Discover Kenya – How to make and play Mancala

Mancala is a popular boardgame that has been played for hundreds of years in many parts of Africa; in East Africa the game is often referred to as ‘Bao’. We decided to make our own board as part of our Kenya study. There are many variants but essentially this is a ‘move and capture’ game where you want to end up with more tokens than your opponent.

Mancala boards can range from digging pits in the earth, to simple wooden boards, to stunningly carved and engraved affairs using wood or tin. They are also easy to make at home with a few simple materials!

How to make a Mancala board

Materials

  • 12-hole egg carton
  • Scissors, tape / glue.
  • Optional: paint
  • 48 tokens.

The great thing about making your own Mancala board is that you can customise and decorate it; Miss 6 chose to paint ours a vibrant pink and add some lizard spectators. The tokens can be whatever you want; aim for around small marble size. This home-made game board is great for practising fine motor skills and pincer movements!

  • scoop out and dry seeds from pumpkin or butternut
  • small river stones
  • small sea shells
  • marbles
  • beads

Directions

  1. Remove the lid of the egg carton.
  2. Optional: Paint your egg carton and allow it to completely dry.
  3. Cut the lid in half. Attach one half at each end using tape and/or glue. These create a long ‘mancala’ for each player to place their captured pieces.

How to play Mancala

There are many variants to Mancala; this is the version that has worked best for us:

  • Set up the gameboard by dropping four tokens (or ‘seeds’) into each ‘hole’ / ‘pit’. The six pits closest to your Mancala are controlled by you; the further six pits and Mancala are controlled by your opponent.
  • The player who begins chooses one of their ‘pits’ and picks up all of the tokens in it. They then proceed in an anti-clockwise direction and drop a token in each pit as they move forward. They do not drop a token in their opponent’s mancala. They do drop a token in their own Mancala. We like to think of this as sowing seeds.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a token in their own Mancala, they get another turn. Players can use this to their advantage and may strategically repeat it several times before play passes.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a seed in an opponent’s empty ‘pit’, they capture (‘harvest’) the token they just dropped and all the tokens in the ‘pit’ opposite. They place the tokens in their Mancala; then play passes to their opponent.
  • If their turn finishes by dropping a token in one of their own pits, or an opponent’s pit that contains tokens, then play passes.
  • The game ends when one player cannot move. Each player then collects (‘harvests’) all the tokens (‘seeds’) in their six pits (or ‘field’) and moves them to their Mancala. Players may strategically anticipate this end game result in how they move their pieces.
  • Players count the tokens in their Mancala at game’s end. Highest score wins.

KiwiCo Review: Atlas Crate for 6-11 Year Olds – Madagascar (Deluxe Box)

What is in the Madagascar crate?

You begin by opening your travel mail from Milo and Anya to find out about their latest travel adventures! Miss 6 enjoys seeing them posing for selfies in the photos of Madagascar.

There is a passport sticker to add to our Adventure Passport and various cards about Madagascar to add to it as well. These range from a country map and cultural information, to activity cards with things to do. You can learn a few Malagasy words, discover unique animal species, have a go at painting Masonjoany, and make Godrogodro (a caramel spice cake).

We read our deluxe box book, Thank You, Baobab Tree, learning about how important these incredible trees are in Madagascar and how many uses they have. The baobab trees form an important part of the ecosystem as well as providing food, rich in vitamin C, and medicine.

One creature fond of the baobab tree is the lemur. The craft for this box is creating your own baobab tree, a launcher, and three lemurs. I did appreciate their eye for detail as you are given instructions on creating a ring-tailed lemur, an indri lemur, and a sifaka lemur.

Tip: You may want to use sellotape to help secure the inside flaps of the tree’s scooped branches and craft glue to help form a stronger attachment with the lemur components.

Learn to play Fanorona

Fanorona is a game of strategy indigenous to Madgascar. It is a game played by children and rulers alike. I love that it’s a visual-spatial non-linguistic game (perfect for kids whose learning strengths are in these areas).

The rules of Fanorona are reasonably simple but gameplay shows there is plenty of room for strategy, logic, and thinking ahead. We have very much enjoyed playing this multiple times.

HOW DO I ORDER ATLAS CRATE?

This is not a paid review. I spent a lot of time searching the internet to find out more information about the Kiwi Crate and Atlas Crate boxes before deciding to try them and found the blog posts / photos that people shared were really useful!

If you would like to try Atlas Crate (or one of their other lines), you can receive 50% off your first box by clicking here.

What I like about the Atlas Crate kits is that they provide a colourful and imaginative way of exploring the world through hands-on activities. I like that they use a mix of STEM and art to explore different concepts and ideas. Their products are also very well made, with clear instructions, and kids feel a real sense of pride in what they accomplish with each box.

There’s no obligation to sign-up in an on-going capacity so it’s easy to tie them in with birthdays / Christmas; the boxes are quite compact so they also store easily in a cupboard for bringing them out on a rainy day. Other families will choose to sign up for a longer period (like a 3, 6, or 12 month cycle).

WHAT IS IN AN ATLAS CRATE?

Each Atlas Crate comes with a special airmail envelope from Anya the Cricket and Milo the Sandpiper revealing where they’ve been on their latest adventure. There is a special passport sticker for your child’s Atlas Adventure Book plus seven new pages to add about a new country (highlighting geography, customs, landmarks, history, and foods).

There are supplies for two activities (which might be a mix of art, STEM, and games) as well as suggestions for more DIY activities to try at home – from things to make, to things to bake!

If you choose the Deluxe option, then you will also receive a book that helps you explore that month’s destination. This upgrade is an additional USD$9.95 (approx. $15 NZD) and can impact shipping costs as well. Since we’re homeschooling, I decided that we’d try the Deluxe option for 6 months to see how useful we find it.

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

#3 Discover France

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

ExperisenseNZ

Exploring Maths through Art

Exploring Space through Art

Exploring the Human Body through Art

Exploring Spring: Flower Press and Life Cycles

Exploring Science through Experiments

Fun math games for kids – Sum Swamp

Learning Resources: Sum Swamp

Sum Swamp is a maths boardgame that practices addition and subtraction in a simple and colourful way. What I like about the game is that it is very appealing to visual-kinaesthetic learners. Children select one of the four colourful markers (frog, snail, dragonfly, or crocodile) and roll dice to create equations that determine how they move around the board. The full instructions are conveniently available to view online: here.

The game is aimed at ages 5+ and can be played by 2 – 4 players; younger children may prefer to play two characters in case one languishes far behind the rest. Children are learning to arrange sums so that the largest number goes to the left; to recognise plus (+) and minus (-) symbols; and to recognise odds and evens. The simplest addition sum in the game is 1 + 1 = ?; the most difficult addition sum in the game is 6 + 6 = ?.

Tips for scaffolding the game (decreasing difficulty)

  • You can make the game easier by using physical objects for children to count and re-group while they do the sums.
  • The game provides numeral dice; consider switching to dice with dots. This helps children by giving them something visual to count.
  • Provide a number line. There are various types that can be purchased or you could print one for free from Twinkl.

Tips for scaffolding the game (increasing difficulty)

  • Buy a write on / wipe off dice (or other blank dice) so that you can also use the game to practice multiplication and division.
  • Buy a set of beautiful gaming dice containing D4, D6, D8, D10, D10 percentile, D12, and D20 (check out colours like milkshake, undersea whispers, or supernova). This opens the game up to an older audience; for instance, you can do equations up to 20 (using D12 + D8) and up to 30 (using D20 + D10). You may need to come up with a few house rules as you move to bigger numbers; for instance: that you need to do two laps of the board to finish, or, that the maximum amount you can move forward/back in a turn is 10.

Fun math games for kids – Times Tables Heroes

Orchard Toys: Times Tables Heroes

Before we played Times Tables Heroes, we had already spent time looking at the concept of ‘grouping’ (multiplication) and ‘skip counting’. We ‘group’ our captured pieces when we play Fanorona and I show how we can count them by 1’s, or 2’s, etc; we collect pebbles on our nature walks and practice different ways to ‘group’ them to help us count them. Times Tables Heroes is a fun way of practising our times tables that Miss 6 genuinely enjoys (and much better than my memories of sitting in front of a chalk board while the entire class repeated after the teacher!).

The game comes with sturdy cardboard pieces and is easy to set-up. You choose from one of four superheroes (each of whom has unique super powers). Instead of rolling a dice, you spin two spinners. One spinner determines which multiplication table you will practice; beginner level practices 2, 5, 10 and advanced level practices 1 – 12. The next spinner determines how many ‘groups’ you will have; i.e. 12 groups of 2. Once you have announced the answer correctly, you move to the next vehicle on the board that matches the spinner.

I love that the game comes with a colourful multiplication slider. It’s easy to scaffold the game so that children begin by using the slider to find their answer and then, as they gain confidence, to check their answer. We also do a hand-clapping singing game to work our way through the times tables each time to reach the answer.

The twist for the game is that it also incorporates oral storytelling (a literacy bonus!). If you land on a vehicle with a shield then you pick up a dreadful disaster card and need to describe how you will use your superpowers to save the city. The game helpfully comes with a guide that explains the disasters but we prefer to make up our own, after all – would you rather defend the city from an asteroid, or from an attack by giant flaming meatballs from an alien’s intergalactic BBQ party?

Tip: What is wonderful for visual-spatial learners and kids whose learning needs mean they need lots of movement, is that they do not need to sit still for this game. Encourage them to get up and act out their story (or everyone’s story – though they may need to be encouraged to do silent mime on other people’s turn).

Tip: It’s easy for this game to tick off maths, oral storytelling, and drama in a single session. You could use it to further support literacy, by asking kids to later extend on one of their superhero stories by writing it down / typing it up. Alternatively, encourage them to dictate the story and focus on linear story telling, mind mapping what / when / why / who / where, and editing.

Tip: The Shield cards have numbers that provide bonus moves. We find the game quite short so we ignore this and our house rule is to treat these as victory points; this way everyone can have a go at defeating the robot at the end of the board and it doesn’t matter who gets there first.

Maths Bingo

You can also reverse the game board to create maths bingo boards (with extra boards available online).

Through the Desert – Boardgame Review

Through the Desert – caravan leaders

From the award-winning game designer Reiner Knizia comes a game of strategy, patience, and cool plastic camels! The desert is still treacherous, mysterious, and without mercy. But for those willing to risk the dangers of the shifting, sun-baked sands, the desert holds riches beyond compare.
In Through the Desert, two to five players each control a tribe of nomads vying for control of the desert. By establishing caravans and taking over oases, the players gain points as their tribes increase in power.

Strategy is essential in deciding how and where to build your tribe’s caravans. There are multiple ways to gain points and several ways to win. Should you try to build the longest caravan? Or should you dominate the desert’s oases? Don’t forget to keep an eye on your opponents’ caravans, or you may find your own tribe cut off from valuable water holes.

Through the Desert (a strategy / placement game)

Many reviewers have found the game reminiscent of the ancient and elegant game of Go. Through the Desert can be played in a number of strategic ways (including encapsulating territory and aiming to prevent your opponents from reaching key resources) but at it’s heart it’s about camels. 180 beautifully coloured miniature camels in five pastel colours (along with caravan leaders) that are sure to delight younger players (and are still pretty cool as an adult).

Players take turns to place their leaders on the board and then game play proceeds by choosing two camels (of any colour) and placing them on the board (connecting them to your caravan(s) of the same colour. Play continues until there are no camels left of a particular colour.

Strategy comes into play with the various placement rules and scoring system. You can place camels of a different coloured caravan next to your opponents camels but not next to the same colour (an important rule as otherwise camel ownership would become very confusing!). This simple rule opens up all kinds of strategic moves as you work to block opponents from reaching their goals.

Scoring involves reaching the five palm-tree oasis, taking watering holes, capturing territory (by surrounding it), and having the longest caravans of each colour.

Bonus features

There are rules provided for how to scaffold the game from 2 players to 5 players; the beautiful game board also provides natural geographic features to restrict the play area if there are only 2 players. It’s also double sided so that once you have mastered ‘the mountain’, you flip it to see how ‘the river’ changes play.

It also provides optional rules for variant game plays.

What age is the game suitable for?

To an extent, this will depend on the children involved and their interests / attention span. It helps that the rules are simple enough that even younger children can simply choose camels (at random or based on their favourite colour) and join in – while also adding an element of natural chaos to the plans of older players.

Slightly older children will begin to understand there are different possible goals and begin to engage with these. They may choose to focus on a single goal at a time or juggle a multiple focus. Goals can include:

  • Having the most camels of a particular colour on the board.
  • Linking their caravans to as many oasis as possible (each caravan scores 5 points for each oasis they reach).
  • Acquiring as many watering holes as possible (these score points and are removed from the board by the player that reaches them first).
  • Creating lines to stop other players from moving forward / reaching their goal.

Adults will appreciate that last goal often isn’t the most high-scoring but it’s a tactic that kids will delight in when they thwart their parents!

What can boardgames teach us? a.k.a. learning through play

There’s a whole community of homeschoolers who focus on gameschooling as a key way of learning. Why? Because it makes learning fun and there are so many wonderful games out there that can teach kids skills and knowledge without them even being aware that they’re learning.

In Through the Desert, they are learning:

  • Maths: strategy; logical reasoning.
  • Maths: counting to 20, addition, skip counting, and equivalency trading.
    • Even if they don’t instinctively recognise that 5+5 = 10, they can quickly learn that they can trade 2 x 5 point tokens, for a 10 point token with a different picture.
    • Children can help to score at end of game by: counting how many camels they have of each colour; ‘skip counting’ by 5’s or 10’s to add their oasis points; add their 1 / 2 / 3 point watering hole tokens together to find a total.
  • Visual-spatial recognition and reasoning.
    • By end of game there is a beautiful and unique pattern of coloured camels on the board (with complexity increased by number of players) so there is a fair amount of visual processing involved in working out final scoring – especially for minor captured territories (encapsulation).
  • World Studies:
    • It’s a great opportunity to review any desert habitats or countries that you’ve studied. We pulled out our range of desert dwelling animals that we’ve collected in our studies so far to watch the action; unsurprisingly, our Dromedary Camel was lead judge.
  • Life Skills:
    • It’s a great game to discuss short-term gains (such as thwarting parents) vs long-term gains (strategic scoring).
  • Social Skills: turn taking, patience, and good sportsmanship.
Through the Desert end of game