the art of grand conversation

During the coaching institute, we were in labsites in a NYC public school where we got to teach lessons. One of the lessons we had to plan was a grand conversation. I admit that I haven’t really been doing them in my classroom prior to the institute. It was a great reminder for me to integrate more grand conversations into my lessons. Of course we do have a lot of discussions as a class, but a grand conversation is a bit different. A grand conversation is where the students are leading this conversation around a specific content area. The amazing thing about grand conversations are that the students participate and build off each other. You shouldn’t need to call on the students. They chime in as they wish.

My group led a grand conversation in a fifth grade classroom during the institute. We decided on a nonfiction text about Jackie Robinson. We read the short book on Jackie Robinson and had a few key questions we used to help start the conversation. I was impressed with the engagement and level of depth in the conversation.

A few tips to leading your own grand conversation:

1)  Set clear expectations- It will really be important to be clear that when a person talks, you are listening to them speak and not interrupting them. I have my students sit in a circle so they can see everyone in the class. Grand conversations work great when students are really listening and adding on to each other. A smart idea would be to review with them a sentence starters chart as a scaffold for their conversation. I found a great one on pinterest with conversational sentence starters:

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Here’s a quick chart I came up with to help set expectations:

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2) Make it mandatory for everyone to participate- A great tip that a colleague gave was to give each student 2 index cards. After they speak, they put the index card in front of them. Once they use up both index cards, they have to wait until everyone else shared to speak again. I tried this with my class and it really helped getting everyone to share. I loved seeing my more reluctant sharers really making meaningful contributions.

3) Use open ended questions to get the conversation started- Also, one thing I tried to do was to spice things up by making a few controversial statements (about the characters) that would allow for debate among the students. Here are some questions that you could use to start the discussion.

  • Who was your favorite character and why? Who was your least favorite character?
  • How did the characters change in the story?
  • What was your favorite part of the story and why?
  • What was the author trying to teach you through the story? What were the themes in the story and why?

As the facilitator, depending on the topic and students, if the conversation is not really going well or at a standstill, jump in by changing questions. Also, feel free to share your opinion about the topic.

4) Make sure there’s a lot to talk about- I’ve only done grand conversations in reading workshop, and make sure there’s enough content to talk about. One time, I did a grand conversation after a short picture book I read, and there wasn’t as much for the students to talk about for an extending period of time. Our grand conversation quickly flopped after about 10minutes. After that failure, I held another grand conversation after finishing our long read aloud chapter book, and the students had so much to talk about. My fifth graders were talking for a good 30 minutes.

5) Record it! – If you have an iPad, all you need to do is set it on a table next to where the students are sitting in a circle. Then, press record, and you can easily upload it to your class blog! If it goes well, you can use it as a example to show your students next year. Also, it’ll be a great way to motivate students to be extra focused and pay attention when they know they are being recorded. I have this iPad stand that I used to record:

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Have you tried grand conversations in your classroom? Do you have any other tips to add? I would love to hear them!

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Seeing Scientists at Work in Jee Young’s Classroom

For those of you who follow us, you know that Two Apples A Day consists of two elementary teachers, collaborating on one blog. We started this adventure in the same country, at the same school, with the same vision (haha, okay reeling it back). Since then, Jee Young has left Korea and moved to Singapore. Melody (me!) has stayed in Korea, but worked for several international schools. Jee Young was able to come back to South Korea and visit my classroom a couple of years ago and shared her experience here.

This past fall, I was able to visit Jee  Young’s fifth grade classroom in Singapore during one of my holidays. I observed one of her science lessons and took mental notes of things that I thought were so on point.

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Here are the top 3 ideas I took away from Jee Young’s lesson:

1. Wear a Lab coat. Jee Young instantly turned scientist when she slipped on her white lab coat. Such a simple thing to do that made a big difference. As an additional bonus to this look could be protective goggles, yes?

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2. Call your students “Scientists”. Every time she spoke to them as a whole, or to an individual, Jee Young used the term “scientist(s)” and you could tell it made the students take themselves more seriously… they felt like scientists, they were scientists.

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3. Use lesson/learning time wisely by setting up routines.  In the course of 45 minutes, Jee Young gave the students their task, had the students observe their experiments and discuss their observations with their small groups, create a post on their blog using their iPads (pictures included!), and then had a couple of students share a few posts with the class as a whole. While this was happening she moved around to answer questions, mentally made notes of students’ work, and gave instant feedback. It was amazing. Yes, it takes time to set these routines up at the beginning of the year or at the beginning of a unit. But the effort is well worth it.

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Observing colleagues is a great way to share ideas and grow as a teacher. I know we all get busy, but take the time to do it and you will not regret it.

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Thank you for welcoming me into your classroom Jee Young, I hope I can come back soon.

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Top 3 Things I Learned from the Coaching Institute

This past January, I had an opportunity to go to NY to participate in the Teacher’s College Coaching Institute. Not only did I have this amazing professional opportunity, I got to go back home to NY! After traveling about 24 hours to get from Singapore to NY, I was glad to be greeted by my parents at the airport along with the colder winter weather. One of the best parts about this coaching institute is that we were able to be in the public schools and not only observe, but teach and coach. After 4 days, I came up with three big ideas that I took from the institute.

1) Frequent feedback- I was reminded over and over again about the importance of frequent effective feedback not only for our students, but for teachers as well. In order for students to grow, they need frequent feedback. They continued to reference John Hattie’s work in Visible Teaching for Teachers.John Hattie’s research continues to be huge in the education field right now. One of the top 10 factors that can positively influence student growth is feedback. John Hattie states the importance of powerful feedback that helps students grow and meet their goals. Therefore, it’s important to keep the mini-lesson truly mini. This allows teachers to spend more time conferring and doing small group instruction where students are getting that personalized feedback.

One point that stuck with me about feedback was the idea that as teachers, we need effective feedback as well. One of the staff developers shared that the powerful feedback she receives once a year from her boss, helps her last through the year. As teachers, we don’t necessarily need feedback every week, but when we get good feedback about our teaching, it can not only encourage us, but help us improve as well. How often do you get feedback about your teaching from your admin?

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Taken from John Hattie’s Visible Learning website: http://visible-learning.org/2015/02/infographic-feedback-for-learning/

2) Faster planning- Another huge takeaway from me was the idea of faster planning for our lessons. On the second day of the institute, we were in the public schools. When we arrived, Mary E., the staff developer leading our cohort, gave us the schedule. We would observe her doing a lesson (which was amazing), than we would have about 30minutes to plan out our lessons, then we would be in the classrooms teaching. Even though we did break up parts of the lesson among the groups, I was surprised that we had such little time. Mary emphasized that it was not realistic to spend an hour planning for an hour lesson.

It was pretty great how we were able to plan the lessons so quickly, because we were given such time limits. Even though in reality we would have more time to plan our actual lessons, we did become more efficient and faster with our planning with the time limits given. I don’t think I have an answer to how to plan more quickly, as there are quite a few different factors to take into account, but there needs to more ways to be smarter with our planning without compromising the quality of our lessons. That’s something that’s still lingering in my mind…

3) Feet on the ground– The last big takeaway for me was the importance of getting into each other’s classrooms. I really loved being in the different classrooms and getting to observe and teach with other coaches and teachers from all over. Collaboration offers opportunities to learn from each other that doesn’t happen when we are isolated in our classroom. Some of the ways you can get your feet into each others classroom are walkthroughs, demo-lessons, or team teaching lessons.

However, it’s important that there is a culture of collaboration in the school, where teachers feel comfortable being in each other’s room, giving feedback, and working together. It is definitely not easy to open up your classroom to other teachers, and it takes a bit of vulnerability, and support from admin is crucial. And remember, it takes time to build that culture of collaboration, but start with small steps! It might just be observing another teacher for 15 minutes, but get yourself in other classrooms. A lot of fantastic learning is taking place and we should take more advantage of the opportunities to learn from our colleagues.

Stay tuned for more on some more practical classroom takeaways from the coaching institute!

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Telling Time in First Grade

Learning how to tell time. We’ve all been there.

Since telling time is something we do throughout the whole day I wanted to integrate it throughout all of my lessons. The way I decided to do this was by having my students create their own clocks and keeping it on their desks. Randomly throughout the day (at the beginning of a lesson, right before or after lunch, etc.) I asked the students to look at our classroom clock and mirror the time on their desk clock. Then they have to tell me the time.

When first creating our clocks I  used our classroom clock as an example  and explained how the numbers are placed in order around the circle, I used a template from this website (which I found on Pinterest!). Some students started glueing the numbers counter-clockwise, which I found interesting and made sure to correct quickly. The clocks were laminated and the hands attached with an envelope pin. Having each student color and decorate their clock gave them a sense of ownership and pride and they absolutely love having them on their desk. I thought it might be a distraction for them, but most of the time they forget they are there. Then they will randomly ask me if we can change our clocks as a class when I haven’t done it in a while. I started to encourage them to do it even when I don’t bring their attention to it.

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Sidenote: I am currently teaching New Zealand’s math curriculum called, The Numeracy Project. If you teach this at your international school I would love to hear from you! It’s completely new to me and I am curious if other school’s outside of New Zealand are using it.

Top *Other Websites I used in 2014

We all know about Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest… and we usually have those grade level appropriate blogs bookmarked, blessing the names of those individuals who are insanely good at writing and sharing their ideas—on a consistent basis. (Pointing finger at myself and shaking head.)

I decided to reflect back on 2014 and look at the websites I used that strayed from the go-to ones on my list.

1. Kahoot– This website allows you to create an online quiz, survey , or discussion on anything. I have used it weekly or bi-weekly to create a comprehension quiz on read aloud books. Once the quiz is created students log into kahoot.it (another kahoot website, but different address than the first link) on an iPad/laptop/desktop. My school has a one-to-one iPad program which makes this activity really convenient. It’s free to sign up. Make your own Kahoot today! You can also search kahoots other people have made for public use.

2. Google Images and Pixabay– I know, the first one listed here sounds weird, or like “duh”. But what I have recently discovered on Google images is that you can refine your searches to use pictures and images that are labeled for reuse, and I didn’t know that until a few months ago (oops). Once you search for an image you can click search tools, usage rights, and then labeled for reuse. There is also a site called Pixabay that has a lot of really beautiful and interesting photos, all available for use.

3. Handwriting Worksheets– I am not a huge fan of all the advertisements on this website… but it’s free! I believe that handwriting will never die, but man— do my students need a lot of help in this department. This website allows you to make several different kinds of handwriting worksheets. You can choose Print, D-Nealian, or Cursive for your students to practice. You can create letter, word, or paragraph form worksheets and you can include characters from languages other than English.

4. Sparklebox.co.uk– I am pretty sure I have talked about this website before, but I still think it is a hidden gem for some. I haven’t used this one as much this year as I have in the past, but it has a LOT of resources available.

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If you have some hidden, or not so hidden, websites you use for resources, please share in the comments. 

Back-To-School Door Decorating Ideas!

Most international schools have already started school within the past couple of weeks, or if you’re school is like mine, you are almost a month into the new school year!

I am really excited to work in a Christian school environment again (mainly because I love praying with my students, there is nothing wrong with non-Christian schools, I like them too) and so when I saw this idea for a door on Pinterest, I asked my TA to recreate it. She did an amazing job, right?

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Here are other ways I have decorated my door:

IMG_2621IMG_2770And as I was walking around my school I saw other doors I admired. (Picture below!)

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Then a friend posted a link on my wall to these 29 Awesome Classroom Doors for Back to School. It’s not too late my teaching friends. Decorating your door is too much fun to pass up!

If you have any more links to door decorating ideas, please share.

Up next, Jee Young and I are going to share how we set up our classrooms for the school year. I love seeing all the different ways people can transform a square or rectangular room. Until then, have a great first (second, eighth, fifteenth) day of school!

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From K-pop to Common Core: A Conversation with Christina

Everyone remembers their first year. I remember the lunch periods trying to figure out what you are going to teach next period, staying late after everyone has left the building including the custodians, the unruly kids testing your patience, and feeling like quitting is the only option.  Well despite the challenges, there is so much that you learn about yourself, teaching, and students that makes it all worth it. I had the privilege of interviewing a first year NYC teacher last summer while in NY.

I met Christina a few years ago at my church in Korea. After her time in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, teaching English, she went to graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College. Now she is teaching at a charter school in NYC. I was intrigued by her experience because she teaches Korean language and culture to high school students in Harlem. Her school requires students to learn Korean as their foreign language. We sat down and caught up over delicious frozen s’mores and coffee as she honestly shared about her experiences as a first year teacher. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!

What made you decide to take this teaching job?  I actually studied Internal Education Development in grad school. I always thought I would go into administration. When I was offered this position, a part of me thought, ‘okay, this is not curriculum or policy development, but gaining field experience would eventually lead me to where I would like to be in education.’ 

After the first year was done, I was really glad and humbled I went into teaching first. Now to come to think of it, I don’t know how I thought I would have gone into policy work and administration without having stepped inside a classroom and really interact with students on a day to day basis for better or worse.

What was the toughest part about being a first year teacher? I was used to being responsible for my own learning curve. To have the tables turned and being responsible for someone else’s future was tough.

What was the most memorable moment of your first year teaching? A lot of my students question why they have to learn Korean. They think that Korean is not relevant to their lives, which quite frankly is very true. However, our Korean department and school as a whole stress that learning additional languages builds character towards understanding people from various walks of life (which of course begins with language and culture). Learning a completely non-Western related language, additionally, builds grit and a tenacity towards learning as a skill set–not just something to be evaluated upon. Yet, our students will still frequently push back out of frustration. For example, I had one student acting out in class, saying, “I don’t need to know this. Why are we forced to learn something I cannot use outside of school?” We had a pretty long conversation about the matter that included everything from globalization to living in NYC, but to put it short three months later, I randomly got an e-mail from the student saying that in hindsight, struggling with the subject and expressing his frustration with me allowed him to think twice about people and how their backgrounds can shape their interactions with others.  

What words of advice would you give to another first year teacher? Take a deep breath and approach everything with a sense of humor.

What are some essential things you carry in your teacher bag? A tumbler, wet wipes, cough drops, a pen and laptop.

What is your typical work day at school like?  I used to wake up at 4:30am so I can catch the LIRR train–I did this for a year and half and it nearly zapped the life out of me. Now that I moved into Harlem, it’s a bit easier to get to work by 7:00 am. From 7:30-8:00 I have homeroom and the kids eat breakfast. I teach four classes then a class for tutoring, then a period for lunch. Then, we have enrichment period after school. At the end of the day, tidying the classroom, grading, and printing materials for the next day, I roughly leave school around5:30 to 6:00 pm

As a Korean language teacher, how do you integrate history and culture? In the tenth grade, students prepare for the Korean LOTE (Languages Other than English–language version of NY standardized high school exams), so I try to incorporate culture and history during days after finals and midterms. As a result, grammar and reading comprehension is often emphasized more than history and culture, which is a bit unfortunate. I do try to squeeze culture and history in when I explain different honorific forms of speech and writing patterns. Also, during free writing periods, I occasionally turn on K-pop songs. 2ne1 and Big Bang are usually popular with the students. 

I know Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary, came to speak at your school’s commencement. How does your school interact with the Korean community? The local Korean newspaper supports us by raising awareness for us and highlighting our students’ achievements in Korean. Also the Korean government supports all schools in the U.S. that officially integrate Korean language programs within their curriculum. We also annually have Korean cultural performances/festival and get support from Korean associations and groups. Most recently, our school network also created a outreach extension to the Korean American community in which I believe we have a board member, who advocates for our Korean language program and connects us with various Korean related programs for our school. Honestly, I don’t know the full extent, but our school definitely proactive about integrating Korean culture in not only the high school, but also the Harlem community at large.

What are your hopes for NYC public education in the next 10 years? If I were a student, I would want more time for lessons on empathy and awareness in general. Right now everything is based on the the common core and standardized testing.  I think that students are forgetting that there’s a purpose behind this value and achievement we place on education. 

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Classroom Management: Behavior Chart

Working with Kindergarteners can be a tough job. It is full of constant reminders. “Do this.” and “Don’t do that!” and “What should you be doing right now?”

At the beginning of the year my grade teaching partner and I decided to establish the rules and routines, but we did not set up a behavior chart like all of the grades above us, because we felt we would be punishing our kindies for… well, being kindies!

Now, the year is more than halfway done and my students have a solid understanding of our expectations, rules, and routines. Because of that, we felt comfortable putting up a behavior chart in each of our classrooms. My teaching partner decided to go with an Olympic theme one because we started it at the beginning of the Olympics and who doesn’t love, THE OLYMPICS (how many times can I say Olympics in one sentence).

This is what it looks like:

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There were two more after “Make Better Choices” and before “Parent Contact” but we took them out because we needed to make sure all of our students could reach the top of the chart to put their name (on the clip) up by themselves. At the end of the day if a student is at “Outstanding” we give them one of our school “Bear Paws” which is a piece of paper showing their parents that they were following our school rules, the students LOVE THESE. (Our mascot is a bear).

I have noticed that this behavior chart works REALLY well. The behavior chart is from the amazing and incredible TeachersPayTeachers and comes with the option of printing it out on colored paper or printing colored versions of the pictures on white paper.

After the day is over we e-mail parents when their child made it to “Outstanding” (parents LOVE it when you compliment their children!) and if they got down to “Parent Contact.” Once we implemented this the parent response has been extremely supportive.  Also, when the student comes back the next day they move their name back to green, “Ready to Learn” and start the day fresh. It’s a good reminder if they didn’t do so well the day before to do better, or if they did do well to keep up the good work!

What are some classroom management systems you set up in your classroom?

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Kindergarten Centers

I love center time. Wait, let me make that clear. I love center time after the first two months of school. When you teach the youngest students in the school you literally need to hold their hands for the first several weeks/months. This is why routines are so important at the beginning of the year. Because once they get those routines down, it’s amazing what a five-year-old can do.

Our kindergarten program has center time in the morning where they are rotated through the seven centers we have set up (three centers per day for about ten minutes)  and then in the afternoons at the end of the day they have 15-20 minutes to choose their own center for “free-play”.

I love hearing about the different centers other teachers have in their rotation and gleaning ideas from them. In my classroom the seven centers are:

Construction Zone: Outfitted with a Lego table and a ton of foam blocks for students to build with!

Imagination Station: Where there is an actual wooden treehouse/fort (we never know what to call it as it’s not actually in a tree), tool bench, kitchen, puppet stand, and dress-up clothes galore.

Reading Center: Books, books, books! (This is obviously our classroom library corner as well)

Technology Center: We are blessed to be able to have three iPads and two Mac computers to deck out our tech corner. This took time to integrate into center time as the other Kindergarten teacher and I had to work one on one with each student to teach them how to properly handle an iPad and how to log into their raz-kids account.

Writing Center: The students use what they learn during writing workshop and write stories, we usually give them a prompt or ask them to finish a story they started the day before. Our most recent guest blogger, Mark, gave some great ideas to add sight words and such into this center. I am going to add Jewel King!

Math and Science Center:  At the beginning of the year it was lame, but after a couple of months we were able to get some great pattern block pages and other math games, as well as magnets for science (though, admittedly it’s more of a math center) . Later, I will do a separate post on some of the great activities we have been able to put into this center.

Art Center: Depending on the season, I will assign different activities for the students to complete during the week in art center. This includes creating fall pictures, making snowman to decorate the classroom with, cutting and coloring hearts for Valentine’s Day, etc. A friend told me that she has a cutting center (which I love) and since then I try to incorporate scissors into the art center regularly.

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What are your favorite centers to do?

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Guest Blog Post: A little Creativity goes a Long Way

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Our first guest blogger of the year is Mark Yu, a Kindergarten Teacher  at Korea International School – Seoul Campus. Mark is an amazing teacher whose ideas I am constantly stealing from Instagram. I am absolutely thrilled that he was willing to write-up a guest post for Two Apples A Day. More guest posts in the future? Yes, please!

Sometimes repetition is necessary. Especially in a  Kindergarten classroom.

To add more flavor to my literacy centers, I sometimes come up with games to help my kiddos have more fun with the  activity. Where do I come up with these ideas? I really have no idea; my ideas come up at random!
So instead of this:

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Which is a game, but it’s just taking turns rolling the two cubes and then reading and writing the word on a dry erase board… not too exciting.

I came up with a game called, “Jewel King,” which looks something like this:

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As you can see, just by changing and adding a few things (including the name) it makes the activity seem much more exciting than it really is.

I let my students use my “special” colored pens and choose one color to be the “king” or “queen” of. So if a student chose light blue, for example, he would choose to be the “King of Light Blue.” They will be using their pens to write the words they roll on their kingdom’s “scrolls.”

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After they decide which pen color they want, they can start the game. The point of the game is to get as many jewels as you can for your “kingdom.”

Now, to earn jewels, you have to make a correct prediction of which word you are going to get. So the student has to pick letters to make a CVC word, and hope to actually roll that word. For example, let’s say before I roll I choose “d” and “ot” to make the word, “dot.” If I roll and actually get that word, I get a jewel for my kingdom. It may sound complicated, but just modeling it a few times helps the children to catch on pretty quick.

This game actually gives all the students more practice in decoding and reading CVC words because they must choose a word they want before they roll, and then they have to read the word they actually roll, as well as write it down on their scroll.

Not to mention this game allows the practice of social skills in learning to cooperate with others and following game rules as well as taking turns!

I also did the same thing with a sight word graphing activity. Before “Jewel King,” it looked like this:

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Just rolling and graphing the word.

Then after making a few changes… and voilá!

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Same concept as the other game, the student picks a word on the cube and says it out loud, and if they get the word, they get a jewel for their kingdom! Whatever word they get, they fill out their graph.

And you can differentiate with your students.

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I have some of my center groups simply graph by making Xs over the words they roll, and I have other students practice writing the sight word in the graph. And others, I have them write a few sentences on the back about which word they rolled the most and which word they rolled the least!

And you can always change it to “Catch the Dolphins” and use little dolphins instead of jewels or with whatever you would like to use! And it really didn’t take much time at all to make these changes to my centers, but it made a world of difference to my kiddos. Who doesn’t love pretending to be a king or a queen? ^_^

How can you add some flavor to your centers?

Mark

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