Re-purposing Rack-O

I loved playing the game Rack-O as a kid. And, darn it, my kids are going to love it, too.

The concept of Rack-O, a classic Milton-Bradley game, is simple; get a set of 10 cards in ascending order before your opponent does. Strategy and patience are necessary, though, as you decide whether to draw from the discard pile or the other pile to create your winning hand. I remember staring across the table at my father, trying to read his face to know if he was about to claim “Rack-O” for the win. Should I call Rack-O now, or go for a longer run of consecutive numbers??  Ahhh, the sweet memories.

The first time I introduced the game to the 9-year-old (when he was an 8-year-old), he lasted 2 minutes before declaring he wasn’t interested. I was…disappointed. So, I waited, and tried again. The second attempt at the game (a year later) was successful. The kid enjoyed the game, assisted by a mother who realized that it wasn’t time to unleash her crazy Rack-O skills on him yet.

Basking in the happiness of having the 9-year-old on board with this game, I thought it would be reasonable to get the 5-year-old playing, too. And it was. But not for the reasons I had thought…

As I began to explain the rules of how to play, the 5-year-old in his sweet 5-year-old voice said, “Let’s play a different way.”

“Oh. Did you have something else in mind?”

“Let’s race to put our 10 cards in order first. Just the 10 cards you gave me.”


He was asking to simply take the 10 cards each player is initially dealt and race each other to place our cards in numerical order in the rack. I felt a split second of disappointment, and then I realized that this was a brilliant idea. Why hadn’t I ever thought of it?? This is a perfect use of the game for a young elementary student! He had to order his cards quickly, requiring him to have a functional understanding of greater than and less than concepts. The cards are somewhat self-correcting because when they are in proper ascending order, the numbers on the cards in the rack make a diagonal pattern. We had a blast playing the game this way, assisted by a mother who realized it wasn’t time to unleash her crazy number ordering skills on him yet!

(Mathematically…this adjustment to the game of Rack-O allows a young child to interact with value comparisons in a very robust way. In school, this child might be given a worksheet with pictures of groups or numbers and asked to indicate which number is greater than or less than the other. At play, this child is physically interacting with a manipulative (the cards and the rack) that reinforce the mental work of deciding if 41 is greater than 39. When your child is ready to play Rack-O by its intended rules, more math concepts, like differences and probability, will come into play.)


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