Number recognition with a deck of cards–the power of teachable moments

I used to have these grand ideals.  I’d find some “educational activity” on Pinterest, spend an hour getting all the supplies ready-growing a few wrinkles in the process, get my little man all excited about our fun “craft”, and then….CRASH and BURN.  Letters were not learned, fun was not had, and I ended up mad & frazzled.  That’s when I learned three things:

1).  He’s little

2).  I get agitated easily

3).  Teachable moments are way better than planned lessons for both of us

As an elementary and middle school teacher my job was to plan formal lessons, deliver these formal lessons, and get evaluated on these formal lessons. I was great. I was fun. I was enthusiastic. I was successful.  My third-graders were reciting Shakespeare. Narrowing my eyes into the “teacher look” would cause a child to get back on track in an instant.  An instant!

Nowadays my child quotes Despicable Me, I have to stop my youngest from playing in the toilet,  and nothing can get my little man back on track- not even the promise of a marshmallow or Scooby Doo marathon-unless…(here is the kicker) he is INTERESTED.  After a year of driving myself crazy, I finally caught on.  The Ph.D in me calls this “observing and responding to the development of a child” the mom in me calls this “I finally got with it!” I adjusted.  I stopped trying to plan elaborate lessons.  I also realized that I was the teacher,  queen, principal, boss, CEO and president of my house.  By gosh- I could teach any way I wanted.  It was freeing.

The formal phrase for this type of learning theory is the constructivist learning theory.  The hallmarks are that learners are involved.  Learning is active. Learning is authentic.  Learning is relevant to real-life.  I decided to try to make learning originate from play, exploring, and teachable moments.  I set for myself a series of overarching learning goals for my children. Before kindergarten I’d like them to know or be exposed to a few big picture items:

1)   Numbers

2)   Letters (sound and recognition)

3)   Colors

4)   Life skills (i.e. making a pbj, getting dressed, and making mommy coffee) Ha.

5)   What’s in our natural world

6)   Hearing a wide- vocabulary

7)   Music exposure

8)   Art exposure

Those are the main ideas- but in the process we learn all about science, geography, cooking, and great jewels such as the best way to catch a frog and making sure that none of the eggs are cracked when we buy a dozen from the store.  We also laugh, a lot. I pull my hair out, a lot.  We read continuously.  I get my hair dyed every six weeks (because at the age of 30- I have large amounts of gray hair).  I still get agitated.  It is still a battle. But now, I know that teachable moments-those that occur naturally within the context of a day- trump formal lessons for us.

So, here is an example.

The other day my little man found a deck of cards in a drawer and asked to play cards (in his twangy, in need of speech therapy accent)  “Let’s play cawds. Ya know.  Like you and Uncle Brant, Miss Wachel, and Connor’s mommy played.”  He started trying to deal the cards. Cards were flying.


I was a little afraid he had gotten up and watched Casino when we were asleep.  Then I remembered that a few months ago we’d played Phase 10 with some friends- for a few hours (okay for two straight days).  Thankfully it wasn’t poker or he would have asked to get some money out so it would be more authentic.  At first I thought, “Maybe Candy Land is more appropriate. But, no.  Let’s just go with this.  Cards are numbers.  We can talk about numbers.”

He started pretending to deal them.  My mind was abuzz , “should we do Gin Rummy, Go Fish, War, Blackjack…”  Cards were flying.  Then it hit me.  He struggles with recognizing numbers.  “Ooooh, I have a 8.  Do you have a 8?” I inquired.  He scattered the cards. Eyes were searching all the cards.


He brought up a few wrong choices, but finally caught on.  He loudly explained, “It’s a match!”  His face was excited.


He said the number again.  Pulled out another card and asked ME for a match.



This went on for at least 10 minutes- an ETERNITY for a learning activity.  I was thrilled.  He kept making matches.  His mind was working.  He was smiling.   At the end of the day he still doesn’t know all of his numbers, but at this point in his age it is all about continued exposure.

He may or may not be going to kindergarten calling an “A” an “ace”.



This was a teachable moment.  I hadn’t planned on using a deck of cards for number matching.  But, he was INTERSTED in playing cards.  I stopped what I was doing to use this to our advantage.  Capturing the moment.  Embracing the moment.  I want him to learn numbers and he wanted to play with something that included numbers.

So this morning when he asked me to “play cards” I filled up my Vegas mug with coffee and got to dealing.  I still love finding ideas on Pinterest, but I rarely plan out lesson plans.  Going with the flow…that’s my new mantra!





Welcome!  I’m Sarah . I’ve been  married my high-school sweetheart for a decade, and we  live on a  beef cattle farm in southeast Tennessee. On most days I rock a pair of Muck boots or flip-flops, but I also love a good pair of stilettos. They just don’t work so well chasing a baby around! Speaking of which, our pride and joys are our little man and baby girl. Rocking on our front porch swing,  photography, playing in the ice-cold river, catching fireflies, laughing, making plans, throwing parties, perusing Pinterest,  gardening, eating chocolate, traveling, drinking coffee, and organizing are a few of my favorite things.  My house is always in complete chaos so don’t let that that last item fool you!  Laundry and doing dishes are a few of my most detested things-but you can find me doing those daily. I’m a former teacher and I earned my Ph.D from the University of Tennessee in 2013.  I use this degree to conduct research and write, but truthfully my main job is being a stay-at-home mom.   I’m currently working on two projects: Slumber Fighter- a children’s picture book about a little boy who quite literally fights sleep each night and a non-fiction book about miscarriages.  It will weave together the stories of women who have experienced the loss of a baby.  Thanks for dropping in my blog!  Stay awhile and subscribe!  SONY DSC