Keep Calm & Carry On.

“Keep Calm & Carry On” is one of those quintessential British phrases that we all used across the years from its inception. For most, it’s not one that applies to the situation we have found ourselves in.

This is a time of huge unrest for all of us. The global pandemic we are facing is unprecedented; it’s something that we haven’t experienced before to this degree. I completely understand that it is a scary time right now. Our families are at risk; people we love are in danger; society as we know it will morph and change to adapt the variable situations we’re facing.

But despite this, I feel I’m currently swimming against the tide. I’m not feeling particularly worried and am still going about my life the same as I did before (whilst sticking to the guidance we are being given!). I’m staying away from media reports, and just waiting for official guidance from my school before I make any changes to my practice. The idea of a long time off with not a lot to just makes me feel uncomfortable.

It’s no secret to anyone that I was off work for an extended period of time before – though obviously in different circumstances. But I found it really exhausting having a long period stretching before me with not a lot to do: I like keeping busy. If this is what we have to do, then obviously I’ll be doing it. But I know for me, and I’m sure for lots of others, it will be a strain on mental health.

In this vein, for me, the most worrying aspect of what’s going on at the moment is all the speculation. It’s not an if, but a when, schools are going to close. But there are a myriad of different theories currently online which will create an uneasy feeling of not knowing. Whether schools shut for 2 weeks, a month or 16 weeks: we’re going to do what we always do as education professionals – do what we can to minimise the effect whilst looking after ourselves.

We need to keep calm for the children in our classes and ensure that they are in a safe space at school. We need to carry on with whatever guidance we’re offered. But we also need to think about our own online presence and the support we can offer to others. We will all deal with this experience differently and need to extend a hand to those we can help. This includes being mindful, where possible, or the effects it might have on others mental health.

For anyone who is struggling, @brassoteach has set up #KeepInTouch where you’ll find a number of people happy to receive DMs (including myself) and be a point of contact for venting, support or just an ear to listen during this time.

Hope you all keep safe

Emily 🖤

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#BeKind

This message has been displayed across social media extensively this week, for obvious reasons. The effect of being kind and choosing words carefully has been more prominent now than it ever seems to have been before.

It’s been well documented that I’ve been through a really negative experience before where unkind words and bullying really affected me. I was at the point of nearly leaving my career and, even now, I still struggle with having confidence in myself. One comment can still sometimes be enough to make me think that I am not good enough.

This being said, however, it’s easy to forget that people have different versions of what they think is being kind. It’s very easy for context to be lost on social media – nuances of conversation can be lost in written word and cause offence where it wasn’t intended.

I try really hard – especially given my past experiences – to be really kind and positive to everyone I interact with. As a few people who I confide in know, I’ll often worry about what I reply sometimes in case I come across mean or rude. They’ll get redrafted tweets and messages with me needing some confirmation that what I’m saying is okay! One of the things I dread most in life is upsetting people with what I say as I know the impact it can have.

But Twitter can be a total minefield. I’ve seen – during my 4 years on the platform – a range of different conversations that probably would have been totally avoided if they’d been had in person. A lot of us are very in touch with how we feel ourselves and although we like to think we’ve thought about the impact on others, we haven’t. Not really. Because our own view of what kind is has blurred what the experience of others might be.

For example, I tweeted an opinion about a certain author. Not once did I say I didn’t let children read him, or that they shouldn’t (for the record, I have two of his books in my classroom!) but people made this assumption and then jumped on my tweet criticising me for this very thing. It blew up bigger than I ever thought when I posted the tweet!

Luckily, other than the usual ‘do I sound too mean in my reply?’ I navigated it okay and actually learned I can defend myself without being seen as ‘mean’ (my eternal worry). But there will be other people that, when this happens to them, withdraw into themselves and become affected by what they’re being told.

We never know what anyone else is going through and small acts of kindness, forgiveness and tolerance can be the difference between a positive and negative experience for someone else.

Our views are different: some we will agree with, some we won’t. But we do need to embrace that our differences are what make us each unique – do I agree with everything I read? No. And some people absolutely open up some much needed discussion. But sometimes it’s okay for others to disagree!

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is an outdated proverb. One we should ignore.

So this is just a reminder to take a minute to think about what you say to others before you type or speak.

Words do hurt. Words can kill.

Emily

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New Year, New You?

It happens every year. We see numerous people stating their New Year’s Resolutions with cries of: New Year, New Me!’

(And yes, for the record, I am one of them!). We look at the year ahead excited about things we already know will happen, as well as the prospect of the unknown. What will be waiting for us in 2020? What does the future hold?

But let’s focus for a moment on the past. I hope I’m not alone, but I for one know I’m awful at looking back at the year and seeing what good things have happened because I made them happen.

Teachers are often first to be self-critical. We suffer imposter syndrome and question our own ability; it seems to be the way a lot of us are wired. Yes, we are reflective but, and again I hope this isn’t just me, it’s much easier to reflect on the negative than step back and say, ‘You know what? That was great.’

So I took time out by myself to sit down and look back on 2019. What had I achieved? What three things was I really proud of?

1) I’ve been very open with the struggles I had leaving a toxic school. It made me anxious and paranoid, constantly worrying if I was any good at the job. This year (although I’m by no means at my full confidence again!), I’ve made huge leaps in developing my own self-belief. Ive started to see that some things I do can make an impact on the children, staff and people I interact with.

This may sound simple, but having a better understanding of my own self-worth has been the biggest impact on my year. I’ve felt 10% braver and asked for things I wanted to do, something I never would have had the confidence to do this time last year.

I get to review books, which I love. I write articles for amazing publications and companies. I have the confidence to put my own views out in a blog. None of this would have seemed possible to me a year ago.

2) My favourite part of the year was ‘Secondary Week’ which we put on for our Year 6 cohort in June. Before any of them went to their secondary move-up days, we had nearly 2 weeks where their timetable was as close as we could manage to secondary.

They moved classrooms; had different teachers; a range of all subjects; homework assigned on different days with different deadlines.

I was really lucky my school let me do this idea (because I had enough belief in myself to ask to do it!) and it worked amazingly! Children felt more confident going to secondary as well as having time to adjust to what will be expected of them. Because it went so well, it’s something we will repeat this year!

3) Reading more children’s books. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, despite being a huge reader, in the past I mostly stuck to adult books. This all changed & in 2019 I discovered even more amazing children’s literature! I believe reading these books has had a real impact on my teaching.

I can recommend books to children, have a range of incredible options in the book corner (I put all the books I buy in there!) and, most importantly, I’ve discovered some new favourites for myself!

So, if you look back on 2019, what would your Top 3 moments be?

What did you do that had the most impact on others?

And, importantly, what had the most impact on yourself?

For me, 2020 is going to be more of the same. A year of worrying less, putting myself forward for more things I want to do or believe I would be good for and to continue being 10% braver.

Small changes can have big results!

HNY!

Emily

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I love social media but…

Anyone who follows any of my profiles can see that I love social media.

  • I love the discussion, ideas and resources you can get through Twitter.
  • I LOVE a selfie (and have no shame about it!).
  • I enjoy keeping in contact with lots of different people.

But the bit I don’t love is the anxiety that can sometimes come with it. Most of the time, it isn’t there or may vaguely niggle in the background. Other times, it can become something bigger.

I’d love to say I don’t compare myself to others but I do. I’ll see things happening for people and think, ‘If I were good enough, it’d happen to me too!’ or wonder if I’ll ever be confident enough to put myself forward for things I’d really love to do.

I know for me, this is still partly a hangover from my previous workplace: if you’re told you’re not good enough often enough, you’ll start to believe it. But it’s something I know also happens for other people too – it isn’t just a product of the workplace.

Twitter is full of amazing ideas by amazing people, as well as the chance to network with colleagues you’d otherwise not meet. It’s full of chances for CPD and Conferences which you’d otherwise not hear of. But it can look all to positive when your own day, or week, has gone wrong.

It is in no way big enough to stop me using Twitter – or any other social media – the positives hugely outweigh this one negative. It has, however, deterred me from writing more blog posts. Or asking for opportunities I want or feel I would be good for.

It’s something I think lots of people feel, but it isn’t discussed widely enough for them to know others feel it too. This will all have been said before – I won’t be the first to blog about this and I’m sure I won’t be the last.

But when the anxiety creeps in, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

Emily

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No New Books November

I’ve got a bit of a book buying problem.

I find myself looking the numerous books on my shelf, many languishing at the back of my TBR pile as I constantly put new titles in front of them, and find I never actually pick them up to read.

Books I was desperate to read a few months ago, or even last week, have been replaced by the next book I just had to have. Any bookshop I pass I seem to enter and come out with at least (and it’s usually more!) one book.

And it’s getting ridiculous.

My ‘To Be Read’ pile is in literal piles near my bedside table, as I run out of any other room to put them.

So, following on from Mr B Reads (@MrBReading) ‘Operation Bookshelf’ I’ve been inspired. I am not going to buy a single new book for the whole of November and read some that have been waiting in my TBR pile (some of them for nearly a year) instead.

The first thing I’ve done is got myself down to my local library and updated my membership! I plan on not only getting books out for myself but also some which are useful for my topic at school.

I’ve also decided to join in with the ‘Believe in the Impossible Readathon’ (@Believeathon) which has also been a great help for my problem; it gives you 10 categories to read from during November (e.g a book with magic, a book with a real world issue). I managed to find a book for each of these that I already had.

My only potential problem with this is I always join in on the Primary School Book Club (@PrimarySchoolBC) each month…so I’m just hoping that the book that wins is one that is already on my shelf or available at my library!

Wish me luck…

Emily

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To read, or not to read…

If you asked me at the start of 2018 if I read children’s books, my answer would have been a resolute ‘no’. Of course, I would read the occasional book for school to check it was suitable for my class, but to be honest, most of the time I used the blurb, other teacher recommendations and the theme of the story to help me select what to use in my classroom.

Finding the time or not wanting to pick up books wasn’t the problem. I am an avid reader and always have been. In 2018 I read 80 books; so far in 2019 I have read 89 books.

Reading is something I love to do to relax. But, prior to this year, I was reluctant to read children’s books for my own enjoyment.My favourite genre of book is crime: if there’s a few grisly murders and an ‘I didn’t see it coming twist’ I’m happy. I did read other genres alongside this (there isn’t much I won’t read!) but my TBR pile was so big, I found myself shying away from children’s books which I was unsure would have the complexity of plot I was after.

Of course as a child I read the big classics: Harry Potter, Roald Dahl or Worst Witch. I was obsessed with Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner when they hit the shelve. But when thinking of recent children’s books, I often immediately thought of David Walliams – and I wasn’t interested in reading them.

And then, over the last academic year, I started picking up books my class were reading and finding exciting plots and story lines (even a few murders!). I started reading them not just because I felt I had to, but because I genuinely felt I would enjoy the book.

I found a few that kept my attention gripped; I read some of them in one sitting. I started to realise that we are lucky enough to have a rich, exciting variety of children’s books being written for us: Storm Keeper’s Island, Brightstorm, House with the Chicken Legs and Beetle Boy just time name a few.

Now, this year, I can’t get enough of children’s literature. Being able to recommend books personally to members of my class; knowing what texts would work amazingly with topics and discovering new stories that will enhance their enjoyment of reading. My reading corner is solely full of my own copies of children’s literature.

Alongside this, I am lucky enough to be reviewing children’s books and discovering new, quality reads every month.

There are still times I use recommendations from Twitter or from other colleagues about what book would be suitable for my class instead of reading it myself. Sometimes I don’t read a book before using it with them as our class book (outside of Whole Class Reading) because I like to discover the story with them.

But now, unlike last year, I’m hooked on reading children’s books.

Emily

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NQT: One Small Step…

You’ve done it! You’re finally stepping into your own classroom, which is probably one of the best feelings you’ve had in life. It feels like all your hard work has finally culminated in having your own class!

It can be easy to let work overwhelm you in the first year – and it’s absolutely okay to spend as much time as you want preparing! You’re excited; there’s loads of ideas firing round your heard; your bookmarks on Pintrest, Twitter and Instagram have grown out of control and you want to create it all.

But it’s super important to make sure your wellbeing comes first; a tired, burnt out teacher cannot give their best to their class; no matter how many fabulous resources you create. The best resource in the classroom is YOU.

TOP TIP 1: BALANCE

It may take a while, but finding balance for yourself between work and home life is always so important. A burnt out candle can’t glow, which you will need to in both aspects of your life!

Make sure (minimum!) an evening a week you go home early and spend a day at the weekend (minimum!) relaxing. Of course, some find work relaxing – but you need time to switch off or it will become hard to draw the line between the two.

TOP TIP 2: ASK

It’s absolutely okay to ask someone for help. Yes, we mean about lessons, planning or subjects – don’t struggle when there are experts all around you – but also when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Don’t suffer in silence; find a colleague who can be what you need. It might be just a listening ear, a helping hand or someone who can help you make a change.

Believe us, we know how hard it can be to ask someone for help if you’re finding things difficult. It can take lots of courage! But in the long run, it will have a much better effect on your mental health. If there is no one in school who can be there, then remember you can always reach out on Twitter. It’s a great support network.

TOP TIP 3: SELF-WORTH

Too many times NQTs (or even PGCE students!) walk into a classroom and think they don’t know best because it’s ‘just’ their first year of teaching. Know your own worth!

You will have fresh eyes, enthusiasm and new teaching strategies that other members of staff might not have seen before, or be able to see in the same way as you. Many a student or NQT has come up with a totally amazing way of teaching something! Don’t fill yourself with doubts – you wouldn’t have been chosen for the job if you hadn’t shown a real flair and love of teaching.

And in the future…

As you develop your own teaching style further, you’ll find tips and tricks to make things quicker. Less resources to make; more ideas to fall back on; trial and error of different strategies.

Just remember: do what works FOR YOU where possible.

Emily

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We’re all going on…ANOTHER holiday.

The same debate rears its head most holidays.

Why are we working in the holidays? Why aren’t we looking after our wellbeing more?

But every year it’s frustrating that people forget that the key here is choice.

If you are in a school that expects you to go in during the holidays, or gives you so much work that you feel you have to do work during the summer then absolutely, break the mould and make it different for yourself. Being told we have to do work in the holidays is not acceptable.

But.

And it’s a big but. If we are, ourselves, choosing to do the work because we want to, then why can’t we? Personally, I find it more relaxing to go back to school knowing a lot of my work is already done; 6 weeks is a long time to be off with not a lot to do!

If you have families your priorities may be different- but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I pack things into Summer Holidays: 2 weddings (one in Ireland!) my birthday, 2 Welsh rugby games, a trip to Cornwall. But alongside this, there’s elements of my work I enjoy doing during the break because I have more time to do them.

What does not help wellbeing is people filling you with guilt.

You shouldn’t be doing work.

You should be doing work.

We are all professional adults who are capable of making decisions about when we choose to do our work. Let’s keep it that way!

Emily

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Secondary Week(s)

After planning our Secondary Week for the Year 6’s a while ago, I was looking forward to it with excited anticipation. I’ve never planned anything like this before, and I hoped that it would be a great transition stepping-stone for the class on their journey to starting Secondary.

I asked teachers,SLT and TAs throughout the school to volunteer to teach a lesson to the class (giving them free choice of which subject they most wanted to do!). Everyone really got on board with the idea, leading to us extending the Secondary Week to just under a fortnight of different lessons!

Our school has a really supportive atmosphere anyway with a great attitude to teamwork, but even so, I was really (pleasantly!) surprised that so many people offered to do lessons, as well as cover a range of subjects.

I’m hoping to show, and share, with you the lessons my Year 6 class were lucky enough to be taught during this time.

W/C Monday 10th June – our ‘unofficial’ starting week.

This week was used to ease the children in. It was explained to them that they would receive homework (with a range of hand in dates), detention slips (to show them when/how often this could happen) and also commendation slips for children who worked extra hard in their lessons, or were being role-models around school. All the children understood what was happening and were really excited to receive their timetables!

Tuesday

Martial Arts/Dance –

We spent the morning with outside instructors from @MattFiddesUK to do a martial arts class, followed by a session of dance.

Drama –

After lunch, our headteacher took the class for a drama lesson! It had lots of little activities:

  • First, we played ‘123’. With a partner you take it in turns to say 1 – 2 – 3. Which sounds more simple than it ends up being! After you master this, you replace 1 with a clap, and 3 with a knee bend! A really fun warm up activity.
  • Next, the children had to be in an ‘Imaginarium’. Stood in a circle, they were told a scene – for example, a haunted house. One by one, children state what they are, then act it out inside the circle ‘scene’.
  • Finally, the children had 4 chairs next to each other in a line – a bus stop. Behind it were a range of hats. Children, up to 4 at a time, took a hat, sat on the bench and had a conversation in character. Some of the hat choices were fantastic and provided really great opportunities for interaction and teamwork!

Maths –

Next, a member of our SLT completed a maths activity with the children, based on probability. It was an activity which I hadn’t seen before, where children had to ‘race’ horses – and bet which would win – based on rolling a dice. They did this in pairs and were really enthusiastic (and, no surprise in my class, very competitive!).

Music –

The last lesson on our first day was music, with our Deputy Head. He decided to focus on the Haka, looking at rhythm and beat. The children had to spend time exploring this, using performance to understand more about both of these features. Once they had looked at this, they then compared it to a different song – what was the difference in rhythm? What about beat? How did that make them feel? Promoted some really fantastic discussion!

Wednesday

English –

This lesson was with me! With a focus on writing, we looked at creating a ‘100 Word Story’ for the Young Writers ‘Ancient Adventures’ completion using some ambitious vocabulary. After creating a class shared write, the children focused on their own 100 word stories, thinking about amazing vocabulary they could use! A simple lesson, which all the children enjoyed.

Maths –

Miss McNally (my brilliant PGCE student – @missmcnally1) created a lesson around pie charts, incorporating our termly topic of Twisted Tales. First they recapped working out the degrees of pie charts.

Next, the children developed their own pie charts from scratch using data that they generated by asking the class questions. They came up with questions like: ‘who was the greatest villain?’

Geography –

Jo, my 1:1 TA (@jo_plumridge), created a brilliant lesson based around local maps. First, there was elicitation around what children already know about maps. Then, they had to find, using the map key, what different symbols referred to. Finally, they had to locate, on a local map, where each of those symbols could be found and use co-ordinates to explain.

Science –

I loved teaching this lesson (as seen originally on twitter by @mrsbteachy). We discussed the language of experiments to check children were secure with the technical terminology we were using (great chance to see progress from September!) to begin the lesson. Next, the fun part! In pairs, children were given a petri-dish, a swab and a toilet location in the school. Each pair needed to take samples and see where was the least or most hygienic.

We’re hoping to see some fantastic, clear results!

History –

Next up was Miss Lafford (my PGCE student from Oct – Dec, who came back to our school for her final placement! @miss_lafford). Her grandad was in the trenches during World War 2, so she planned a lesson using inference and enquiry to discover more about who their (at this point mystery) person was!

This included a range of genuine artefacts from the war including: a will that had been written in the trenches; medals he had won; photos and belongings that had been passed down. The children were really engaged with the learning, especially when they found out the personal connection!

Thursday

Computing –

‘Digital Schoolhouse’ visited us from New College Swindon, with some activities to help children better understand coding, algorithms and how computers worked. In one classroom, children had to use ciphers and other means to decode information.

Whilst in the room next door, groups had to investigate how information is stored on servers.

Digital Schoolhouse has been a really great project that the college have provided, in order to upskill us as teachers, while providing great computer learning opportunities for the children!

History –

This is my ultimate favourite subject to teach (closely followed by English!) so this lesson is my favourite I’ve done…so far! In this subject, we began with each child having a section of an Aztec timeline. They sorted themselves into chronological order and briefly discussed key events…most importantly the building of a temple. After this, we looked in closer detail at the gods that Aztecs worshipped in their temples. What animals were they influenced by? What areas of life had a god?

The children really enjoyed learning what they were worshipped for (and attempting to pronounce the names!) before then using their knowledge to design their own ‘god’ based on what they have learnt. Here is the design we developed first as a class. Standard teacher comment: I’m not an artist.

Science –

@MissMcNally1 taught another really interesting lesson! Earlier in the year we completed a heart dissection, so when she told the children that this time they were dissecting flowers, they were equally as excited. Using Freesia’s, Rosella went through the parts of flowers and explained that they have both male, and female parts. She produced a beautiful example for them, before the class worked in pairs to create their own.

Friday

English –

I won’t give too much away here, but we did some fantastic writing for @reading_realm! I am SO excited to use this app more within our classroom. It has some really great features (which work on not only reading, but spelling and grammar!) so the class were thrilled to have an activity to complete!

Science –

With a STEM focus, our Y4 teacher & assistant SENCO had the class making solar robots! They were more challenging to make than the children expected them to be, and we are now waiting for some very late summer sunshine to appear to test them properly!

PSHE –

Our brilliant nurture TA, Anna, did our PSHE lesson. We use Jigsaw in school, and she’s currently building up to our SRE lesson which I have the pleasure of delivering soon!

French –

Mrs Phillipon is our lovely French TA, who covers MFL within the school! She created an interesting lesson where children focused on body parts. First, the class sang head, shoulders, knees and toes. The main activity was to create their own ‘weird creature’ by rolling the dice to give it different body parts.

(Template from CPP Middle School)

PE –

Our PE extraordinaire – @sam_wood93 – started preparing Year 6 for sports day with javelin and sprint trials. After learning the key skills, children had challenges to complete in order to be ready for the big event!

This is just one week of the incredible lessons people planned and taught for our Y6 cohort.

I am so grateful to all the people at school who have helped out with this week and helped to make it happen!

Emily

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Transition Tips!

We have spoken previously about the activities which might make Y6 transition easier for them. But what about children’s wellbeing during transition? Not just in Year 6, but across the school?

It can be a scary time for any child; moving up a year group can seem daunting. So how can we make the process easier for them?

1. Start each child with a clean slate.

Some children will come to you with a label.

‘They are always distracting others!’

‘Probably won’t ever be above working towards.’

‘They always worked so hard for me!’

These things might turn out to be true, but it’s only fair every child gets a do-over when they get a new teacher, or go into a new year. It gives them a chance to spread their wings and make a difference to their own experience, before we treat them with our pre-conceived perceptions.

2. Give children a chance to show you who they are.

Even if you know the children, which often happens in a small school, it’s worth doing a few tasks during transition to get a view of their individual skills: writing, art, sports are all great activities as you can see a range of talents the class may have.

If you don’t know the children already: a larger school, moving to a different area of the school or a new school altogether – then choosing activities will help you get a real feel for not only the individual children, but also the class as a whole.

It still surprises me every year just how different each cohort is, even in the same year group!

3. Start as you mean to go on…

It’s easy to let behaviour slide on transition days, but introducing rules and routines they will always have means you can start in September with clear expectations. Easier for you…but also the children as they know where they stand!

4. Pass on any needs to teachers, with some background.

If there is something that will make the child more comfortable, able to learn or is necessary for their daily routine then try and know as much as possible before transition days, not just September. Again, easier for you, as well as the child! They will get that immediate sense of understanding from you, which means relationships will have their foundations laid to continue building on during your time together.

Every school will have their own transition routines and ways of working. Some schools have one morning, or day transition. Some schools have more than this. So here are some handy activity hints for the time spent with your new class:

  • Letter to their future selves – could be a motivational letter used by Year 6, to open before their SATs. Or, for other year groups, a letter to show how far they’ve come.
  • Make bookmarks of their favourite book cover – these can be laminated and given out on their first day and give you an easy insight into which books are popular with your class!
  • A Dragon’s Den style project (e.g create an eco invention). Really shows a range of skills – both academic and social – allowing you to get a real sense of how your class work together.
  • An art activity – I love @_missiebee Julian Opie style class portraits! A perfect display to start you classroom with a welcoming feel come September!

Every teacher approaches transition day differently! Any handy hints or activities? Add them to our comments, or reply to our blog tweet on Twitter! We’d love to hear and share them!

Emily

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