Friday, 21 July 2017

The Singing Tree

Over the next year, one of our history topics will be the First World War so I have been looking for some child friendly historical fiction about this time.

Earlier in the year, the book club read The Good Master which is set in Hungary in the years preceding the First World War. Most conveniently, there is a sequel, The Singing Tree which is set in the First World War.
The book starts with arrangements for a wedding in traditional Hungarian style, however, the wedding takes place on 28th June 1914 and as the villagers go home, the men hear the news of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Of course, over the next few weeks, war starts. No one, on the Hungarian plain really knows why they are fighting but the men gradually disappear to war. The farm work is increasingly left to the old and young men and the women. In particular, thirteen year old Jancsi has to run a large farm, as the Little Master. 

As time passes, Jancsi's uncle becomes a prisoner of war in Russia and his father is missing. The farm acquires Russian prisoners of war as farm hands and then hungry German children as evacuees. 

The book has themes

  • the pointlessness of war
  • ordinary people on both sides are much the same
  • people are worthy of respect regardless of race.
  • the psychological effects of war
An interesting motif, in view of what happened latter, is the important role of the Jewish shop keeper in the village. There are points when there is some foreshadowing both of Jewish persecution and of communist sentiment. 

This is a fascinating and sensitive book which should cause some thought. Ideal for children aged 8 to 12. There are no vivid descriptions of fighting in the book although some minor characters die and a major character is in a military hospital.

Highly recommended.

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Monday, 17 July 2017

July Inspiration

I've been missing in action. Our school year has now finished. This year hasn't been a stellar year. In many ways, it has been hard work, particularly, trying to balance the needs of the children and of a frail elderly person. At one point, I decided that what would really help would be a butler to answer the door to the carers, nurses, therapists, deliveries and more that seem to arrive daily. Sadly, I'm not sure that a butler is going to happen.

Last week, we had a week away. It was complicated to arrange but it was so refreshing to have a break in one of our favourite places, the Welsh borders. If you haven't been to this area, I highly recommend it: countryside, not over crowded, reasonably accessible and beautiful.

Like many others, I struggle to find clothes for my preteen daughter. Recently, we found Purple Parcel and have been delighted with the skirt that we ordered.

Summer is time for the Big Butterfly Count.

Shelly has published the most enormous list of unit study resources.

Some children are busier than others. Amy has a post about occupying high energy preschoolers. I could have done with this post a few years ago!

Something completely different, these are really old colour photos.

How about this for building a library?

I'm hoping for a few slower weeks and time to plan for next year.  Two years ago, I put in a couple of items which have worked well and I would love to add to these. These added extras are a longer morning time and poetry tea. If you have any components/parts of the day which work particularly well, please leave a comment.

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

English Heritage Visit

Today, we visited Apsley House, otherwise known as One London, which was the home of the Duke of Wellington.
Like many other properties, this belongs to English Heritage and we were able to have a free self guided educational visit. This is the first time that we have organised one of these visits for ourselves. Today, I didn't organise a group beyond children as I wanted to see how the system works.

The most daunting part of the visit was filling in the booking form with our educational objectives. My children had been learning about the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in history so in many ways, this wasn't difficult. I was a bit concerned about how much detail was needed but it seemed to pass muster!

Having booked the visit, I was entitled to a free visit as the educational leader and had the opportunity to pick up a classroom kit

which was aptly stored in Wellington boot shaped bags.

Prior to going, I was a bit concerned about the trip. One of the children doesn't always enjoy historic houses but thanks to a great audio-visual guide and helpful room guides, the trip was a success. The children were keen to do everything on the guide and didn't want to leave a room until all was complete.

More information about English Heritage education visits can be found here.

Disclaimer: These views are my own and those of my children. I was not asked to blog about my experiences. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Reading Challenge: Half Way Point

This year, I am taking part in the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge. So far, I have changed my mind about books and which part of the challenge I am working towards! My current aim is to try the whole 104 book challenge although I doubt that I will manage them all. At this point, I have read 47 on the list so lagging! The list is here with a list of the categories for the reading challenge underneath the actual list.

Anyway, my thoughts on the challenge

  • It is a push to make me read different genres and one that has been enjoyable.
  • Some books won't fit into the challenge. There are a fair number of a book of your choice slots but I have already filled them. My personal books that are unlikely to fit into the challenge are children's books, educational books and books about dementia. 
  • There are categories which could have been added. For example, a book about ageing.
  • One or two categories have annoyed me, particularly, those where a book from a specific publisher has to be read. 
Anyway, so far the best books are as follows (category in brackets)

  • The Loveliness of Christ by Samuel Rutherford (Christian living). Book of short quotes from letters by Samuel Rutherford. This has made me want to read more of Rutherford's letters. I wish that people wrote letters or emails like this now. 

  • The Bronski House by Philip Marsden (recommended by a family member-thank you to my cousin). This is a book about how two generations of one family had to leave the family home due to war in Poland, in fact a part of Poland that is now Belarus. The style is like poetry and this, and several other books that I have read for the challenge, have allowed me to put a toe into the complexity of Polish recent history. 

  • The English Puritans by John Brown (church history). Lucid explanation of the rise and fall of the English Puritan movement. 

  • Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr (less than 100 pages). Simonetta Carr's books are aimed at children but I always learn from these well presented books.

  • Man Overboard by Sinclair Ferguson (book by Sinclair Ferguson). This book has been on my shelves for more years than I like to remember. In fact, I had read it before when I was a student but have enjoyed the crisp writing and insights. I particularly, found the comments on Jonah finding a ship going to Spain useful. 

  • People with Dementia Speak out  editor Lucy Whitman (book of your choice). I recently gave a seminar at a Pilgrim Friends Conference. Someone in the audience kindly sent me this book which includes a chapter written by his wife. This book contains chapters written by people with dementia about life with dementia and reminding us that they are there and communicating. This is written from a secular perspective and includes people from many different backgrounds but is worth reading by anyone who knows people with dementia.
I would be delighted to have more recommendations! What have you enjoyed reading recently?

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Friday, 16 June 2017

Sources of Home Education Inspiration: Science

This is my third post about home education resources. The first post was about general matters and the second about English. 

I wrote a long post about science resources at the beginning of 2016. 

This post is based on that post, and in fact much of it is copied from that but with links updated and new information added.

I am a Christian and believe in a Biblical six day Creation. This is reflected in some of my choices. 

Preschool/reception age (5 years and under)

  • We loved the Usborne Big book of Science things to make and do. This book has pages to easy to do science activities using household materials. Our copy is much used and most pages have several dates written in to show when the activities were done. There is a very short explanation for each page. Highly recommended.
  • There are various other books which we used but don't have the range of activities in the Big book of Science. These include Backyard Science by Chris Maynard, Mini-Scientist in the Garden by Lisa Burke and Fizz in the Kitchen by Susan Martineau. 
  • We used to have fun science afternoons using these  and other resources. I wrote a post about some of the materials and sites we used. Do also look at the preschool science activities on Angelicscalliwags' blog. I have collected some more ideas on my Pinterest board Home Science.

Infant age-KS1 (5-7)
This is the age where I have found it most difficult to find resources. Apologia Elementary is marketed as being suitable from Kindergarten to grade 6 so years 1 to 7. There will be more about Apologia in the next section but I have to say that I have not used it successfully with children under year 2. I have used it in a group which included my own children, and others, in year 2. Yes, the curriculum can be made to work six and seven year olds but it is a bit of a push.

Rather different, Supercharged Science has a rather different, hands-on approach for children from year 1 to older teenagers. My review is here. 

What has worked well for us with this age group is Exploring Nature with children.Obviously, this doesn't cover the whole of science but this gentle, weekly guide to exploring nature has worked well with my year 2 child. We haven't done everything in the book but there is plenty that is accessible.

Last year, for my year 2 child, we used a combination of Exploring Nature with Children and my own lessons based on year 3( because I have children in years 2 and 4) of the National Curriculum Science themes. More about this later!

Junior age-KS2 (7-11)
Middle Son was in year 4 when we started home educating. We initially used Apologia Elementary but this was so different that we soon changed to Singapore Science. This may have changed, over the last 7 years, but was workbook based and designed for schools but didn't feel so far different from the science that he had done in school. After a while, we wanted more depth so went back to Apologia Elementary using a different book.

Apologia Elementary is a science curriculum built on Christian principles. It is based on a six day creation. There are several different volumes each of which takes around a year to complete. In addition, to the main hardback book, notebooking journals are available at two different levels. The notebooking journals are not essential. We found that Apologia was
  • rigorous (some of the human body volume  is in more detail than IGCSE biology)
  • well presented
  • designed for home educators so finding items for experiments and activities was easy.
I have used the volume Human anatomy and physiology both at home and in a group setting

For us, two volumes have worked well
  • Human anatomy and physiology (disclaimer-I was trained as a doctor so found it easy to add to and explain concepts in the book.)
  • Astronomy
We have also used Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth day. This has worked less well, primarily because it is written from the US where animal life is rather different to here. Some of the birds mentioned were not known to us; some had the same name but were different (the robin) and some behaviours sounded similar to UK species but it was difficult to know whether the whole behaviour was the same. I have written about this in more detail here. 

It is really because of this experience that we aren't using Apologia Elementary, this year. I am very tempted by the Physics and Chemistry volume for another year but my understanding is that this is the most difficult of the Elementary volumes so I am waiting until the children are a little older.

Apologia Elementary does have a reasonable resale value!

Last year, I used National Curriculum themes for year 3 and made up my own programme. This has sort of worked. 
  • Some topics have worked better than others. 
  • I have found it necessary to go beyond the bare bones of the curriculum description but even so this is unlikely to take us much beyond February half term.
  • This has taken a fair amount of time to prepare!
This year, we have used a physics curriculum from Wildflowers and Marbles called Simple Machines with Fantastic Physics. This uses David Macaulay's book The New Way things work along with educational sets of K'nex and Richard Hammond's Can you feel the force!. There are other resources suggested but we limited ourselves to these. My eight year old has enjoyed this. This works well with children who are interested in physics and love hands on activities.
  • The lesson plans are free.
  • The resources needed are not cheap! However, the educational K'nex sets have been used extensively.
  • K'nex was tremendously popular with my youngest.
  • The author recommends it for around age 10 and at this age, it would probably be better.
  • We could have got even more out of this if we had purchased even more of the resources and done more of the additional projects.
Additional resources
Part way through last year, we were able to trial three of the Creation Family Science junior lessons. These go through some geological concepts around the theme of volcanoes. There is a large amount of material in these lessons although they are presented in a rather "schooly" way with powerpoint presentations. The children seemed to get more used to this mode of presentation as opposed to one to two teaching as we went through the series.

Exploring Nature with children. We use this for weekly nature walks and it has been extremely successful. I'm wondering whether to use it again next year as we haven't done all the activities.

Investigate the Possibilities These have a practical activities related to physics concepts. I have used the volumes Energy and  Forces and Motion in a group setting.

The Dyson Foundation challenge cards are free  to download and have 52 STEM (Science, technology, engineering, maths) activities. Very popular with the children and use household substances.

Big Bible Science is a science book aimed at ages 7-11 and written from a Christian worldview. It has plenty of activities and would be ideal as a summer holiday book either for home educated or schooled children. 

Secondary age-KS3 and 4 (11+)
Initially, we used the Apologia General Science. This wasn't an enormous success as the first few chapters are quite dry. In retrospect, another year of Apologia Elementary, perhaps, the Physics and Chemistry volume would have been far more successful.

We also used some of the Answers in Genesis textbooks at this age. These involved practical activities designed for home educators. The books we used were less attractive than the Apologia books and were again, more appropriate for the older end of the stated range.  The volumes that we used have now been replaced so the link goes to the newer curriculum. I would be delighted to have any feedback about this.

After this, we used Edexcel textbooks in preparation for the IGCSE exams. 

Adding Sparkle
There are an enormous number of extra resources available. This is just a selection.

  • Museums-we are in London so the Science Museum and Natural History Museums are musts. The Centre for the Cell provides biology related sessions. The London Museum of Water and Steam at Kew is on our to do list. 
  • Royal Institution has a small museum, lectures which are open to home educators, courses (at a price!) and a website which had a Science based Advent calendar and a link to the Christmas lectures. 
  • Observatories/planetarium: we went to a useful session at the South Downs Planetarium.
  • Windmills are in various places around the country. If you are in London, there is one at Brixton.
  • Gardens-Kew, Wisley for the London based. Don't forget the local park. 
  • Nature reserves-see RSBP, the Wildlife Trusts, Wildlife and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust.
  •  The RSPB hold an annual Big Garden Birdwatch.
  •  Butterfly Conservation run a Butterfly Count in the summer. Both these events can take place in your home or garden.
  • Local bat walks take place in summer months.
  • Pond dipping sessions seem easily available at various different places. 
  • Science fairs-various locations
  • Grow your own potatoes from the Potato Council. The Potato Council send out a free potato growing kit and supporting educational activities. The potatoes are harvested in the Summer term and can be entered into a competition for the heaviest potatoes. 
  • The Royal Society runs a Young People's Book Prize and recruit groups to act as judging panels. Our home education group is acting as a judging panel for the second year. The group has the relevant books provided by the Royal Society and these have been much appreciated by the children.
  • The John Muir Trust has awards around conservation. We haven't done one of these yet although this is something that we might do.

It is difficult to know where to start. Just a few thoughts.
  • David Macaulay's book How Machines Work won the Royal Society Young People's book prize in 2016. Our home education book group loved this interactive book. Highly recommended.
  • A recent read is Archimedes and the Door of Science. This appealed to both my history and science loving children. Win: win!
  • Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden is old but beautiful. Our copy lives on our nature table usually open at the current month.
  • RSPB Bird field guide. I find that the adult book is more useful than the children's version as it contains details about more species.
  • 13 Bridges Children should know. 
Over to you. What would you recommend?

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Monday, 12 June 2017

Festival of Archaeology

This last Saturday, Younger Daughter and I went up to University College London (UCL) for the annual Festival of Archaeology event. We hadn't been before but found activities for all ages. There was sandpit archaeology for little ones. For older children there was the opportunity to make a plaque to leave for the future,
x-ray fluorescence for the content of objects (my wedding ring was tested!), tea tasting to fit in with the silk road,
making a sand jar

and learning about stratigraphy, a chance to watch flint napping and much more. 

This event is an outlying event of the Festival of Archaeology 2017 which mainly occurs between 15th and 30th July. There are events all over the country and appealing to different ages. There are several that look tempting, and I'm trying not to look at anything outside the south east! 

Has anyone been to these events? Is there anything that you would particularly recommend?

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Monday, 5 June 2017

June Inspiration

Summer has arrived. I know that officially, Summer doesn't begin until 21st but it feels like Summer. In the days when I was running a memory clinic, official advice was to allow 1st to 20th June as Spring or Summer. I'm in the Summer camp.

We've had half term, this week. It has been great to stop and read more than usual. The younger two and I enjoyed our church outing and, on another day, wandering round a, new to us, park. 

This summer "pizza" is on my to do list for a hot day.

Wasting bits of bread was annoying me. This post has 20 ideas to avoid wasting bread.

Our home education group is hoping to have a science theme, next year. These videos about each element in the periodic table are a tremendous resource. We are also looking forward to taking part in the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize judging again. The books arrived today and my own children are very excited about their sneak preview!

There is a trend to try to measure and test everything in education. This post is about those things that we can't measure.

My youngest has been talking about fidget spinners and today, made his own. He was inspired by this tutorial although he has made his own modifications. Try using red and blue bricks for the arms and see the effect.

Have a happy June!

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Spring 2017

Some half terms are stellar times filled with exciting trips and a feeling of progress being made. Others are slower and this last half term has been one of those. Realistically, we have worked steadily and progress has been made. I find that when I am tired it often seems that we have done little whereas looking back at topics and goals can be more helpful.

Just before the start of the term, we had a trip to the sea especially to look at rock pools. The sea is a long way from London but it was worth going, especially as this term's science is around swimming creatures.

Younger Daughter has been running, each week, with some friends.  This last week, Youngest Son also joined in. Sadly, a nerve root injury in my back means that I haven't been able to join them, so I've had a relaxing time looking after whichever children haven't run.

This week, we have tried to cook potatoes in a home made solar oven. We managed to get the temperature to 70C but failed to cook the potatoes!

Our read alouds have included

  • The Ology which is a summary of theology for children in a beautifully presented book.
  • A Bear called Paddington for Youngest Son's bookclub. This book was very popular.
  • Journey to the River Sea by Eve Ibbotson for Younger Daughter's bookclub. This is a well written book set in the Amazon. I think there are holes in the ending but the children enjoyed the book.
  • My name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley. This is a fun twist on history which Younger Daughter and I enjoyed together.
  • We haven't quite finished Archimedes and the Door of Science. This  book encompasses history, science and maths by someone who is an enthusiast about the subject. We are reading it a chapter at a time during morning time.
Just when I thought that we hadn't achieved much this term, my daughter asked if she could hold a bake sale. She organised, cooked for, decorated and ran a sale in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital almost single handed.

This week is a  UK half term holiday.  We aren't bound by the system but these are a great invention and we are all looking forward to a week to recharge, catch up and see friends.

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Sources of home education inspiration: English

This is the second post with resources for home education. I don't pretend to list every resource. These are either programmes/sites which I have used, referred to or seriously considered using. The comments are my personal views.

  • Early years: we loved the picture book based curriculum, Five in a Row which has ideas around picture books. Even if you don't use the books, it is worth checking out the book lists. Branch Out World has a similar type of idea but produces unit studies around UK based picture books.

  • Learning to read. Opinions on learning to read vary and some children seem to learn with very little instruction. For the rest, programmes which teach synthetic phonics seem to have evidence based approval. We have used Jolly Phonics but found that there wasn't enough repetition nor explanation of some difficulties. 
  • I have written about reading programmes for children who need more instruction. If I were starting to teach a child to read now, I would use either All about reading or Dancing Bears. Reading Eggs is a popular on line programme. It is helpful re-enforcement for other reading instruction as is Nessy.  The latter is particularly useful for learners who find reading difficult.

  • For spelling, we use All about Spelling. This is a methodical, teacher intensive programme with plenty of review built in. In the past, I have used Schofield and Sims spelling workbooks with an older child. These are a cheaper alternative for children who don't struggle with spelling. 
  • I haven't used but was impressed with Alpha to Omega which would cover reading and spelling. Again, I haven't used the Structured Word Inquiry but this sounds a fascinating way to help children with spelling. I haven't been able to find a book about this-I'm sure that someone should write one or tell me where one exists! Nessy is a painless way of re-enforcing spelling.

  • Creative writing. There are an enormous number of programmes around and even more views on how to teach creative writing or, indeed, on whether it should be taught at all. Anyway, we have used WriteShop which has clear instructions; Bravewriter which has somewhat less clear information about what to do but plenty of encouragement for helping reluctant writers and a set of books: . Pie Corbett's books are helpful. I have used the Key Stage one book, How to teach story writing at Key Stage 1, and also Jumpstart: Literacy games for 7-14 year olds. A helpful set of books are published by QED and called How to write. 

  • Grammar, punctuation, comprehension. We don't do as much grammar as schools seem to be doing for the year 6 stats testing. We tend to use the Galore Park books for this part of English although we have the older edition. The newer edition seems to include more grammar. Jumpstart, by Pie Corbett, has some games which can be used. This year, we have used Writing with Ease which has worked reasonably well for one child and not at all well for the other. This is sold as a writing course but includes copy work, dictation and close style narration. I find the narration questions similar to the comprehension questions in Galore Park. The premise of this book is that creative writing is not necessary at a young age. I struggle with this idea so wouldn't use Writing with Ease alone for writing.

  • Handwriting. We have used several programmes: Schofield and Sims (we liked this but my children need more than two thin books worth of practice), Getty Dubay (this worked well until we reached cursive which looked too different to UK script), Morrell workbooks. I have wondered about Handwriting without Tears but rejected this as the cursive was unlike most UK styles. Please let me know if you have any recommendations. Ideally, I would like something which can be done for a short time daily.

  • ExtrasShakespeare week has plenty of resources for introducing younger children to the bard. Don't forget the local library for books. Recently, I have used the library online search more and more rather than just looking at random when I arrive. 
Please do write about your favourite resources and let me know if I have left out some major area. 

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

May Inspiration

May is coldly beautiful here, this year. 

As we start our last term of the school year, I am planning for next year. Tempting as it is to buy loads of new curriculum, this isn't always the right choice. This post talks about not needing new resources.

One thing that I am wondering about doing new year is the John Muir award. I haven't quite decided yet but it looks interesting. Has anyone used this programme?

A piece of kit that we aren't planning to change is All About Spelling. All about Learning Press has a useful blog and there is a recent article about 7 ways to make spelling logical.

The Katie books and some of the Lawrence Anholt books have been very popular here so I was pleased to find a post about art books for children which includes these and adds others.

I really enjoyed this piece of writing about how the author learned from both her  homeschooling mother and mother in law.

Finally, not a post but a book that is proving helpful is Pie Corbett's Jumpstart!: Literacy-Games and Activities for ages 7-14. It was recommended to me recently and I have been using it this term. The activities are short and a quick way to add in a little extra writing or work around words. We add one activity to Morning Time, each day, but the games could  be used at many different times of day to introduce topics or to give extra practice.

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Friday, 28 April 2017

Sources of Home Education Inspiration: Part 1

All home educators need inspiration. We may be looking
  • for a new curriculum
  • to supplement an existing curriculum
  • for extra practice
  • to make a difficult area clearer
  • to construct a unit study
  • for holiday ideas
  • any number of other reasons

This post is around where I go for ideas. Please remember that
  • each family varies. What might be great for one family may not work for yours.
  • each child varies
  • blog posts, instagram and Pinterest aren't the whole story. Everyone wants to look their best but remember that we all have difficult days which may not be on show!
  • Just because something is listed doesn't mean that I agree with the owner theologically or educationally.
This post is general but I hope to put up another post around specific areas.

Anyway, here is my general list:

Other local home educators. The massive advantage of this source of information is that you can actually see the resources. Again, it is tempting to think that you have to home educate in the same way as your friends: you don't!

Advice and ideas from on line home education email lists: Deut6v7 is the UK Christian home educators yahoo list.

Facebook home education groups. There are loads of these. You are likely to find a local group helpful. The UK Christian group is very active but there is also a UK Charlotte Mason group as well as international groups for most types of homeschooling. Do bear in mind that international groups tend to have a preponderance of Americans. This isn't a problem but be aware that a lovely heavy book will have a nasty, weighty shipping cost from the US to the UK!

Blogs: my favourites include 

Instagram: this can be a great way of finding out about books. My favourite accounts are 

  • Farmhouseschoolhouse
  •  Lifeographer
  •  mrs.shannonkelly
  •  outdoornaturechallenge
  •  hswotrainingwheels
  • spreadingthefeast
  •  leahvboden

Pinterest-I tend to search for topics rather than look at particular accounts.

Brochures. The Veritas and Sonlight brochures have great book ideas even if you don't intend to use their programmes.

Podcasts. There are many relevant podcasts around. Read aloud Revival isn't specifically for home educators but is run by a US homeschooler. Pam Barnhill runs Your Morning Basket, Homeschool Snapshots and Homeschool Solutions Show.  I have found Your Morning Basket a particularly rich source of ideas. Other podcasts to investigate are Wild and Free and a Delectable Education.

Review sites. I look at The Old Schoolhouse Review CrewCurriculum Choice and Cathy Duffy Reviews.

Solomon said Of the making of many books there is no end. The same applies to home education resources. Please link to your favourite sites. 

I hope to post some specific area resources at a later date.

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