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

Life in Lockdown – Decorate our streets!

Making homemade chalk is easy a great way to connect as a family!

Life in New Zealand has changed rapidly. Our borders are closed, domestic travel restricted, our schools and shops closed, and we are asked to remain at home in order to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Cars are now to be used only for essential travel (the doctor, pharmacy, or supermarket) and people may only leave their house to walk nearby. Social distancing is everything.

Our big field trip for today was walking to the top of the driveway and drawing pictures that the kids in the houses nearby can see from their windows. Creating chalk, with a few simple ingredients from the supermarket, has been both art and science. It’s also a way to share a little love and kindness with the community around us.

Why not bring a little colour to yours?

Life in lockdown: Share some love and decorate our streets!

How to make home made chalk

Ingredients

  • Cornflour
  • Water
  • Food colouring
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Waxed paper / baking paper
  • Scissors
  • Sellotape or rubber bands

Note: Alternative ingredients include plaster of paris + tempera paint, or a 1:2 ratio of very finely crushed eggshell + flour.

Directions

  1. Prepare your moulds. Toilet paper rolls are a good size; I find a bread knife does a good job of sawing longer cardboard inner tubes into parts.
  2. Cover the bottom of your cardboard tubes with waxed paper and tape / elastic band into place. You then want to roll more waxed paper and slot it inside (you may need to trim to size).
  3. Pour cornstarch into a bowl and then add food colouring of your choice. Slowly add water and mix well. You want to add just enough water to create a very thick [viscous] mixture.
  4. Pour or spoon the mix into your moulds.
  5. Pop into a hot water cupboard (or somewhere warm to dry). You want as much of the water to evaporate as possible to dry before use (about 24-48 hrs).
  6. You can then removed from the moulds and let the kids have fun!

Tip

If you add too much water then it will have difficulty drying (and remaining contained within the moulds). Never fear! Treat it as a chemistry and physics lesson all-in-one for the kids. You have just created a non-Newtonian fluid 🙂 You can take your ooblek outside for messy play fun with the kids. Pour it into your hands and watch how it becomes a solid if you clench your fist but magically liquefies if you release the pressure!

Rainy Day Craft

Rainy Day Craft Kit

We were fortunate enough to receive a free Rainy Day Craft Kit from Sensible Mind Creative. I loved the thoughtfulness that had gone into the packaging and presentation.

The kits are designed to be awesome and inclusive for special needs families as well as neurotypical kids. The instructions are colour coded for each step (with matching colour stickers on the corresponding craft materials). The instructions have lots of colour photos so that there is strong visual support. Honestly, this was also really handy for me as a parent!

The great thing about doing a craft like this as a homeschooling family is that you can work at your own pace. Some kids would happily spend a weekend working through the steps themselves (and allowing some time for glue to dry). We spent about three weeks on it – sometimes it actually was raining outside while we worked on a step! Miss 5 liked best the soft fluffy cloud and making the umbrellas.

The finished craft can be used as a:

  • Wall hanging (decoration)
  • Sensory board
  • Unit focus for weather or water cycles

We definitely recommend!

Making Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

How to make Christmas Crackers (Bonbons)

Have a Ka Pai Kiwi Christmas!

I posted last year about how easy it is to make your own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I love that personalizing them means that you have full creative license to create different themes each year. Last year, we did a Christmas theme for the visual aesthetic and I hand decorated wooden beads (my daughter still has them!). This year I thought I would celebrate New Zealand’s summer with an ocean theme as well as changing the gifts inside to match Miss 3’s interests (she has autism and adores things in miniature).

Ingredients 

  • Cracker snaps
  • Cardboard tubes (inner tubes from paper towels are perfect,  just cut in half).
  • Your choice of cracker filling.
  • Blue crepe paper
  • Shells
  • Twine
  • Sellotape
  • Scissors
  • Super glue (or glue gun)

Note: Davids Emporium  sells cracker snaps for 30 cents each just ask at the sales counter.

For the inside, I did little plastic bags containing: Christmas joke, stickers, and a miniature Christmas cookie / Christmas pudding etc. These will inevitably get gifted to Miss 3 for her dollhouse 🙂  They are adorable and were a wonderful find in the button / crafts section, again at  Davids Emporium.

Directions

  1. Take a cracker snap and place it inside in your tube (it should stick out each end with a comfortable amount to pull on). Lightly sellotape it at each end to hold in place.
  2. Assemble your cracker filling and slide it into the tube. I put mine in a tiny sealed plastic bag.
  3. Roll the tube in crepe paper and tie at each end with twine;  make sure that you have enough paper at each end to cover the cracker snap that is sticking out & to comfortably pull it.  Super glue (or glue gun) on the sea shells.

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Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic

Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic served with bacon, brussel sprouts, and rice noodles.

I really love the simplicity of this dish and that it’s a one pot meal when cooked in the wok. Miss 2 even ate a brussel sprout after licking all the gravy off it!

Ingredients

  • 40 cloves of garlic (peeled; hard end cut off; cut in half any large cloves)
  • 3 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (cut in half)
    • You can use chicken tenderloins or thighs instead.
  • Neutral oil (i.e. Rice Bran Oil)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock + 1/2 cup in reserve
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1T dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2T fine white rice flour
  • Optional: 2 chopped rashers of bacon (middle or shoulder)
  • Optional: approx. 8 brussel sprouts (chopped in half)
  • Optional: Wild Mushroom Powder

Allergies: soy free, gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. In a large skillet / frying pan / electric wok, heat the oil.
  2. Put in the chicken and garlic. Once the chicken is partially cooked, put in the bacon and brussel sprouts to cook as well.
  3. Cook until the chicken is browned on both sides.
  4. Add 3 cups of the chicken stock, lemon juice, basil, and oregano. You may want to keep back some of the lemon juice and add after tasting (it can be quite a strong flavour).
  5. Bring mixture to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
    • Note: If you want to serve with rice noodles, you can rinse the noodles under hot water until you are able to separate them and then cook them in the simmering broth. Not only will this help to reduce the broth but the noodles taste amazing!
    • Taste the broth and add salt + pepper to liking. If you’d like slightly more umami flavour, consider adding  a dash of one of the following: coconut amino acids, wild mushroom powder, soy sauce, or hoisin sauce.* Food allergies will impact choice.
  6. In a small bowl or cup, whisk the rice flour and 1/c of reserved chicken stock. Add this slurry to the cooking mixture and cook until the sauce thickens (you may need to increase the heat).
  7. Serve with rice noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes.

Note: The secret to this recipe is to lightly sear the outside of the garlic cloves – you want them to go soft, sweet, and squishy inside (like when roasted (otherwise the garlic can be a bit overwhelming). In the traditional French recipe the cloves are left intact (skin on) and the dish is cooked in the oven (then you suck out the gooey inner and discard the skin).

 

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What foods contain soy?

Soy beans (edamame)

Soy beans (edamame) are an obvious form of soy; you will be surprised how many of the foods you eat are hiding soy!

Is soy really hiding in everything I eat?

You may be surprised how many of the foods you eat each day contain hidden soy. I’ve written previously about  soybean oil (normally called vegetable oil) and soy lecithin. These are incredibly widely used in the international food industry because they are cheap, grown year round, and are not FDA regulated (i.e. these do not have to be declared as an allergen on packaging). These are often hidden in compound ingredients, as are other products that may be soy derived. I have to check ingredients every single time I buy something (even if I’ve bought it before). I don’t buy anything containing oil or emulsifiers unless those are 100% declared and identifiable (i.e. canola oil and sunflower lecithin). 

I also have to be careful about bathroom products because glyercin can be soy derived. I’ve changed our bathroom to natural products like shampoo bars and chemical free soap products.

What foods contain soy?

I’ve tried to keep the table below to ingredients. The reality is that these ingredients can be in anything other than raw fruit, most raw vegetables, and most unprocessed raw meats. Soy can be present in anything else including bread, biscuits, crackers, dried fruit (i.e. sultanas have oil added), deli meats, bacon, sausages, peanut butter, spreadable butter, margarine, spice mixes; I’ve even looked at tins of ‘beans in springwater’ which have had soy!

I’ve inserted the table it as a photo so that it’s possible to save the image to your phone or print it for your wallet.

Ingredients that may contain SOY

Ingredients that may contain SOY

Note: Also miso (as a soup or paste)!

Winter Crafts: Painting Leaves

A wonderful winter activity can be going for a walk through the woods or local park and talking about how the trees change with the seasons (and how some don’t!).

Collect some leaves and pine cones on your walk and take them home to dry.

Tip: Putting then on newspaper or a towel in the hot water cupboard works well.

Once the leaves are dry they make a wonderful canvas for painting. Again, they dry well in the hot water cupboard and can be hung up for a few days as decorations.

Tip: You could try spraying them with varnish to help them last longer.

Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)