N is for Notes

Ah, handwriting. Some kids love it, and some kids just don’t. Actually, some adults are great at it, and some just aren’t. Of all the subjects, I find this one to be one of the most difficult to teach, for a variety of reasons.

Creativity does not translate into neatness

My kids love to draw, paint, scribble, cut, fold, tear, etc. Creativity has never run low in my family. There’s always markers, glitter, crayons, paper, glue, and just about any other mostly child-safe art supply available to my kids. And the only reason we might not have something is because they used it all up. We actually ran out of markers last month!

But, lots and lots of creativity means nothing when it comes to handwriting. I naively assumed that because my children like to draw and color and can stay in the lines (when they want to) that teaching handwriting would be a breeze.

I think the opposite is true. They find the structure of handwriting confining and feel the need to embellish and decorate everything on their page. Even on their math pages. 9’s turn into people, and 1’s must be decorated to the nth degree.

IMG_20160411_224349150Uneven

I just assumed that by 2nd grade keeping letter all the same size would come naturally. Apparently, that’s a learned skill. I remember struggling with this when I was a kid, well into 4th grade. For some kids, it doesn’t matter how many lines you give them, it’s just so hard to keep those letters even.

Grip

I have worked and worked with my kids on how to hold a pencil but it seems to do nothing for their handwriting. I mentioned this to my art teacher when my oldest was in 1st grade and she wasn’t at all surprised that I was still having trouble teaching this. She said that in her experience, kids are usually between 7 and 10 before they’re actually physically coordinated enough to hold a pencil correctly and write with perfect, even penmanship.

I’m so glad my teacher told me this. I was getting frustrated with my 1st grader and she was getting frustrated with me. So, I backed off. I still make her practice handwriting, but I make it easier and less time-consuming. We started cursive in 2nd grade and I used a K4 Cursive writing book for her. Long pages of writing means that I get really poor penmanship. Short pages means that she actually tries. And I’d much rather see 5 correctly formed words than 30 illegible words. She has a long way to go on her cursive, but we got a great start this year, and she’s still wanting to improve.

What’s actually interesting to me is the less I push my oldest, the better her penmanship gets. She’s entering that age where she wants to write her own notes and stories, and her penmanship just improves as she goes.

I haven’t given up on penmanship, I’m just allowing my children to learn at their own pace. Next year I have a Kindergartner and a 3rd grader and I’ve already looked at curriculum and picked out their handwriting. They’re both going to learn manuscript and cursive together. The younger child needs to learn, and the older child needs to improve. And hopefully, with some sibling competition, they will both improve faster than if either was working alone.

Plus, let’s be honest here. While I have great handwriting (manuscript, cursive, and calligraphy), I despise writing out pages of random words or sayings. So, why would I expect my children to like this?

Really, it’s just good to know that if I want my kids to have great handwriting, I need to plan to be teaching this all the way through middle school. Because perfection takes practice. Lots of practice.

 

M is for Mondays

I don’t know about you, but Monday is the hardest day of my week. Really, it starts on Sunday. We go to Church early, meet up with extended family for lunch, and meander home sometime around dinnertime. After the kids are in bed I prep and pack backpacks and lunches for our homeschool co-op on Monday.

I love our co-op, but boy is it hard to get up at 7 am Monday morning. My kids find it difficult as well. This past Monday, my middle child – the child who is impossible to wake up – would not wake up. I had lights on, in and out of the room, etc. for 30 minutes and still nothing. I ended up packing her clothes and carrying her to the car in her pjs and then dressing her once we arrived at our destination.

This kid is seriously hard to wake up. She once fell asleep in the car, I carried her into piano lessons, she slept through the lesson, I put her back in the car, stopped at a friend’s house to pick something up, came home, carried her inside to the couch, and she stayed asleep for another hour! And, yes, she always transferred well from the carseat to her crib when she was an infant.

On Monday, we finish up our school around 3 and head home. Once we get him I have work to do. I’m office manager for my husband’s company – check out his awesome website! -, and Monday is the day for invoices, paying bills, hours tracking, and any other fun number related bookkeeping items I can come up with. I take a break to make dinner and hang out with the kids until their bedtime and I usually finish up my work by 10pm.

It’s quite the Monday!

Luckily, the end is in sight. I have 3 more co-ops and then we’re done for the year and I’ve already switched to a new group for next year that meets on Fridays. Which will work out way better. Friday is usually our “do something fun” day and since my kids are convinced that co-op isn’t school (because how could science experiments, public speaking practice, art, history, geography, math, and latin with friends be school?), Friday can be a very productive “fun day” for us every week.

And my Mondays can be a slower start to my week. Since I’m just not a Monday person.

Anyone else struggle with Mondays? What do you do to make your Mondays a little easier?

L is for Learning

There are 3 categories of learning. And while each of my children has a preferred learning style. There is variation by subject. Still, it’s always interesting to me to consider these 3 different learning styles.

Often, when I’m teaching something and it’s just not working, if I step back and try a different style, I suddenly start seeing results. Whether it’s just that I switched up what I was doing so my child was no longer bored, or that I switched to a style that was a much easier way for her to learn this particular concept.

Though, after identifying a preferred style, I tend to try that one first because it’s the style that is most often met with success.

Auditory Learners
It’s what you think. They need to hear things. They do well in lectures, and other verbal forms of teaching. In the early grades, they learn very easily through song or rhyme. If they need to read something, an auditory learner wants to read it out loud because she wants to hear it.

Visual Learners
A visual learner wants to see things. Charts, diagrams, to-do lists, anything they can see. Often, they would rather read a book or instructions in their head instead of reading it out loud. They can be quiet in class because they don’t feel the need to verbally express what they know, but they’re always excited when there’s a list or chart involved.

Kinesthetic Learners
These people want to touch, feel, and experience. Think hands on. Manipulatives and props are especially helpful at the elementary age and they learn best in settings like drama, field trips, and science lab.

How does this help me while teaching? Well, if my child just isn’t getting something, I start by switching learning styles. For example. While teaching my oldest to add. We pulled out the manipulatives. The linking blocks. We’re adding to 5. In the first stack I have 5 pink, the second stack has 1 green and 4 pink, the third stack has 2 green and 3 pink, and so on until the last stack has 5 green. So I explain how adding the 1 green to the 4 pink gives us the same amount of items as the 5 pink. She was so upset that every single block in my towers was not pink. And she started undoing my stacks and replacing all the greens with pink.

Addition fail, color identification success.

Obviously, the Kinesthetic method was not working well. So we went to pen and paper. I would write the equation and draw pictures next to it. So, 1 star plus 4 stars equals 5 stars. Pretty sure I showed her this twice and she could add anything I handed her (kindergarten level, of course). She would even take the time to draw pictures next to the equations if they didn’t have them. A Visual technique was the best method for this concept. It also worked well for subtraction – and we’re now in 2nd grade and have yet to get those linking blocks out again.

Once she got the concept we would do math with things like smarties, skittles, and other little candies. So I was gradually able to reintroduce some kinesthetic learning. Because you do have to be able to count, add, subtract, etc. items in everyday life. Btw, the 2nd grade version of this is helping in the kitchen. We’re currently working on a better understanding of measurements like cup, pint, gallon, and 1/2, 1/4, and 1/3. She thinks it’s super cool when she gets to use all this math that she already knows.

What I’ve learned about my daughter is that she’s primarily a visual learner. But it’s also important to strengthen the other areas of learning. Like reciting math facts, saying our spelling word out loud, and other vocal learning to help her better learn by auditory means. The same with Kinesthetic, science is way more fun when it’s hands on, so we do lots of hands on for science and I slip hands on math in there when I can.

The point is, if you know how your child learns best, you can capitalize on that and then use what they’ve learned to help them see the same concept different ways. There’s no need to keep pounding away on a method that just isn’t working.

K is for Kinder

Did you know that our word Kindergarten is from German? Literally translated it means Children Garden. The original Kindergartens were designed as a place for pre-school children to play and grow. The word itself pictures the natural growth of childhood in a nurturing environment.

I remember my year in Kindergarten as being so much fun. I did learn to read, and I’m pretty sure I learned to count, and I definitely remember all the cool toys we got to play with, the playground, and the fun performance we got to put on for our parents at the end. Oh, and I loved my teacher, she was so sweet, and learning was so much fun.

And that’s what I think of Kindergarten and all the pre-school years. They should be years of fun, wonder, and nuture. Years where my children grow without the pressures of growing up. Like little flowers in a garden. To be carefully tended, loved, taught, and encouraged to bloom. You can’t make a flower bloom any faster by opening it up yourself, you have to wait. And just like flowers, each child will bloom when they’re ready. And not all will bloom at the same time.

I’m reminded of this line from Mulan – My, my, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late! I bet when it blooms, it will be most beautiful of all” by Fa Zhou – I provide all the nuture, care, attention, training, teaching, etc. and my children will bloom when they’re ready.

So, let your children be children. Let them enjoy being children. Because childhood is so magical, and so short.

 

H is for Why Homeschool?

For me, the decision to homeschool was easy. I and my husband were both homeschooled and both greatly benefited from being educated this way. So the decision to homeschool our children was easy, or, assumed. There was no discussion, I just had to figure out which umbrella school, what curriculums, state requirements, etc.

A couple years in and I love homeschooling my children. So, why homeschool? Or, why continue homeschooling? Here’s some benefits I’m already seeing.

  1. Child lead learning – I love my curriculum and it’s important for my children to be at least at grade level, but, their learning is tailored to their needs. My 2nd grader loves science, so she does lots of science. Extra science classes at the local museum, etc. She also loves to grow things, so this spring I told her she can have her own garden, choose what goes in it, and be responsible (with some help from me) for taking care of it. And for reading this month, my 2nd grader has selected a Nancy Drew. As the kids get older, they’ll have more say about what curriculum we’re using and what subjects or direction we want to go with which subjects (like do they want to learn algebra or geometry first).
  2. I can “sneak” in extra learning – My 2nd grader just realized the other day that when she helps me in the kitchen I’m making her do math. She’s struggling with understanding fractions so I was walking her through combining 2 1/2 cups to equal 1 cup. She loves to cook and really wants to read and follow her own recipe without assistance, but getting all her measurements right is still a bit tricky. When she realized she was doing math she wasn’t all upset about it, it was more the realization that some math is super useful and that she needs it to be able to accomplish something fun (like making her own batch of banana muffins). Guess who’s suddenly more interested in fractions!
  3. I know what needs more work – With reading, she’s a good reader, but often drops connecting words or skips lines. And when reading out loud she tends to be very quiet and hard to hear. I’ve been teaching her to read recipes to me in the kitchen and she’s realizing the importance of every line on the page. She doesn’t realize it, but it’s definitely helping with focusing on every word. (I know, back to cooking, but she loves cooking, and there’s so many other skills I can slip in while we’re at it) Also, she’s able to read devotions to us in the evenings instead of me doing all the reading. She thinks it’s awesome and I think it’s great to hear her read aloud. She wanted me to record her reading the other day so I told her that she had to talk really loud so the camera could pick up her voice. I’ve been wanting to work on presentation when reading but finding a way to emphasize it has been a challenge. Telling her to “read louder” just doesn’t work. It was her best reading yet, because who doesn’t love to be on camera!
  4. More Free time – We have time to spend all day browsing a museum, do a crafting day, or not start school until 10. When we’re done for the day, we’re done. No homework in the evening. The weather has been beautiful this week (finally warming up a bit) so lots of time has been spent outside. Our neighbor friend doesn’t get home from school until 3 or so and my kids are usually well into their outside play by that time.
  5. More Flexible Schedule – We vacation in the off season, meaning we get the beach to ourselves! We do school through snow days and get out early in the spring when the weather is just gorgeous! Some holidays we take and some we don’t, but we’ll throw in a bonus free day whenever we want to do something fun. It lets us have our schedule the way that works best for our family.
  6. More Sleep – My kids usually get up around 8. On those rare mornings when we have to be somewhere before then, I see all the kids waiting on the corner for the school bus to pick them up. I really can’t imagine waking my kids up before the sun every morning to get them to school. You shouldn’t have to do that until you get your first job. As a result, my kids get up fully rested and we have the flexibility to stay up late a night or two a week and do something fun as a family. Very rarely are my kids short on sleep and I think that their attitudes and mental ability is better because they’re getting enough rest.

For my family, homeschooling is just awesome, and we love it. If you homeschool I’d love to hear about some things that benefit your family.

F is for Friends

One thing I’ve never understood is why homeschooling gets a bad rap for socialization. I think for my generation (when I was a kid) this was a big concern for people. And I’m happy to see that as much less of a concern for my kids. I almost never get asked “do your kids have friends?”. And I remember my mom being asked that many, many times. Or maybe it’s just the “bubble” that I’m in. I know a LOT of homeschoolers these days!

Or maybe no one asks me about my kids socialization because my kids are doing all the talking. They like to talk. To everyone.

So, how do my kids make friends? Well, first of all I live in a city that I would describe as very homeschool friendly. You either homeschool, or many of your friends homeschool. Because there are so many homeschoolers, my kids have lots of friends (both homeschooled and non-homeschooled) and no one expected kids to act different based on where they’re going to school.

Church – We live in the Bible Belt and while religion is an integral part of our lives, Church is also a major socialization group in this area of the country. It’s totally normal and acceptable for people to attend one church and participate in activities (such as preschool, AWANA, women’s groups, sports, etc. in another church). And there are a lot of Churches that host a lot of different events. So, not only do my kids get to see their friends Sundays, they’re also meeting other kids during the week.

Homeschool Groups – And there are lots of these in my town. There are groups that meet just for parental support. Groups for kids classes. Educational groups. Facebook groups – used for forming your own sub-groups for activities and such. You name it, there’s probably a homeschool group for it. We’re in a Classical Conversations group so my kids see the same group of kids on a weekly basis.

My Friends – No surprises here, but my friends have kids around my kid’s ages. So, playdates, museum trips, etc. are a fun way to catch up and let the kids have fun.

Extras – And then there’s the extracurricular activities like dance and sports. It’s not uncommon to keep running into the same people at these activities. My kids have friends that they know from church, dance, and the museum class. We just keep running into them. It’s always fun to sit with someone that you already know.

My kids have lots of friends. And because I also know most of their friends parents, we get to hang out and have fun with friends way more than we would if my children were not homeschooled.

E is for Extra-Curricular Activities

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the extra flexibility we have for Extra-Curricular Activities. And in my town, there’s plenty of homseschoolers, which means, that there are even special Homeschool classes or earlier lesson hours for Extra-Curricular activities!

For example, our local Zoo has a homeschool class (which we have not taken because my 2nd grader is not at all interested in it, but it’s available should she or any of the other kids ever express interest).

What I love about Extra-Curricular is it lets my kids pick something they’re interested in and learn more about it. And, because our school day is pretty relaxed, they aren’t tired by the time we get to our activities.

I have a 2nd grader and a Pre-K so we don’t have a ton of Extra-Curricular yet, but here’s what we’re up to.

Piano Lessons – I also play the piano but lessons for the kids help me keep them on track. Our teacher was homeschooled herself and usually has hours during school hours available for homeschoolers. My 2nd grader wants to play the guitar but I’m holding out on that until she’s big enough to handle a full size electric. We have a very pretty white electric guitar that I want her to learn on. I even have a teacher picked out! So, I’ve told her to work hard on piano for another couple of years and when her hands are big enough we can switch instruments.

Piano is a great first instrument and so much of what she learns will carry over to a second instrument when she’s ready.

Dance Lessons – There are actually no homeschool hours for the school that the girls go to, but I like how much they’re learning and all their lessons are back to back one night a week. I can deal with one night a week. They love dance. It’s a great art form and also good exercise. Really, an awesome activity for them.

Sports – My pre-K daughter hasn’t been old enough for any sport that she’s interested in yet. But, next year, there’s a few she can try. My 2nd grader is trying out basketball. She’s in a training league and hated it at first but she’s come around and thinks she might want to try again next year.

At this age, I’m not at all upset if they don’t like something, and I’ve made that clear to them. The goal right now is to try out different sports and see what they like. When they’re old enough to try out for sports (5th grade or so depend on the sport at our umbrella school) we should have a general idea of what we want to do.

Though, my pre-K daughter has informed me that she really wants to play Ice Hockey. I’m really not so sure about it, but I have another year before she’s even old enough to start hockey skate lessons at the local ice rink.

Local Education Classes – We have a once a week lego STEM class that both girls get to go to. And the teacher is actually quite impressed with my 2nd grader’s ability to follow a diagram and assemble her legos into the right item. The girls love legos, and their teacher is awesome, so this is a great fit.

We recently discovered that our local science museum has homeschool classes and since that is my 2nd grader’s favorite subject I’ve enrolled her and she’s loving it. Plus we get to explore the museum again after each class. This past week, we went to class, went out for lunch, and then returned to the museum and explored for another couple of hours. Talk about a fun day! Also, I’m loving that she’s retaining so much from the class. Weeks later something we’re doing in school will remind her of something she learned and she’ll tell me all about it. It’s awesome! – and as a side note, I am very much encouraging her interest in science. It’s a great field should she decide that’s the direction she wants to go come College time. And what I love about homeschooling is that I’m able to encourage this interest so much.

Local Museums – At the elementary age especially, it’s nice to take a field day and basically have a museum to ourselves. We’ve got the science musuem and zoo well covered. There’s a children’s musuem we have plans for and an Aquarium we’re going to go to this week. The best thing about a museum during the school week, we pretty much have it to ourselves and we can spend as much time as we like on each exhibit.

When they get older there’s some great local history museums and such. But I’m saving the “can’t touch anything” museums for when they’re actually old enough to enjoy reading and learning about the objects without having to touch them.

Homeschool or not, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite Extra-Curricular activities. Let me know in the comments below, what do your kids love to do?

D is for Different

Recently, on a homeschool group I’m in, a Mom considering homeschooling asked a question that generated a lot of discussion.

“What’s a typical homeschool day look like?”

The responses all varied, but every experienced homeschool mom agreed that there’s truly no “typical” day.

You may homeschool with a strict schedule or you maybe be super flexible. It’s all about how your kids learn best and what works best for your family.

So, it made me ponder how homeschooling is different. Every day is different. Every child is different. And how you as the parent teach is different. One key part of successfully homeschooling is embracing the “different” and helping each child truly succeed.

For example. Here’s my schedule last week.

Monday: Homeschool co-op – leave house at 8. After co-op meet a potential renter over at our rental property. Home around 5:30.

Tuesday: Show house at 10. Run errands. Home at noon. Eat lunch. Do school.

Wednesday: Start school. Offer 2nd grader choice of staying home with Dad and doing her school or bringing it in the car. She opts for the car. Show house at 11. Run errands. Eat lunch out. Show house again at 1. Home around 2. Back out for piano lessons at 3. Finish school around 5.

Thursday: Morning meeting at 9. Home and start school at 11. Husband is hungry. Eat lunch, paint airplanes, take baths (to wash off paint). Finish school. Leave at 3 for ballet lessons.

Friday: Home all day, school done by noon.

Is my child learning? Yes! In fact, she learns more with all these interruptions. Sitting her down for 2 hrs straight and doing bookwork is tiring. But you do it in 30 minute sprints and she does better work and remembers more of what she’s learning.

Is any day typical? No, not really. But, that’s life. If she learned better by sitting down and doing it all at once, I would make more of an effort to do that. But since long sessions seems frustrating, I take the opportunities to break it up and keep her interested.

And I take advantage of something unique that homeschooling offers to my family. It lets my children live life with me. I’ve explained the concept of a rental property so many times this past few weeks – we have a rental that I’m finding new tenants for – and answered questions like, why would we let someone live in our house? If we own the house why don’t we live there? How do we own a house that we don’t live in? People pay us money to live in our house? I could just tell them about the concept of renting, but to see it in action, it’s more real to them.

So, if your homeschooling, embrace the different. Because every family is different. Every parent is different. Every child is different. And homeschooling lets you enjoy those differences.

C is for Creativity

One thing I just love about Homeschooling is the freedom to be creative. And by creative, I don’t specifically mean art supplies.

Though, we do love art at my house. Paint, markers, glitter, scissors, paper, boxes, clay, etc. We have so many art supplies! And we go through them so quickly. I’m always requesting art supplies as birthday and holiday gifts because it’s impossible to keep up otherwise. Right now, I have poster paint and plaster of paris on my shopping list. Of course, I need thread for a sewing project so I’ll be going to the hobby store sometime this next week and the’ll get their paint and plaster of paris while I’m there.

BTW, plaster of paris is worse than glitter. The dust gets everywhere! And because it heats up right after mixing it, it’s always a project that I have to be heavily involved in. We have these princess doll molds for plaster of paris and they’ve sadly broken most of them. So sometime while they’re sleeping, I need to make some new ones and then they’ll spend the next week painting and decorating them.

Back to creativity in homeschooling… For example, history doesn’t just have to be from a book. You can go to a museum, watch a movie, or read a fun biography. We’ve even done a themed meal or other project to help the kids learn about the historical period we’re currently discussing. History is so much fun!

Science, trip to the zoo, growing your own garden (my 7yr old has be begging for years to have her own garden, this spring I’m going to let her have her own), experiments, museums, and anything fun that helps kids learn about the world around them.

Reading, I strongly believe in finding things for kids to read that they want to read. I have grade level readers, but I always have those a backups for if we don’t have anything else to read. Right now, my 2nd grader wants to read Childhood of Famous Americans: Andrew Jackson. It’s a bit above a 2nd grade reading level and she’s all into it. I’m getting reading AND history in one easy swoop! She’d rather read this than her grade level reader, so that’s what we read. It’s all about getting them reading.

English, or Language & Grammar, whichever you prefer to call it. Now that we’re to 2nd grade I combine this a lot with handwriting since it’s pretty difficult to accomplish one subject without the other. I do have a curriculum for this but I’ll take breaks for fun projects like writing thank you notes, addressing Christmas cards, writing a story, etc. It’s important to learn the rules, but you also want there to be room for some fun.

Math, no surprises here, with a girl, math is our toughest subject. Here’s the interesting part, physical math skills like telling time, measurements, temperatures, etc. are not a problem. It’s the more abstract skills like addition and subtraction problems, counting sequences, and I’m not sure how she’ll do with multiplication in a month. I encourage her to use her math through the day on things like cooking (since she loves to cook and you can’t cook without basic math), art (think of all those shapes you can measure and create),  daily calendar, etc. Maybe this is why her physical math is easy? And think of all the fun math we’ll use this spring when we plant her garden!

What are some fun things you do with your kids to help them learn?

 

 

B is for Books

If you’re looking for curriculum advice, check out my 4 favorite curriculums. Here, I’m going to share some of my favorite kids books.

I love books. I love a good fiction. Right now I’m working on The Water Witch by James Fenmore Cooper. (which is free on Kindle right now). I don’t have a ton of time for reading these days, but I still manage to read a fun book now and then. It’s a great way for me to escape, relax, and grab a few minutes of “me time”.

Reading is something I want my children to enjoy as well so I try to collect my favorite childhood books and find some new ones for them as well.

51cWgYwwKNL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Little House on the Prairie

This is a classic. I read and re-read this entire set many many times as a child. This is next on my list of books to buy my 2nd grader. I can’t wait to see what she thinks of them!

I never can decide if Little House in the Big Woods or Farmer Boy is my favorite. Maybe I’ll have to read them again!

 

612DdPHZGCL._SX395_BO1,204,203,200_Finley Flowers

I just discovered this set. There’s four books in this series and a craft book. They’re super cute and all about a little girl who loves to bake. My 2nd grader loves these – they’re a 3rd to 5th grade reading level so right at the upper edge of her reading ability. Perfect for her to enjoy while learning some new words!

 

51VpdeMukDL._SY345_BO1,204,203,200_A Series of Unfortunate Events

There’s 13 books in this series. The author truly thought of everything! I love this series. It’s fun to read because it’s just funny. There’s no way 3 kids end up in all of these situations. And the author loves to use and define rarely used words like Ersatz in Ersatz Elevator.  These books are fun to read and great for improving vocabulary.

 

41S6NRoXYvL._SX279_BO1,204,203,200_Grandma’s Attic

This is a book of short stories. Perfect for a bedtime stories. These stores are fun, funny, and have a good morale at the end. Themes like “Pride comes before a fall”, and “beauty is as beauty does”. These stories are fun to read as a family and after you’ve read all these in this book. There’s a whole bunch of other Grandma’s Attic books available.

 

61xA9sZttmL._SX469_BO1,204,203,200_Llama Llama

It all started with Llama Llama Red Pajama. After we read this one, we were hooked! This is a favorite with my 2yr old and since the older kids still love it he gets it read to him as often as he wants. There’s a whole set of Llama Llama books and we love every one of them.

Tell me in the comments, what’s your favorite children’s book?

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