Ready for the First Day of School!

The summer went by way too quickly, and it’s already time for the first day of the 2019-2020 school year! Yesterday was spent doing a few last fun things before we get back to work…playing board games, baking cookies, building a Lego set, and having an Iron Man movies marathon:

Today, on the other hand, was “cleaning day.” We got the school ready (more or less) for another year of learning. Surprisingly, not too much has changed in the last year, just some minor rearranging, which is very unusual for us!

We had a “Farewell to Summer” dinner tonight…ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, watermelon, and root beer floats for dessert. We also watched Detective Pikachu, which was a really cute movie, even for someone like me, who isn’t too familiar with Pokemon.

And the outfits are ready for tomorrow morning!

Everything else that needs to be ready for tomorrow is good to go…I put the schultüte together (but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see their contents), organized the bookshelves, and got all the new workbooks sorted out and put on desks. I’m looking forward to beginning our 12th year of homeschooling!

Summer School 2019

Just like that, another year’s summer school has come to an end. I think our Rick Steves’ Europe themed summer school might be my favorite that we’ve done so far, because even though I didn’t have to do as much work (until it was time to start cooking), and hands-on activities and field trips were a little elusive (although I did make a few things work!), we all learned so much, and had a lot of fun while doing it!

So what did a primarily video-based summer school look like? We watched (if I counted correctly) 72 episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe over the course of two months. While we couldn’t “visit” every place I would have liked, we did get a great overview of Europe with “trips” to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine, plus a few other places. We also watched all three regular travel skills specials and the cruising special. We even found time for all three other specials: Christmas, Easter, and Festivals! (We watched The Story of Fascism in Europe last spring, and since it was kind of intense, we didn’t watch it again this summer.) I bought my oldest students travel journals, and Chickadee a sketchbook, and they wrote and/or drew something for every episode we watched. Places they hope to visit someday, interesting facts, travel tips…anything that jumped out at them. I really hope they’ll keep these journals, so that if they ever do have the opportunity to go to Europe, they can look through them, and see what their younger selves thought would be cool to visit, and maybe add some locations to their itinerary.

I mentioned field trips and hands-on activities. Some of them were a bit of a stretch, but I did my best. For example, we visited Frankenmuth, MI, this summer, which is known as “Michigan’s Little Bavaria.” I figured this was as close we could get to visiting a European town, and it really did look like I imagine some German towns do. We also got to eat a lovely German meal while we were there:

Speaking of food, we also tried a new-to-us cuisine this summer when we went to a local Bosnian restaurant. We were all very impressed, both with the dishes and the “slow-food” way of eating there…I’m sure we’ll be going back!

And how could we make it through the day we learned about traveling in Greece without having gyros?

The St. Louis Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit of work by a European artist, Paul Gauguin, which was a nice way to experience a bit of European culture:

Now, on to “other activities.” We played a lot of games this summer: Ticket to Ride Europe, 10 Days in Europe, and Ticket to Ride: My First Journey (European Map). These all gave us a chance to talk about the various cities/countries on the maps, and recall things we had seen watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and talk about the places we’d like to visit. I also gave my students a few special assignments…Chickadee made a poster about her favorite European city, (Paris), Ladybug wrote a 1,500 word essay about hers, (Rome), and my oldest students read Travel as a Political Act, and I have to say, I think our discussions about that book might have been my favorite part of the whole summer. They certainly learned a lot about life in Europe and the importance of travel, and I think their worldview changed a bit because of it! For one hands-on activity everyone could enjoy, we built the only Lego Architecture European skyline set we didn’t already have: Paris. It was a fun little build, and a nice addition to our collection!

And finally…cooking at home! This is always one of my favorite parts of summer school, but I have to confess, I kind of put this off to the end of the summer, and was rushing to cook all the things I had planned. In the end, we tried French, Swiss, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian, British, Italian, German, and Middle Eastern cuisines at home (full details on what we tried next week). I think we all have some new favorites, and I definitely learned a few new cooking techniques along the way!

Obviously, traveling to Europe as a large family isn’t a realistic option, at least not for us. But I did my best to give my children a glimpse into European culture and history, and more than that, I really I hope I inspired in them a desire to travel when they’re older and have the opportunity. There are so many interesting places and great people throughout the world, and I am grateful for any chance to explore them, even if we had to do it vicariously for now!

Chickadee Thursday

Last Thursday, I shared a picture of Chickadee with the poster she made for our European-themed summer school. Today, I’m taking a look at something else she did in summer school this year:

She’s played the US map of Ticket to Ride: My First Journey before, but this summer was her first chance to play the European map. She recognized many of the illustrations from watching Rick Steves’ Europe, and I didn’t even have to try to let her win…she’s a natural!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Six

Last night, we played Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. I like this board, because it’s designed for only two or three players. Since it’s meant for so few people, you don’t feel as though you’re missing out when only two are playing. There are no bonuses in this game, and locomotives aren’t true wild cards…they’re used when claiming a tunnel route, and only a tunnel route.

Ryan took this one, winning 141 to 134. The reason was obvious…I just didn’t claim as many routes (although we both had the same number of completed tickets…10), and so I had nine trains at game’s end, compared to Ryan’s two.

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At least this was a close match…I’m still hoping to tie things up at some point!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Five

On Sunday night, we played another new-to-us Ticket to Ride board–The Heart of Africa (another Christmas present from last year).

Like the Netherlands board, this game incorporates another new element…terrain cards. (As an aside, things get confusing when you’re talking about train cars, trains cards, and terrain cards!) When you play the terrain cards, they allow you to double the value of the route you’re playing, based on the number of cards you have compared to other players, the type of terrain, and the length of the route. To be honest, I used this ability only a few times (although Ryan used it a lot), because I couldn’t figure out how to coordinate getting the terrain cards with getting the train cards I needed, and building my routes before Ryan got to them!

In the end, the score was Amanda 200, Ryan 153. I’m just as shocked as you are, trust me. We both thought he was going to win handily as we were playing, because of all of the double route values he was getting. But I guess since I was ignoring collecting those cards, it allowed me to focus on route-building…I finished nine routes, and got the African Globetrotter bonus, while Ryan finished only four routes. I also had zero trains left at the end of the game, while Ryan had seven.

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We’ve played seven different boards/versions of boards so far, and Ryan has the lead four games to three. Maybe I’ll tie it up next time!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Four

On Saturday night, we played two more variations of Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Europa 1912–Big Cities of Europe.

The Europe board is pretty standard, with one addition–stations. There is a bonus card–the European Express, which goes to the player with the longest route. I lost (again), but this game was a bit closer, at least…Ryan 140, Amanda 128. Ryan completed six routes, and won the bonus for longest route, with four trains and two stations left at the end of the game. I completed seven routes, and had no trains and three stations left.

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Big Cities of Europe is a bit different. There are no bonus cards, but there are depots and stations, which have the ability to give a player bonus points at the end of the game, as well as warehouses, which allow you to pick up a bunch of train cards in one turn.

The final score was Amanda 184, Ryan 136…I finally won one! I completed ten routes, and had one train, three depots, and three stations left at the end of the game. Ryan completed nine routes, and had eight trains, three depots, and zero stations left when the game was done.

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I think we might take a break from the Europe board from a bit, even though there are more ways to play it. There are still plenty of other Ticket to Ride maps left, though!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Three

Last night, we fit two games of Ticket to Ride in, both on the standard board. The first was the USA 1910 expansion, and the second was Big Cities. Let me tell you, it was not my night!

The USA 1910 expansion wasn’t too bad. The final score was Ryan 156, Amanda 144. I had no trains left at the end of the game, and completed 8 routes, but even with three trains left, Ryan managed to complete 10 routes and received the Globetrotter bonus.

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Big Cities, however, was a disaster (for me, not for Ryan!). The final score was an embarrassing Ryan 157, Amanda 114. We both completed six routes, but there were no bonuses in this game (not that I would have benefitted from one, anyway). I had four trains left (and was so close to using them up and completing my seventh route!), but Ryan used all of his.

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I have learned in playing that board that I should either play a train coming out of Las Vegas immediately at the beginning of the game, whether I think I need it or not, or just abandon any thought of using any route that goes through Las Vegas at all. In both games, I suffered from the fact the Ryan had a route through that city, which made it impossible for me to get a train in there, and in the first game we played, this completely ruined a non-insignificant (read: I probably would have won with it), route for me. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe there’s a strategy involving that city…just an interesting bit of information to tuck away for the future!

I think there’s only one variation left on the standard board, other than the mystery train version, (we’re working on figuring out a way to play that one)–the mega map. It includes all of the destination tickets, plus the two bonus cards (Trans-America Express and Globetrotter). That will be the last game we play to end this challenge, so for now, it’s time to move on to another board!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night Two

Tonight we played the newest Ticket to Ride Board: Nederland.

It was definitely a different game! This game incorporates bridge tolls, and when you’re playing with only two people, you have to add a “neutral character” for part of the game. It made for a new Ticket to Ride experience, but I’m not sure how much I liked it!

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The final score was Ryan 183, Amanda 175 (closer than I was expecting, to be honest). I completed six routes, with one train left at the end, but I also had to take out a loan, which cost me five points. Ryan completed five routes, with five trains left at the end, and he also had eight tokens left, which gave him and extra 35 points! That’s a huge bonus, and something to keep in mind when we play this board in the future!

We haven’t decided which board we’re playing next, but hopefully, it will be something a little more standard!

The Great Ticket to Ride Challenge–Night One

Ryan decided that we should play through all of the different maps and variations of Ticket to Ride that we own (which is pretty much all of them!), so that we could decide which board is our favorite, and who is the house Ticket to Ride champion. I have no idea how long this challenge will take us to complete…look at how long it took us to build the Lego Tower Bridge! But, we started our challenge tonight with the original Ticket to Ride map (but with the updated point values).

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The final score was Amanda 137 and Ryan 132. I completed six routes with one train left at the end, and Ryan completed five routes (and won the longest continuous route–the Trans-America Express bonus), with two trains left.

I fully expect tonight’s victory to be an anomaly, as I tend to lose at, well, all board games when playing against Ryan, but even when I lose, Ticket to Ride is still my favorite game, and tons of fun to play!