Educational "Go Fish" for Science and History

How can a 5-year-old learn to identify Chopin, Magellan, Pasteur, Watt, and 48 other notable people in Science and History?

By playing the simple game of Go Fish.

But let me start at the beginning.

Over 10 years ago my husband and I purchased a deck of Composer playing cards from a music store in Anchorage, Alaska. We didn't really use them, but we kept them around, taking them with us when we moved to South Carolina and subsequently Texas, where we live now.

Sometime last year, my 4-year-old and I were sitting down to a game of Go Fish, using a deck of cards with cartoon fish on them. We wanted to make the game a little more challenging (and fun) so instead of simply asking for the number of the card, we started asking for the type of "fish" on the card (shark, whale, tuna, etc.).

Sometime during our game of Go Fish, that long-forgotten deck of Composer cards came to mind. I decided to locate them and see if we could play Go Fish with them.

The Composer deck is comprised of 13 different composers, each of which appears 4 times in the deck (on the same number of each suit). I proceeded to teach Joely the names of the composers by showing her the pictures on the cards. I taught her about six of the cards, and then we played a Go Fish game with them (although we changed the name to "Go Compose" when we played with the Composer cards).

After she had a pretty good "Handel" on those six composers, I taught her a couple more and we played again. It didn't take long before she could say the name of all 13 composers! And "Go Compose" quickly became one of Joely's favorite games to play.

Some time later I discovered that the makers of these cards, U.S. Game Systems, had several other decks available. So, for Joely's birthday last August, we purchased a few more card decks: Explorers, Scientists, Inventors, Authors, and Presidents. She has since (painlessly) learned 13 explorers, 13 scientists, and 13 inventors, and she now has a choice of 4 different Go Fish-type games to play: "Go Compose," "Go Explore," "Go Hypothesize," and "Go Invent." And we play frequently.

What I really like about the decks is that Joely now has the name and face of each of these people in her long term memory. When she hears new information about someone whose name she is already familiar with, she's able to remember that information much better since she has something in her memory to relate the new info to. By overhearing snippets of facts her older siblings learn about, Joely's gradually learning to associate the name of the person with their accomplishment (such as Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Marco Polo and China, etc.).

Now that's what I call un-schooling!

Here's what the cards look like, and who's included in each of these decks.

Composers: "Go Compose"

  1. Bach
  2. Handel
  3. Haydn
  4. Mozart
  5. Beethoven
  6. Schubert
  7. Mendelssohn
  8. Chopin
  9. Schumman
  10. Liszt
  11. Brahms
  12. Tchaikovsky
  13. Grieg


Explorers: "Go Explore"

  1. Alexander the Great
  2. Samuel de Champlain
  3. Christopher Columbus
  4. James Cook
  5. Sir Francis Drake
  6. Lewis & Clark
  7. Vasco da Gama
  8. Ferdinand Magellan
  9. Leif Ericson
  10. Sieur de la Salle
  11. Robert Peary
  12. Marco Polo
  13. Stanley & Livingstone


Scientists: "Go Hypothesis"

  1. Aristotle
  2. Copernicus
  3. Marie Curie
  4. John Dalton
  5. Charles Darwin
  6. Albert Einstein
  7. Enrico Fermi
  8. Galileo
  9. Johannes Kelper
  10. Leonardo da Vinci
  11. Gregor Mendel
  12. Sir Isaac Newton
  13. Louis Pasteur


Inventors: "Go Invent"

  1. Archimedes
  2. Alexander Graham Bell
  3. Thomas Alva Edison
  4. Michael Faraday
  5. Benjamin Franklin
  6. Johannes Gutenburg
  7. Cyrus H. McCormick
  8. Guglielmo Marconi
  9. Samuel F.B. Morse
  10. George Stephenson
  11. James Watt
  12. Eli Whitney
  13. The Wright Brothers


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  1. yestheyareallmine says

    That is such a great idea!!!!!!!!! You go girl. I am going to be keeping my eyes open for interesting cards now.

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. crys says

    I love your go fish idea. I plant to take it a step further since I'm going to make my own playing cards to play with a 13 year old who understands history well but has done little in the way of memorization. i am adding a different picture of the topic person and a trivia question to each card. the game will be played like go fish but a trivia question must be answered to obtain the card.


  3. GinaSJ says

    This idea helped me think of how to create them at home. Even with States, Capitals and Postal Abbrev. Thank you so much!


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