Teach Math with UNO

Updated on July 30, 2014

Use the UNO Card Game to Teach Math Skills

Everybody remembers playing UNO as a kid, but did you know that UNO can be a fun, effective way for children as young as two or three years old to learn important math skills? Read on for tips on how to teach math with UNO to children as young as two years old.

UNO for Toddlers: Keep It Simple - Number Recognition, Same/Different

Two- and three-year-olds may be ready to play UNO on teams with older players. At this age they can begin to name numbers and colors, then determine whether or not their cards are the same as or different from the card on top of the discard pile. Help your little one avoid confusion and frustration by playing open hands with the numbers all facing the same way. Keep the special cards (skip, reverse, draw two, and wilds) out of the deck at first and introduce them when the child is ready. You may even want to start with only the numbers one through five. At this age, keep competition to a minimum and celebrate every good play.

Photo credit: "One Uno, Two Uno Uno" by Sumiah Salloum

UNO for Toddlers: Keep It Moving

Exercise the body as well as the mind

To make UNO more physically active for fidgety youngsters, forget about the discard pile and make a discard row instead that runs along the table or floor. Children get to move more as play gets further and further from the draw pile. It also leaves a visual record of the game in case you'd like to review. Another way to increase physical activity is for the players do an exercise (jumping jacks or walking around the table) a number of times equal to the number of the card played.

Best UNO cards for toddlers? You decide. - Vote for your child's (or your own) favorite character.

Mattel offers "My First UNO" King-Size cards themed with a variety of children's favorite characters. These sets offer bigger cards for little hands, and fewer cards in the deck to keep it simple.

UNO for Preschoolers: Counting

Counting Up and Down by Ones and Twos

As children develop in their understanding of the game and in numbers, introduce sequencing. Instead of playing the same number as the card on the discard pile, play one number higher or lower. You can even introduce counting up and down by twos. At this age, children may want to hold their cards in their hands and play more competitively.

UNO for Preschoolers: War

Recognizing bigger and smaller numbers

War might be the world's easiest card game. Take out the special cards (or make special rules and leave them in). Deal all the cards out face down. On an agreed signal (a three-count for example) all players flip their top cards face up. The player with the highest card keeps all the cards, placing them at the bottom of his or her stack. In case of a tie the players flip another card (or two or three). The winner gets all the cards that are face up. The game ends when one player has all the cards or boredom sets in. It's usually the adult who first tires of War. Of course this game can be played with a regular deck justa as well as with an UNO deck.

Kindergarten through Elementary School

UNO Arithmetic

To practice addition, the player solves for the sum of the number on the discard pile and the number on the card he/she is playing. For example while playing a 3 on a 4, the player says, "3 + 4 = 7." If the player forgets to say this and another player says it first, the one who played the card has to draw a card or two.

Another way to practice addition is to allow a player to play two or more cards that add up to the number on the discard pile. For example, a player may play a 3 and a 4 on a 7.

You can add or substitute subtraction, multiplication or even division into these games.

UNO 21

Another math card game to practice addition and subtraction facts

Remove all of the special cards from the UNO deck, leaving only the numbers. Place them in a pile face-down. The first player draws a card and places it face down next to the draw pile, stating the number on the card. The next player draws a card, states the sum of the two cards and places the drawn card on top of the pile. The next player draws and adds the number of the newly drawn card to the previous sum. Play continues until the total reaches 21. The player whose card makes the sum exactly 21 gets the whole pile of cards. If the sum exceeds 21, then players subtract the number on the drawn card from the total. Play continues until the sum or difference is exactly 21.

Like all the best math games, children forget that they are practicing their math facts. There's nothing magical about the number 21. Fee free to change it. In fact after one game when the number "22" came up several times, my kids wanted to change the target number to 22. We did, and it became a a good opportunity to talk about and test theories of probability. (Just because 22 showed up several times in one game doesn't mean it will in the next.) This game works fine with a deck or two of regular playing cards too. Just take out the face cards and count aces as 1s.

UNO Salute

Fast-paced addition and subtraction game for three players

Remove all the special cards, leaving only the number cards. Deal all of the cards, face down, to two of the players. The two players simultaneously take their top cards and, without looking at them, hold the cards to their foreheads so they can see each other's card but not their own. The third player states the sum of the two cards. The first two players figure out what is on their own cards by subtracting the number on their opponents card from the total. Whoever correctly says the number on his own card first gets both cards and play continues until all the cards have been played. The winner is the player with the most cards at the end. Be sure to rotate roles so everyone gets addition and subtraction practice. This game can be played with regular playing cards too, but I like that UNO cards have zeroes in the deck.

UNO: The Classic Card Game

UNO Card Game

So you want to try some of these ideas but your UNO deck has gone missing. Go on out and buy a new deck, or save the gas and order it from amazon.

Of course you can stick with classic UNO, or even play Crazy Eights or Mau Mau with a regular deck of playing cards. However, if you want to try something new, here are five fancy UNO variations that Mattel has come up with. The only one I've tried myself is UNO Attack! which is actually pretty fun; it adds a little adrenaline to the game without taking anything away. If you've tried any. please share your experience in the comments.

Spice Up Your UNO Games with House Rules

UNO is famous for being played with slightly (or extremely) different rules from house to house. Mattel held a contest for the most popular house rules and added the top three as rule variations. "Jump-in" UNO allows a player to discard out of turn when holding the exact card that is on top of the discard pile. "Seven-O" UNO calls for players to pass or exchange cards when a certain card is played. "Progressive" UNO allows the victim of a draw-two or draw-four card to play the same kind of card and pass the obligation to draw on to the next player.( source)

Whatever house rules you choose, make sure they are appropriate to your child's age and development.

How do you use UNO or other games to make learning math fun?

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6 years ago

Great lens thanks for the info. Will try Uno and these games out with my son who is struggling with math. Sue

• Michelllle

6 years ago

WOW. Super cool ideas. LOVE it. Will play tomorrow.

• Bundle10

7 years ago

Great ideas, thanks for this lens.

• ProHomeTips4U LM

7 years ago

So many fun (and educational) ideas! I love playing uno ;)

• WayneDave LM

8 years ago

Nice ideas, if it helps children learn then I think it's a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

• lemonsqueezy lm

8 years ago

My son will be 4 soon. He loves to count and add (seems odd to me). These are are some great ways to share UNO with him. Fabulous!!!!!

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

8 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@mumsgather: Thanks for that.

• mumsgather

8 years ago

Mr Jeremy, How could I forget Uno? Anyway, I have featured this lens in my Math Games and Activities lens under "Explore related pages" because I think it is very relevant for my lens.

• puerdycat lm

8 years ago

I'm a big fan of your solutions. I totally agree and I think you just have to practice (like with cards) paying attention to enjoy math. No points for little adding errors if you want to be good at calculus.

• tandemonimom lm

8 years ago

Brilliant! I especially love the "Keep It Moving" section. Blessed!

• anonymous

8 years ago

A very creative way to teach math skills from toddlers on up. Everybody loves UNO and you just made it more fun for everyone to build their math skill. I love your special instructions and adaptability at each level.

• Jeanette

8 years ago from Australia

Returning to say that this lens has been blessed by the maths angel and added to my best maths resources lens.

• anonymous

8 years ago

Any time you can teach kids with a game, life becomes much easier for you. I love this idea. I may use this as a free time activity in my classroom.

• mrvardeman

8 years ago

good stuff. I like the ideas here. May have to try it on our next game day at school.

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

8 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@Mihaela Vrban: You're welcome. I'm glad this page was of help! I introduced my three-year-old gently to uno and now, at 3-1/2, he can play using the regular rules. He still spreads the cards out in front of him instead of holding them in his hands.

• Mihaela Vrban

8 years ago from Croatia

I've bought uno :) and came back here to check your ideas. Regular rules would be too much for my 3 year old girl so it's great that you included game variations for toddlers and preschoolers! :))) Thanks Jeremy!

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

8 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@joanhall: Thanks! For people who are allergic to typing into a search box, here's that url.

http://www.squidoo.com/math-instruction-lenses

• Joan Hall

8 years ago from Los Angeles

This is very nice. In general, the lenses that I have on "Math instruction lenses" are things that the child/student would read themselves, but I added a "For parents" module and put this lens in it.

• bechand

9 years ago

great ideas - will use some with my son - he loves uno and could use these creative ideas

• Tom Fattes

9 years ago from Naperville, IL

These are very creative games with Uno cards beyond the traditional game.

• Jack

9 years ago

UNO has always been my favorite card game, and it's an excellent and fun way to teach children. Blessed by a Squid Angel.

• Anthony Godinho

9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Creative way to teach children math and make it fun...well done!

• Lisa Auch

9 years ago from Scotland

I believe the more fun you can have with maths the better, great idea here. I wanted to fly over your lens with a little bit of Magic SquidAngel Dust! Blessed.

• spritequeen lm

9 years ago

What a great way to make learning fun! Thanks for sharing!

• Susan Deppner

9 years ago from Arkansas USA

We used card games a lot with our kids when they were little, too, so they would be comfortable with numbers. I love your addition variation with Uno. Fabulous lens! SquidAngel blessings from this retired homeschool mom!

• SpellOutloud

9 years ago

Love the math connections here! Great ideas. Now I need to go find all our Uno cards--might be easier to buy a new deck! LOL!

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

9 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

• Lloyd Pinto

9 years ago from Mumbai

Didn't get a chance to leave a comment earlier- but I thought this was a very unique topic and very well explained too. Just so you know this is the first lens that I blessed, since I got my wings today!

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

9 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@Mihaela Vrban: Thanks, a_willow. I appreciate the invitation. I do have a few ideas about new ways to play with toys that toddlers probably already have.

• Mihaela Vrban

9 years ago from Croatia

I love how you explained how a deck of cards can be excellent learning tool for each age. If you ever find time, I would invite you to make a lens or two for toddlers club. Think you have a lot to share! Link to front page is: http://www.squidoo.com/besttoysfortoddlers/hq

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

9 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@JoyfulPamela2: Thanks for the lensroll. I like your user name. I'm sure it describes your outlook and is a good reminder to yourself in the times it's not easy to be joyful.

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

9 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@jimmielanley: Thanks, Jimmie. I have a few photos ready to add after I confirm permission.

• JoyfulPamela2

9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

Having fun while learning is the best way! Lensrolling this to my Learning Games lens. :D

• Jimmie Quick

9 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

Great ideas. I'd love to see some of your Japanese youngsters here playing these games.

• Linda Jo Martin

9 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

Great idea! I used to love playing UNO with my kids!

• AUTHOR

Jeremy

9 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

@eclecticeducati1: Wow! Thanks for the honor.

• eclecticeducati1

9 years ago

Great lens! Blessed by an Angel and lensrolled to my Living Math lens.

• Jeanette

9 years ago from Australia

Absolutely brilliant ideas! Well done. Many parents should find these ideas a great help.

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