No, no, it’s not what you think. My Kiera is alive and well, and right here happily dozing on my feet. It’s the Kiera from The Oregon Trail.

Cait and I have been playing this computer game she got for Christmas. It’s designed to teach children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the trail.

The Learning Company explains: The game helps kids build real-life decision-making and problem-solving skills; they have to choose their wagon party, manage a budget to buy supplies, read maps, plan their route, and guide their team through the wilderness. They also have to develop solutions to help their family survive the dangers of the long journey, including raging rivers, buffalo stampedes, sickness, starvation — and, in our case, even death by g unshot wound.

At the beginning of the game, you have to select who you’re going to be, your profession, and the names and ages of the other people in your party. For Cait’s first game, she named herself, me, Andrew, Kiera, Graidy, and Finnegan. We’d made it all the way to the Platte River from Independence, MO, where Andrew was the first to die of starvation. (Being the first game, Cait hadn’t quite planned out her supplies adequately, and didn’t realize that along with hunting–iffy at best–she could have also fished and gathered.) Then Kiera died of a g unshot wound from a hunting accident. But the rest of us survived cold, hunger, and wagons tipping over to make it to Oregon, where we settled on 326 acres and became valuable members of the community. Along the way, we learned a lot about the history of life on the Oregon Trail.

The game was so captivating that when the characters of Andrew and then Kiera died, Cait and I found ourselves feeling quite dispirited, even though Andrew was sitting at the table with us, and Kiera was lying in her usual spot by the door. (Weird and a little disconcerting how that works.) We learned our lesson. We both agreed after that to stick to fictitious names.

We’ve played several games since, have had lots of adventures, and have learned a ton. It’s been so fascinating that we’ve moved on to reading books, and are even talking about taking a little wagon train trip this summer.

Learning at its best — engaging, shared with people you love, sending you on an adventure to learn even more.