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This weekend I managed to sneak a little time to myself to read “Unearthing Why” , the current book for our Inspired EC Book Club. As I read through the chapter entitled “Children as Authors” I found myself nodding in agreement at the words on the page. This particular paragraph jumped out:
“Writing for real purpose draws on our natural inclination and desire to connect, communicate and influence our world. Can you remember a time when you were asked to complete a task in which you could not see relevance? To do so can be infuriating and draining. In contrast, the energy that comes from being set a meaningful and purposeful task is infectious. Why do we assume children are any different? When we engage with children around an area of their interest they are more likely to engage, even if the skills required are difficult to master.”  

​-
Britt.C and McLachlan, J. (2015) Unearthing Why: Stories of thinking and learning with children, New South Wales: Pademelon Press
After some time spent reading I began to put away the washing (ugh!) and when I walked into my 6year old sons room, was delighted to see his calendar on the wall. At the beginning of the year he began to show an interest in the calendar in our kitchen. As he developed his writing skills at school (having just commenced school) he insisted on writing the numbers in the corresponding boxes. After missing some important dates, I suggested that perhaps he could have his own calendar to record the date on. Needless to say – he was thrilled!

I think it is worthwhile mentioning that in the years prior to starting school, he was in a wonderful play based service that spent a lot of time outdoors. He was not interested in writing or drawing and although every now and then I had moments of doubt as to how this would play out when he started Kindergarten, I tried to trust in him, believing that when he was ready and interested, he would write. In the first few weeks of school it became apparent that his pencil grip wasn’t so crash hot and he was finding writing a challenge. But still, I continued to trust. 

And it worked. As he is rapidly learning sounds and words and comprehending sentence structure, his interest in writing has also increased. He now seeks out drawing and writing as tools to make sense of the world, in ways that he has never done before. He watches me write lists and makes lists of his own, he see’s me labelling things and labels things of his own. 

So when I walked into his room I wasn’t totally surprised to see his calendar looking like this. He had diligently added the numbers in, but had also taken time to write in “mum” and “dad” on the days that we will celebrate our birthdays. And then at the bottom I saw “Movies May” and I stopped and wondered…for just a moment. Until I remembered that for the last six months he has been longingly looking forward to the release of the Angry Birds movie in May and the fulfilled promise of a trip to the movies with his grandparents. So there it was, writing for a purpose. His purpose was to record something important to him. In writing our birthdays, his purpose was to remember, 

Anyone that has heard me present our popular “Positive School Transitions” workshop will know I am definitely not a fan of rote learning and writing for the sake of writing. As a writer myself, making meaning through the written word is something I value deeply, yet it needs to be a meaningful process for the child. 

So, how do we facilitate “writing for a purpose”?
  1. Listen to children – find out about what they are truly interested in and encourage them to explore and share that interest through mark making (even if it is not an interest or topic on “our agenda”!)
  2. Provide children with quality writing materials – if we want children to write, we need to give them the right tools. I wouldn’t like to sit down at my desk and have a choice of four blunt lead pencils and a broken orange crayon
  3. Involve children in meaningful writing opportunities – if you need to write a shopping list – let them help, documenting experiences on the program – ask for their input.
  4. Model writing – in our highly technological world a lot of child may not see the adults in their life write by hand too often. Let them see you writing!

Watching children learn to write is an exciting thing – seeing their ideas, interests and questions land on the page, giving voice to these inner workings, well…it’s nothing short of magical!
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I could never be accused of not having an opinion. And I usually can’t keep it to myself either! Last week I found myself caught up in some “heated online discussion” over the use of a meme that I (and a great many others) found disrespectful to children. I won’t share that image as I found it stomach churning, but essentially it was an image that was taken of a child in a potentially humiliating situation and had been captioned “humorously” and shared online. 

I wasn’t the only one to speak up and say that I found the image disturbing, disrespectful and in breach of the rights of the child. I was impressed with the numerous educators and early childhood professionals who spoke up and articulated thoughtfully their concerns. Yet time and time again, those who spoke up were told to “get a sense of humour” “stop being so PC” and “just chill out.” So… should we just chill out?

I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour and I often think that in tricky situations, if we don’t laugh we will cry! I have three young children and have worked with children for 14 years… there has been plenty of laughter. But to be told that I need to get a sense of humour or chill out because I don’t find a photo of a child in a humiliating situation funny, really frustrates me. 

It was positive to see so many professionals argue key points such as:
– Has the child given their consent to have that photograph taken or shared?
– Would your first response to an unwell child or child in a tricky situation be “I’ll go get the camera!”?
– If this were in a centre (it was hard to be sure exactly where the photo was taken) and the parent saw this image, how would they feel about?
– What message did the photographer send to the other children in the space?

But for as many of these comments, there were just as many that suggested that this concern was misplaced and that these professionals were taking things too seriously. 

I have to wonder… why wouldn’t you take what we do seriously? Why wouldn’t you take the rights of children seriously? Why would you think that it is unusual to be concerned about the emotional wellbeing of young children? Or the improper use of a child’s image?  

I was happy to have professional debate about it – we don’t all have to agree on everything and I think situations like this are a great opportunity to learn and grow in our professional attitudes.  But it appears that these types of posts are proving ever more divisive, splitting the early childhood community into two distinct “camps” which I find really upsetting. Surely we are all here for the same cause? 

So how do we move forward? Well for me, it involved removing myself from a particular facebook group that seems to not be open to professional debate and instead becomes a “place of huffiness”  and I am instead focusing my energy into places where debate and discussion is valued. I will continue to encourage the educators that I meet during training and consultancy, to be reflective and open to other opinions and ideas. And for me personally – I will continue to grow. I will continue to research, to build my knowledge bank, to ensure that when I do have these professional debates I can articulate my opinion in a respectful, informed manner. 

And no…when it comes to the rights of children, I won’t “chill out!”

​Nicole Halton

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Yesterday I shared a post on our Facebook page that encouraged adults to play in nature and it got me thinking about how much we, as adults who advocate for play, really do play ourselves. 

This morning in my news feed, Facebook was kind enough to show me my memories for today and one of those was this amazing photo series that I took of my husband two years ago as he backflipped a scooter while jumping on a trampoline. The photo instantly bought a smile to my face as I remembered how determined he was to “nail it” and the laughter that was had by all who were there as he simply played. He is pretty playful by nature and sometimes I find myself envying that. 

This year I decided to change that feeling and embrace more play for myself and I would encourage you to do the same.

When I was working in my former service, I had a great team who were all pretty playful. We often had water fights with the children, rolled down the hill with them, had turns on tyre swings, found ourselves knee deep in mud and plenty of other playful, fun things. Families always used to comment that it was so lovely to see our educators actually playing with the children and not just supervising. And it made our work day more enjoyable! 

So, as advocates for children’s play, let’s practice what we preach. 

Instead of watching the kids at the park on the flying fox…. have a go!

Instead of laughing at the little ones sliding on cardboard down the hill… do it!

Instead of worrying about our hair getting wet…have a water bomb fight on a hot day! 

​This article from the Huffington Post highlights some great points and basically the message is clear – if play is so important for children (as we know it is!) how can it not be just as important for adults?

I would love to hear your thoughts – are you playful?

By Nicole Halton


We have some great resources on play, including these stickers, posters and books
Picture
This awesome sticker is available for just $1 on our website!
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Childhood is magical. Well, at least it is supposed to be. The unfortunate truth is that for many children there is very little about childhood that feels magical. In a world that is hurried, marred by violence and dominated by technology, little moments of magic can be hard to come by. Lately I have been looking for magic. As an adult who feels stressed, drained by recent world events and news and often bouncing from one thing to the next with very little time to breathe, I felt it important to refocus.

A few weeks ago while driving to a meeting I was sent on a wild detour due to some roadworks. Just as I was worrying about being late and doing a little silent cursing, I noticed a family of ducks waddling along the grass. Those little bundles of fluff bought a smile to my day and I instantly felt myself relax.

Today when driving home I fought my desire to head straight there to the waiting piles of washing and instead we took a detour (a planned one this time!) and were delighted to come upon this tree wrapped in wool and draped in knitted garlands. I stopped the car and my five year old and I pondered why the tree might be wrapped in wool and who might have done it. He thought it was “just beautiful!”

In Early Childhood we have a responsibility to give children  the chance to find magic. And we don’t even need to spend money to do it. All they really need is our time. All they really need is our attention. When we truly make time to see, to listen and to just BE with children, we find magic everywhere. We find it in the dandelions that grow wild along the fence line, inviting children to make wishes. We find it when we lay on the grass and watch the clouds, seeing dragons and elephants float by.

Instead of worrying about what to add to the sandpit today, just be present with children. Rather than spending your time planning Christmas crafts, plan to spend your time finding magic with children. Today, I urge you, open your eyes… find magic!​

​By Nicole Halton

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We are passionate about nature play. It is evident in what we write, what we share, the training we deliver, the playgrounds we develop and in the educators that are part of our family day care service. So when I hear someone say that nature play is a fad or “the thing right now” I take it pretty personally! 

Nature play can mean different things to different people, but to me it is the opportunity for children (and adults!) to engage in authentic, meaningful ways with the natural environment. That natural environment will look different depending on your context. It does not necessarily equate to a “forest school”! If you are in a coastal area your natural environment may be the beach, dunes and grasslands. If you live rurally it may be dirt, scrub and gum trees.

This morning I spent a few hours in the backyard with my 5year old, 2year old and 8 month old. We spend a lot of time outdoors and I find that all three (and me!) are much more content outdoors. This morning we found a small moth on the side of our table and I helped Bodhi place his hand out, encouraging it to climb on. We watched as it fluttered on his hand. “His wings are so delicate”, he said. And I wondered how, at five, he knew what delicate was. Yet as I watched him for the next hour with this tiny moth crawling up his arms, on his back and in his hair, it became clear. He knows what delicate is because of moments like these. Moments of quiet, authentic engagement with the natural world. And it was then that I was certain, nature play is no fad, no “approach”, it simply is and always should be, for all children.

So why is it still considered a fad? Particularly in a country where no matter where you live there are natural environments. Our country has bush, beach, lake, creek, dirt, desert, rainforests, fields, gardens, mangroves, wetlands, mountains and more. And even if venturing into wild spaces is not an option for you (although it easily can be!) you can ensure that your immediate physical environment encourages children to engage with the natural world, 

The benefits of nature play and connectedness are undeniable and this morning as I watched my 5year old engage with a moth, my 2 year old follow a snail and my 8 month old playing with bark, rubbing her tiny fingers across it, it was just so clear how important nature is. 
Supporting nature play doesn’t mean that every thing needs to be made of wood or stones, it is about real connections. So, here are 7 ways to authentically engage in nature play:
  1. ​Go BAREFOOT - Otherwise known as Earthing, the practice of being barefoot has many health benefits and also enables children to get “feedback” from the ground, supporting motor development. Dirt and grass also feel great between your toes!
  2. Look for WILDLIFE – Even the most urban areas have wildlife such as snails, spiders, ants and birds. Look for wildlife together, ask questions and hypothesise 
  3. CLOUD watch - Lay on the grass on your back and watch the clouds. Many children love to describe what the clouds look like, conjuring up images of bunnies and dragons, while others may want to know what the clouds are made of. Cloud watching discussions are often magical
  4. Pick FLOWERS – my kids love picking flowers to put in a glass on our dining table before meals. It is becoming somewhat of a tradition, despite the fact that we are not green thumbs and don’t really have gardens! They still manage to find “flowers” and watching them find the beauty in what we adults call weeds, is enough to make me smile
  5. LISTEN - simply spending time outdoors with your eyes closed will uncover a range of natural sounds. We have done this and heard birds, bugs and even the trees
  6. COLLECT – My toddler is often referred to as “the collector” – she loves filling bags, boxes, baskets and trolleys with all sorts of treasures. In an attempt to harness this, we make collections of stones and shells and leaves. These are often used in games and play for weeks after! (reminder – teach children to only collect items that have fallen on the ground, not to remove from trees etc and to be mindful of creatures)
  7. Use TECHNOLOGY – Most nature based articles will encourage you to ditch technology in favour of nature, yet it is possible to use the two together in meaningful ways. As I heard Peter Gray put it once – digital technology is simply a tool of this generation, much like the bow and arrow would have been for early man. My son is fascinated with photography at the moment, so has taken a liking to using my digital SLR camera to photograph trees, leaves, birds and anything that takes his fancy. 

I would love to hear some of your favourite ways of engaging with the natural world!

By Nicole Halton
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For many years as an educator and director I was a firm believer in defending my practice and that of my service. When an assessor challenged our use of glass jars I defended the decision, providing positive examples and research. When a parent questioned the legalities of tree climbing I directed them to our benefit risk assessment, found articles, research and safety information to back us up. When an educator said “we’re not allowed to do that” I found regulations, made phone calls and got out the highlighter!

As a consultant I have often encouraged educators to defend what they do and while I still feel that way, a discussion with Tash (Inspired EC co-founder) this morning had me questioning whether it should always be up to educators to defend what they do. Instead, I would suggest that educators should feel empowered to question their challengers. Instead of having to prove ourselves… let’s turn the tables!

When an assessor challenges your practice and says “you can’t do that” ask to be shown where the in the National Quality Framework it says that you can​​ ​’t.

When another educator says “we’re not allowed to do that” ask them to find the regulation or law that says that.

Why should it be up to us to always defend what we do? If someone is putting an obstacle in the way of us providing opportunities for children (such as excursions) or creating an inspiring environment (by adding a trickle stream, for example) then they need to provide us with the hard facts – not just “Oh, I heard from Jane, who works at xyz service, that the assessor said it wasn’t allowed.”​

Of course there will inevitably be times when someone (assessor, colleague) actually identifies an issue that we have missed and that is great – when they come to us with hard facts, we are able to swiftly make appropriate change to ensure the best outcomes for children.

Don’t dread the visits from the regulatory authority, they are a great opportunity – just be prepared to ask the question “can you show me where that is written in the National Quality Framework?”​​
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Last week I left the office and decided to go for a walk around the lake. I set off and although the flies were enough to drive me crazy, the quiet and the view of the boats was just the relaxation I needed. I had walked quite a distance when I was hit by a smell. It wasn’t a bad smell, nor would I say it was a good smell. But it was a familiar smell. It wasn’t something that I smell every day and I really couldn’t (and still can’t – although it was some type of tree!) put my finger on what it was, but one whiff and I was instantly taken back to my childhood. I felt as though I were 5 years old again. This then evoked memories of my preschool – a breezy, light filled, warm, open place that I loved. That smell bought back images of my teachers, memories of playing on the huge timber fort, the three coloured balloons that told me that was my locker and my hand towel in the bathroom, even the time that one of my friends wet the bed (those old hessian stretcher beds) at rest time!

How is it that this one smell bought back such happy memories?
Technically speaking, it all comes down to the brain. The olfactory bulb in the brain is part of the limbic system, an area often referred to as the “emotional brain” and is closely linked to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning​​​. The reason that smells trigger emotional responses or memories is due to our tendency to link a smell to an event or person or moment when we first smell it. And the reason we tend to be taken back to childhood? This is often the time when we experience a smell for the very first time.

This isn’t the first time a smell has triggered an early childhood memory for me and I am sure it won’t be the last. Whenever I smell a vegemite sandwich I am taken back to preschool! But for some reason, when this happened last week it made me think about what smells will evoke memories for children in care right now. So many services that I visit are sterile environments – often there is an overuse of Glen20. So in 20years when children smell latex gloves or Glen20 or disinfectant… they will be transformed back to childhood. I don’t think I like the sound of that.

In addition to the memory effect, smells also have the ability to impact on our moods and wellbeing. Research shows that smell can affect ​blood sugar levels, concentration and stress levels and our health. Therefore, it is crucial that we give thought to the smells our children experience in our care. Do they have the opportunity to smell trees, fresh cut grass or food cooking away? If we need to use items for cleaning or making unpleasant smells disappear, do we give thought to what we use?

Spend some time “sniffing” in your service and ask yourself… are these the smells that will positively impact on mood, health and children’s memories?

By Nicole Halton​​

Are you trying to make your environment calmer, healthier and smelling better? Did you know we stock doTERRA natural oils?​


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One of the great things about what we do at Inspired EC is spending time in different services, giving us the opportunity to see a broad range of ideas, perspectives and practices. There is however one practice which is present in the majority of centres we visit and it predominantly looks the same, no matter where we are… group time. 

In many centres (not all!) if you walk in at group time you will see:
  • An educator sitting on a chair 
  • Said educator holding a book up for everyone to see
  • Children being asked to sit cross legged on the floor (The amazing Alistair Bryce-Clegg talks extensively about the inappropriateness of this, particularly for young boys whose muscles are not designed for this type of sitting at this age) 
  • Children who inevitably struggle to sit cross legged on the floor and instead roll around or chat to their friends or play with the puzzle on the shelf next to the group time space
  • Children excitedly calling out their favourite parts of the book or pointing out interesting images on the pages of the book or asking questions about the book…or something completely irrelevant! 
  • An educator who has to constantly remind one child to stop calling out or ask another to keep their hands to themselves

Sounds like fun right?! 

This is not fun for anyone, yet for some reason many educators continue to put themselves and the children through this daily ritual, often with the logic that “they will need to be able to sit in a group at big school” Well that maybe true, but does it meant that we need to push it now? In the vein of last weeks blog post – perhaps this is something that needs to be worried about – WHEN THEY ARE AT SCHOOL!

Recently I visited an amazing service and spent some time observing educator practice. During this time I watched a group time with 3.5-5 year olds. The bullet points above played out almost like a script and I sat there wondering – why do we do this? Why do we find it necessary for all children to listen to the same story at precisely the same time, despite saying that we are led by children’s interests? As I observed the other educators in the room preparing for lunch and sleep times, tidying the room and doing other tasks I felt as though I had my answer, or at least part of it. A large group time enables us to “contain” all children in the one area and “keep them busy” so that we can get things done. Sure, it is a challenge to keep the room running, keep them tidy and complete programs and paperwork, yet I wonder if this is the answer? This is not a criticism of those educators, as they are doing what the majority of educators (myself included) have done for years, this was just a moment in time that prompted me to reflect. Perhaps there are ways of engaging the children, making these things a shared responsibility, a collaborative effort? If we do need to have a large group time – are books really the best choice?

I am a HUGE lover of books. I love to read with my own children and always loved to read with children when I worked in a service, however I rarely enjoyed group time and I think that was a result of the constant attempts to have children sitting and listening and not touching other people! I think books are important for children and should be readily available and educators should make time to read stories with individual children and small groups of children as interests and opportunities organically arise. When we read a book with an individual or a very small group of children, we have the time to have meaningful conversation about the book. When we read a book to a large group, trying to engage up to 20 children in meaningful conversation becomes onerous, drawn out and often very unpleasant!  

Don’t get me wrong – there is merit in doing things in large groups, but I don’t believe that expecting all children to sit quietly and listen to a story is the way to go. If you are going to do group experiences, think about giving children the opportunity to move or be loud, or actually engage with one another – after all, isn’t that the purpose of being in a group? Working together, interacting with one another…building relationships? 
Perhaps we should save the books for small, meaningful engagements with children and instead do social, active things with a large group. Think storytelling with puppets, large group games, music, dance, drama. Things that actually encourage children to be involved, to be active and to interact! 

Let’s rethink group time!
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I have many pet peeves. Anyone who knows me well knows that there a lots of things that drive me crazy – things not being put back where they belong, crumbs in the butter, that kind of thing! But there is a phrase that I have heard too many times in my Early Childhood career and it really drives me bonkers… “they need to learn to do that, they will have to do it next year at school” 

Now this phrase (or variants of it) is often used when discussing things such as:
  • Sitting for group time
  • Lining up
  • Putting their hand up to talk
  • Sitting on the floor with legs crossed


What frustrates me about this is that these, while being perfectly possible for some children, are really unrealistic expectations for many four year olds. As educators we know that many four year olds love to run, jump, climb, twirl, skip, bounce and just generally be active, yet there seems to be a lingering expectation that when we say “It’s group time”, these active children will be able to just shelve that need to move and suddenly sit still for up to half an hour! 

A recent discussion with a passionate EC professional highlighted this issue for me once again and she made a really valid point – we don’t say “hey they are in year four, but we better make them do year 5 work so that they are used to it for next year”  

Yes, it is important for children to feel “ready” for school… but maybe the schools need to play a part in this too and be ready for these children – as they are! The downward push of assessing and formal, structured learning is disappointing and frustrating. From an early age, learning is becoming more about sitting and listening, sitting and writing, sitting and reading. What happened to doing? What happened to learning by using our senses? Howard Gardner identified the different types of learning styles and I feel that in many ways, we in Early Childhood have become great at adapting our approach and environment to accommodate these. Yet unfortunately in many (not all – I know there are some great one’s out there!!) four year old/preschool rooms, these seem to get thrown out the window as we madly try to prepare the children for school. School readiness is a sore point with me (and a whole other blog post!) so I won’t delve to deeply into it, but I really think that as educators we need to advocate for change in the Early Years of school. We need to defend children’s rights to be active, to learn through play and to just simply be kids! 

The first step in that is to stop saying “they need to learn to do that, they will have to do it next year at school” Instead, let’s embrace the now! Let’s focus on the children we have in front of us, not the children that will be completely different people in 6 months or 12 months. And who’s to say that the child who is wriggling and rolling and playing with their shoelaces isn’t listening and isn’t learning? Surely disrupting the whole group to ask them to sit still 14 times during the story is not going to benefit them or the other children? We can get so caught up in trying to prepare children for the next step, that we forget to just slow down and appreciate what they can do, what they know and who they are right now. 


Embrace the now!
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I love the Internet. I love that I can find out anything about everything (thank you Google). I love that I can keep in touch with friends and family. I love that I can browse through thousands of images and websites in my quest for the perfect doll” and I love that I can network with other Early Childhood Professionals.

Over the last few months that last one has become something I do more of. I am a follower of many great blogs and have joined various Facebook groups designed for sharing ideas, supporting one another and reflecting on our practice. That sounds great in theory, but it would seem that a positive and reflective online group is becoming hard to find! In recent weeks I have seen arguments that have spiraled into name calling and at times downright nastiness. In the last few days I have seen many passionate educators leave these groups, taking with them valid ideas and opinions. I find this really sad.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a good debate! I actually think it is totally appropriate and good for our profession to have debates about key issues. How else do we evolve if we aren’t able to reflect on our opinions and practices or if we aren’t challenged by others who are as passionate as ourselves? I have had some great professional disagreements online and “in real life” and have always walked away learning something. And really – how boring would the world be if everyone agreed with me? (although sometimes I wish they would!!)

So if you are going to use these networking groups (and I suggest you do!) below are the four rules that I would recommend imposing on yourself in order to stay sane!

I would really like to elaborate on the second and fourth point.

I am a passionate advocate and I will never back down or apologise for that. When you have a strong belief or understanding that is supported by theory, research or regulations and someone is doing something that contradicts that and is detrimental to children, you have an obligation to speak up. When I read about someone leaving an educator alone in a room with children – I speak up. When someone says that you will “get in trouble” during assessment if the children climb trees – I speak up. I always try to do this nicely and to back up what I am saying with regulations, law or research.

As I said before, I love a good debate, but there are times when it is just not worth having an argument. Sometimes, for whatever reason, there are people who just want to get into a fight. Maybe they have had a bad day, maybe it is a particularly sensitive issue for them personally or maybe they just want to argue! I think unless you have something productive or purposeful to contribute…just keep on scrolling. If someone says something nasty… just keep on scrolling. I’m not saying we should necessarily back down – I believe it is important to stand up for yourself and to hold people accountable for their actions and attitudes, but sometimes it is just not worth the stress to engage!

Social networking isn’t going to go away – so we may as well make the most of it and view it as an opportunity to grow as a professional and to build a community of passionate, opinionated individuals!
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