Children’s Games #1: Truck Cards

Note: helping children develop healthy attitude toward science is one of the things that I feel is my responsibility as a science educator. This post talks about the first reasonably-well thought out science (counting) activity that I did with my son back when he was nearly 3-years-old.

I’m helping my colleagues in the math department plan entertainment for the  the Grade 8-12 math contest kids that are coming to my university in a month. One of my students that is helping me plan some activities suggested this vector-teaching race-car activity. I built the track and tried it out with my 5-year-old son and it worked pretty well. It got me the thinking about all the boardgames (=board/card/dice games) I have played with my son and I thought I would share some.

Truck Cards: my son’s first boardgame

Truck Cards was the very first game I sat down and played with my son. We started playing when he was almost 3-years-old.

Truck Cards

Some examples of truck cards that I made.

Making your own copy of the game

  • Grab a pile of index cards, and a six-sided die (d6 for all the nerds).
  • Draw a bunch of pictures of something your child likes: dinosaurs, tea parties, or in my case vehicles.
  • Draw a die on each card showing one of the die faces. My son always got a kick out of how I had the vehicle hauling the die or had incorporated the die into the picture in some other way.
  • I suggest making 18 or more cards to start. Our stack is very large as you can see in the picture.

Playing the game

  • Lay all the cards face-up on the table.
  • Your child goes first and you alternate turns.
  • On your turn, you roll the die and pick up a card that matches your roll. You start with lots of cards so there are plenty of choices at first.
  • We have played the end-game two different ways. Version 1 is that if you roll the die and there are no cards left that match, your turn is over and you pass the die to the other player. Version 2 is that if you roll and there are no cards left that match your roll, you continue rolling until you get a match.
  • There is no winner.

Skills your child needs to have to play this game

  • Counting up to six or at least being able to pattern-match the dot patterns on a d6.
  • That’s it! The rest of the skills involved in this game are ones that are meant to be developed by playing the game.

Skills developed by playing Truck Cards

The whole purpose of this game was to help my son develop some of the skills that he would need to play boardgames as he grew up. In addition to boardgame-specific skills, most of the games I have played with him involve counting and other basic math skills.

When I came up with this game, these were the skills that I was hoping it would help him develop (and it was pretty successful at developing these skills):

  • Taking turns.
  • Counting: at first he recognized 1-4 on sight but had to count the pips every time he rolled a 5 or 6 and would then pattern-match with the numbers shown on the cards.
  • Good sports/gamesmanship and coping with disappointment: this one ended up being really important and is why I used version 1 of the end-game. I wanted there to be some turns where he did not get a card and had to accept that and hand the die over to me and then cheer for me to get a card. He did really well with this, but at first he always had to take a deep breath and put on a strong face when he handed the die over to me without getting a card that turn.

Some last thoughts

I have now drawn a very large number of truck cards and sitting down to draw truck cards was his favorite activity for a long time. He would dream up a vehicle and I would draw it and he would be thrilled. It was also a really great time killer at restaurants.

Most of the boardgames I will talk about in future posts are commercial games with perhaps some simplified rules. I will list the required skills and my suggestion of age. My wife runs a small daycare from our house so I have had many opportunities to play boardgames with children other than my son so my suggestions of age can be taken as broadly applicable. The games that I will discuss will all have some educational value, which is usually math-based.

Some examples of truck cards that I made.

3 Comments on “Children’s Games #1: Truck Cards”

  1. Bret Benesh says:


    Keep these coming. I am very interested in using games to help children learn.

    Here is my one suggestion for how to extend this game (I am not sure what age this would be appropriate for): at some point, roll two dice instead of one (if we stop here, this would probably be a good intermediate game). Then pick two trucks whose sum matches your roll but has different numbers (e.g. if you roll a 1 and 3, you can pick trucks with 2 and 2, but not 1 and 3).

    Have you read “Young Children Reinvent Arithmetic” by Constance Kamii? She tells of a study of first graders who only play games (mostly dice and card games) during math time—there is no traditional instruction. These students did wildly better on almost all arithmetic questions when compared to a traditional classroom The traditional classroom did better on exactly one problem: 28+31 using the standard additional algorithm: (37% vs 19% of the students got it right). But 26% of the the traditional students answered “14” (since 2+8+3+1=14), whereas 0% of the games students answered this (the students who only played games NEVER had this misconception, whereas about one quarter of the traditional students did this on any similar problem).

    In short, I like what you are doing.

    • Joss Ives says:

      ha HA Brett! Your two dice variant is a great “why didn’t think of that” suggestion. My son is currently at a point where he knows the 2d6 values by sight, but going backwards and finding two others that have the same sum should make him stop and think. And I think he will like it!

      That study sounds interesting. What is the book like overall?

      • bretbenesh says:

        Hi Joss,

        Kamii studied under Piaget, so it begins with a summary of a constructivist take on teaching arithmetic. It goes on to suggest many games to help children learn arithmetic, and ends with the results of the comparison study I referenced in my earlier comment.

        You should check out the book. I imagine that you probably know much of the first half, but I think that your son might enjoy many of the games that she lists.

        And my son will enjoy the Truck Cards game (at this rate, it will be “Penguin Cards” for him) in a couple years.

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