’ll be impressed with how quickly they start to remember the pairs of numbers they need.

Donkey (a variation of Old Maid)

This was a favourite between me and my siblings! In this version, play with the number bond pairs as in Pelmanism plus one joker card – this is the donkey. Shuffle the cards and share them out between the players (3 or more players works best for this game). Each player removes all the number bonds from their hand. Then players take it in turns to choose a card from the hand of the player to their left, removing number bonds as they are made. At the end, there will only be the joker card and the player left holding it will be the donkey. My grandmother would have some carrots handy when we played this and the donkey would have to eat one!


A fast-paced game of snap will help children build that speedy recognition they need for mastery of number bonds.

I hope you enjoy the games and some fun family time together playing them!

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