Game on: pairs

Call it pairs, call it pelmanism – it’s all about matching. And memory. And when it comes to memory, junior players often do pretty well.

This is another card game – one which needs a bit of space to spread. So this is one that’s less good for the train, OK for the floor (for a while), better for a decent-sized table.

How to play

As the name suggests, it’s all about making pairs. You have a pack of cards, and lay them all out face down.

Each player takes it in turn to turn over two cards.  If they match (and are therefore a pair), the player gets to keep them, and display them.

If they don’t match, the player turns them over again, and the next player has a go.

The more you can remember which cards went where, the easier it is to remember where the ‘other half’ of a pair is, when you turn up a new card, and the more pairs you can make.

The player with the most pairs wins the game.


It can help to state a couple of rules at the start of the game to make it fair all round:

1) When you turn over cards, do it at a reasonably slow pace, making sure the other player(s) can see what you turned over. If you don’t, the other player loses out on seeing which cards have come up.

2) Try and make sure that the cards are put back down in the same places, if they don’t form a pair. If not, it can be very hard to remember where a given card is.

It is likely that the junior player may still win, even without these rules, given that their memory is less cluttered up than an adult player’s. But the rules make it a little fairer – and help junior players learn a little consistency and consideration for other players.

The art of cards

One of the nice aspects of pairs is that it lends itself to variety within packs of cards.  As you need lots of different pictures (two of each picture to make a pair), it can work well to have sets of similar items.

The set we have which I like the best is a transport related one.  For junior players who love all things vehicular, this is ideal, particularly if you win a pair of a favoured vehicle.

It can be harder to play, sometimes, when e.g. types of transport are similar, and you mistake which is which. However, the pictures in this set are particularly nice quality, so I enjoy the game (even when I lose).

You can also have pairs sets where the objects are more varied: a teddy, a plane, and so on. This means they aren’t as coherent a whole, but it can make them easier to remember. Swings and roundabouts, in terms of ease of winning.


The one downside of pairs is that it can take a while to play, and junior players’ attention spans can be limited. A couple of options here:

– reduce the number of sets of pairs you are playing with, so it’s quicker to complete

– allow for the cards to remain turned up, so everyone can see them.  This means it’s less about ‘straight’ memory, but a bit more about visual memory, which can be good if junior players are learning about patterns like letter formations or numbers.

It’s not automatic that the junior player wins – but they do particularly like doing so in this game. (You can even sneak in a little maths by asking them to count how many pairs they’ve won.)

Snap vs pairs

You’ll find that you can also use snap cards to play pairs with – this means you have more pairs to build up, but equally more chance of winning.

For those who are less keen on the fast pace of snap, but still like card games, pairs offers an easy game to play, where skill (memory) plays a part, but where strategy is not yet needed.

And if you get pairs of trains, tractors AND diggers, you might just make a small person’s day.