“How to Teach Cribbage to Kids, AND Why They Need to Learn”

(Part 1 of obviously more than 1, but not sure how many just yet;)

With the winter holidays approaching, I wanted to prepare The Polite Pirates (my students) for being stuck in the house with “nothing to do.” While I’m not against video games, I think it’s wise to have some alternatives

Hands-on games that promote thinking and problem solving are my favorite to teach and play. Chess and Dominoes are begun early on in the year. Now, it’s time to break out the Cribbage board

The fact that there are tiny pieces that could easily get lost makes the unpackaging mysterious and exciting. The board looks interesting, and young students can’t wait to get their little fingers on those tiny pegs! This affords a concrete reward for paying close attention and practicing the game well. 

Teaching Cribbage to children requires a scaffolding approach. There are many rules and ways to acquire points. They must learn all of these before earning the privilege of placing pegs on the board. This motivation helps keep them interested and focused. 

Analyzing combinations to find potential points.

After showing and modeling the board just enough to wet their appetite, I explain that the first part of the game is all about analyzing your cards. You must decide which cards to keep and which ones to discard (They go in what is called a “Crib,” but we don’t worry about that at first). First, I model, looking closely at 6 cards. Leaving out the idea of runs, I explain that we are looking for pairs and combinations that make 15. With only these 2 criteria, we work on adding up card values and counting potential points.

Cribbage for Homework!

[A couple of things to keep in mind: Aces are always valued at 1 in Cribbage, and face cards are all 10. Also, and this is fun for teaching the point system/using combinations, three-of-a-kind is 3 separate pairs, totaling 6 points (2 points per pair).]

Shuffling between rounds makes it feel more like a card game than math practice.

After modeling making wise decisions regarding which card combinations make the most points, I have students try. In groups of 3, I give kids 6 cards to puzzle over. I always shuffle the deck between every “round.” This makes it feel more like a card game and less like math practice.

If interest wanes at all, you could move the pegs on the board. That will get kids into looking for as many points as possible. Also, you could suggest that if one team sees points in another team’s cards that were not discovered and therefore not counted, the team that discovered the missing points gets them! 

In other words, you have Team A and Team B. Each team gets 6 cards. If Team A only found ways to earn 4 points, but when they show their combinations, a player from Team B notices an additional way to make a combination of 15 that Team A failed to see or mention, the sly individual from Team B who uncovered the extra points gets them for their team (B, not A). This keeps everyone on the alert. 

Listen to the amazing thinking going on.

Notice that the students have to use “math discourse” to share what their cards provide. They do this to prove that they deserve the points they are claiming. It allows every player to perform backup mental math. 

This exercise of looking for combinations of 15 will continue in this way for a week or two. Once students have grasped all of the ins and outs, you can introduce “The Starter.” This card is pulled from the middle of the deck after the cards have been dealt. It is placed face up on top of the pile of leftover cards. Students now have one more card to consider when choosing the 4 cards that they will keep. The Starter is static, staying on top of the deck and being used by all teams. 

If you are interested in enriching the decision making process, tell the students that one team will actually get the cards that you discard. The two cards that each team gets rid of go into a “Crib” that the dealer uses to make points at the end of each round. This means that, in addition to trying to figure out what combinations of cards will afford you the most points, you want to keep points out of the hands of others. Don’t gift the dealer with good combinations. Or, if you are the dealer, you can feel comfortable placing a pair or good combination into the Crib. 

Students practice skip counting by twos.

A way to differentiate for your students who are continuing to make progress but could use some help is providing a chart of addends that form 15. You could also have manipulatives or base-ten boards/charts for students to make 15. Make a lesson of looking for tens and fives in number combinations. 

Just as I would have The Polite Pirates practice for a while before introducing further ideas, I will end this blog right here. Playing with numbers, considering the value of combinations, analyzing which cards should stay and which ones should go, students will enjoy the randomness of shuffled hands. “Cribbage affords players both the anticipation of the luck of the deal as well as ample opportunity to exercise their skills in discarding and play” (Bicycle blog).

Previous blog about Cribbage

Published by

Matt Weimann

Classy to the core, I teach the whole #3rdGrade child @EPSDWillowLane. I have eclectic tastes with interests in chess, cuisine, art, good literature, strong coffee and other drinks, jazz, and fashion... Mostly bowties;)

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