Unschooling Social Studies

Visiting the Vietnam War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City

As unschoolers, I never taught my unschooled kids history, geography, politics, sociology or economics. We used no formal curriculum package until high school whereby textbooks were cracked open. The only well-used reference tool we had for Social Studies in grades 1-10 was a big world map on the wall and a homemade timeline on the living room ceiling. I didn’t see the point of teaching my kids names, dates, Capital cities and wars. If they needed that information to understand a concept, they could just look it up on the internet. As life unfolded, the children grew and asked more questions about the world, history, economics and politics. We visited the library weekly. We watched the news every day. Children can only absorb to the extent of what their brain development allows. My oldest was ten years old when 911 dominated the news. It was a time of answering a lot of questions and supporting their fears and understanding. We answered all their questions but with more ideas and ways for them to look things up as the internet and their interests grew.

As they became teens, they did their own research online in response to news or things they read. I continued to explain concepts and answered their questions when issues came up. We watched all kinds of drama, history, and action movies together. We had a lot of dinnertime discussions. Those discussions were the best kind of learning. The kids got to hear other’s opinions and we provided context for their learning that went beyond names, dates and places.

In the teen years, we world-schooled on the cheap and made a point to visit museums while traveling. We even discovered that museums have a lot of bias in recounting history depending on who was funding the museum. That was our social studies program until high school. The teen years are the best for visiting museums. Bringing younger children to adult museums just resulted in frustration because the kids wouldn’t read the displays nor absorb the information. When teens get their abstract thinking skills at age 13, they are more patient and take in so much more from museums and science centres.

When kids don’t get direct instruction, they do more self-directed research. The best questions and motivation for further study are those asked by the learner. Today, they vote and understand the world governments, politics and economies very well. They read Time, Maclearn’s and The Economist magazines. They read newspapers.

No matter how hard we work to take the bias out of curriculum, it is embedded deeply. Curriculum is debatable and social studies is country-specific. Schools pick and choose which topics to present. Some schools teach facts only and other schools teach ideology. The school curriculum will never suit every parent, but every parent can instill a love of “finding out” and the skill of critical thinking beyond the classroom. That is just good parenting. Ultimately, your children are going to learn beyond what is taught in schools and formulate their own values, beliefs, ideology and opinions.

Our world needs more countries where our children can ask the hard questions and have access to unlimited viewpoints and information to make their own judgements. A good school curriculum should support that. If it fails, there is always unschooling – self-directed research.

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Unschooling STEM – Learning Multiplication Tables

Unschooling STEM – Will they learn the times tables if I don’t teach them? – Listen to this amazing podcast that I had the honor of chatting with Robyn Robertson on her channel “Honey, I’m Homeschooling the Kids!”

Unschooling STEM at “Honey, I’m Homeschooling the Kids!”

It gives you insight on how children learn math symbolically and on paper, the power of video gaming and board games, and how math is taught in schools versus daily life problems. Also join our facebook group:
Watch the Unschooling STEM Presentation at AEROx Feb 2021
Watch the Unschooling STEM Presentation at Canadian Homeschooling Conference Nov 2020
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Go Ahead. Take a Gap Year in Grade School.

Unschooling gap year
Unschooling To University

We are almost halfway through this sh*t sh*w of a school year during the time of COVID.  This is why your kids could easily take a half gap year and just play for the rest of the school year, and they will not “be behind!”

Let’s talk Math, because it’s the one subject that parents worry about letting go the most. We are constantly told by teachers, principals, magazines, media, schools, tutors, and family, that it is linear, progressive and our children must learn it every year in sequence.

Baloney.

I have 5 kids – all different abilities, temperaments, learning styles, interests, genders, and talents. Some are learning diverse. We unschooled which means we followed the children’s interests – mostly play, projects and field trips.

Here is how their first experience of Math classes shook out:

All 5 kids did not take any math classes, did not do any worksheets or textbooks or any paper math and did no formal instruction in math from grades Kindergarten through Grade 6. They played. They had lemonade stands, baked cakes, and cooked kitchen potions, and played board games like Monopoly, Skipbo and Battleship. They logged way too much screen time and played many hours of video games.

When they became teenagers (age 13), two kids took an online grade 8 and 9 math course. They skipped grade 7. One kid took an online grade 7 and 9 math course and skipped grade 8. The last two kids took 1 junior high course in math, either grade 7 (skipped 8 and 9) and grade 8 (skipped 7 and 9). See how your kids can easily skip a year?

All 5 kids took grades 10, 11, and 12 math courses by either formal classroom teacher instruction or self-teaching at home from a textbook or screen. Their grade 10 math final marks were in the range of 75 to 88%. Their grade 12 math diploma exam average mark was 81%. This is not anecdotal. This is evidence.

How do kids learn 8 grades of math in one year when they are 13? They don’t really. They have been learning math experientially through solving daily life problems generated by play and projects.  They get a good grasp of math in their heads, even though they produce no paper evidence of learning math. When they get their abstract thinking skills, which we call the development of the pre-frontal cortex which accelerates from ages 13-25, they are able to understand and process how mathematics is worked out on paper through operations, rules, and formulas. By getting abstract math instruction in the teen years, they approach math with fresh gusto, instead of being burned out from too many worksheets shoved at them from ages 3-12.

There are a lot of other stories out there like ours, but you won’t hear about them in mainstream media. Do your research on unschooling and find out why your child can take ½ a gap year, or one year or perhaps you will gift them their entire childhood off from school and continue their education their way.

Developing Brain
The brain develops at different ages and stages
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If Your Child Doesn’t Understand a Concept, Let It Go!

let it go

Parents. Relax! Your child will get it! Last Spring I was teaching my teen the final grade 9 concepts in measurement – trigonometry in order to prep for high school math. He was unschooled until he was 18 and decided to enroll in high school math to get credentials for university. I had to learn sine, cosine and tangent ratio 6 times – once when I was in high school (which as a humanities major I never even partially understood) and 4 times to help my older children understand it in grade 9 or 10 to meet high school credentials. Each child that moved up, I forgot it (because I didn’t use it on a daily basis and had to relearn it all over again to help the next kid in line). Ugh.

My last and fifth child was not getting it. We tried and tried last Spring and he was in tears and I was frustrated. I tried to explain it in different ways as it was the 6th and last time that I would ever have to relearn it to help my kids with assignments!!! As the tears and frustration mounted, we took a break. As we usually do, the best thing we did was LET IT GO! Now it is December, six months later and he is taking it again in grade 10 math. He has progressed so much further ahead and IS GETTING IT!

The takeaway? If your child is not understanding, LET IT GO! The brain develops in spurts, not linear progression, and what they find so difficult last month, comes easy this month, without any outside intervention. Relax. Enjoy your child. If they don’t get it now, it doesn’t mean that they will never get it. It means the brain needs a bit more development that will come entirely on it’s own. The pre-frontal cortex does that. It matures on its own. You can relax. Your child will have many more opportunities to learn what they are not understanding today – they will not get behind. Let it go. Build the relationship and the resume will take care of itself. They can always learn trigonometric ratios, but you only have one chance to build a life-long loving parent-child relationship. Don’t let that go.

Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Democratic Parenting, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Evidence of Learning: If a child breathes, they learn

Assessment. Evaluation. Judgement. To a parent of a homeschooled child, it all means the same. A representative from a school is going to enter one’s home and make a judgement on the learning of their homeschooled child. It feels like being in school again and being called to the Principal’s office for some unknown matter. It is fraught with terror at worst and mild anxiety at best.  But it shouldn’t be.

In the past 15 years, since the invention of the MRI, science has gained much knowledge on how learning takes place. We now know that every person learns from the time they are born until the time they take their last breath. Everything they experience through their five senses and brain activity contributes to their knowledge and skill base. Every bit of learning causes neurons to fire neurotransmitters across the synapse (gap) between neuron axon terminals and dendrites of neighboring neurons. Neurons connect all the time and hence, learning occurs all the time. Whether it be through math workbooks or video games, neurons are constantly connecting and all children learn everything they need to be successful in life, whether they go to school or homeschool or unschool.

This video shows Learning in Action

The matter then becomes, are children learning the right things? And who decides what children learn? The parents decide in home education and the learner decides in unschooling (self-directed education). Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that parents have the right to choose their child’s education. So in the vast majority of jurisdictions, including Canada (except for Quebec) children can learn whatever their parents decide, or whatever the child decides if their parents use a delivery method called self-directed education. They do not have to follow the government dictated curriculum of topics.

This is where the problem of assessment or evaluation occurs. Standardized testing only works if the child follows the government curriculum. So standardized testing can’t be mandatory when the parent can teach the child whatever they want. The government wants to see the child “progress” which means that the child has learned more today than they did yesterday. Again, we know from brain science that all children do this. The government also wants to see “Evidence of Learning” which is usually defined as physical proof that the child is learning, since they can’t cut open their brains and actually see those neurons firing. Physical evidence of learning is what teachers assess in schools by giving marks based on it, and it’s also what governments want to see in the home. It is proof of learning such as a powerpoint presentation, exam result, written work such as workbooks, essays, or project results. It needs to represent in the physical world what learning has occurred in the invisible world of the brain. It’s not enough that a child knows something.  They have to prove that they know something. Or rather, their parents have to prove they know something. This is the most problematic part of homeschooling and even more so in unschooling when we don’t press our children for output. Perhaps the child has learned a lot but doesn’t wish to put together a powerpoint presentation of what they learned. Or perhaps their parents disagree with the whole concept of testing, and do not wish to have their child forced to write an exam.

The only purpose of “evidence of learning” is to satisfy the societal public interest that children are getting an education. It is not for the best interests of the child. So it really is unnecessary. If science tells us that all children learn and progress no matter what, then we as a society have the proof that children are learning.

In reality, parents constantly evaluate their child’s learning from birth onward. They are with their children all day, every day and know exactly what their knowledge and skills are. They see if their baby can crawl like others at 7 months, and if their child has 50 words like other children at age 2. They worry if the neighbor’s child is reading at 7 and their child hasn’t cracked the code yet. This is a normal part of parenting and studies show that parents, as opposed to the professionals, are most often the first people to suspect a learning or behaviour diversity in the child.

What constitutes evidence of learning? Choices must exceed essays and exams. For the reason above, it must always include Parental Observation in place of or addition to the following:

Parental Observation

Journal records of activities engaged in

Portfolio of work output

Descriptive reports including learner narration

Individual projects

Demonstrations

Application of skills learned

Completion of work

Course certificates

Quizzes and exams

Chapter tests and questions

Standardized tests

In Alberta, regulation states that home education parents are required to meet with a certified teacher facilitator twice a year, on the school-supported programs, so the facilitator can talk to the child and make an evaluation on whether the child is progressing through the 22 outcomes of the Schedule (SOLO) in the Home Education Regulations. The child doesn’t need to master the 22 very broad outcomes until they leave funded education at age 20 so if some outcomes are hit and miss every year, that is fine. The facilitator then signs a report that they are satisfied, in their professional opinion, that the child is progressing. The parent and the government each get a copy of this document. Parents do not get paid for home education administration work and thus, are not required to put any effort into “presenting” evidence of learning. The facilitator is paid for the visit and must do the work of recording “evidence of learning.”

The facilitator can’t possibly evaluate all the child knows in a one hour visit twice a year, so they rely on what the parent tells them, and if they “presented an activity” to the child in order to enable learning to occur. If the parent says that the child went skiing, the facilitator then records that the child went skiing and perhaps a bit of what the parent observed that the child learned from skiing. That is pretty much all the facilitator can judge, especially when there is little physical output evidence of learning and certainly no formal measurement of progression. If the parent says the child is stopping better on hills this year, the facilitator records that. They have no evidence to make a different judgement.

Alberta Home Education Regulations “Evidence of Learning”

The parent is only required to keep at least one dated sample of work, (we kept all our “Letters To Santa”) and a general record of activities the child engaged in throughout the year, according to the Home Education Regulations and that is all the “evidence of learning” a parent is required to submit to the facilitator. A super easy way to do that is to take photos. All a parent needs to do is scroll through their phone at their twice yearly visit so the facilitator can see pictures of their child in play or activities, and that constitutes a simple record. The facilitator can then take the notes they need for their report. That is all the parent is required to do. Pictures are already dated by the phone software. If the facilitator wants a copy of the photos, they can photograph the ones they wish. Done.

The school has no right to demand to see the child’s essays (if there are any), test results (again if they exist) or any other typical schooly physical evidence of learning. The school has no right to demand that the parent fill out a report card or put together a powerpoint presentation so the school can put together a report card or presentation to give back to the parent. The school can’t put the “proof of learning” on the parent. They must make those evaluative judgments themselves. The parent has every right to say “No,” as it is not required by the regulations. All parents have to do is provide activities. This is Home Education. Not school. Parents can teach what they want. And they don’t get paid for admin work. Their job is to ensure their child gets an education, not to prove it.

 

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All Children Have Gaps In Learning, Whether in School or Outside of School

Gaps happen. In an unprecedented year, will your child be missing content this year? You bet! Whether a child is homeschooled, unschooling or in a classroom or online, all children have gaps in learning. Not just this year, but every year! No child learns about every topic in the world. It would be impossible. And of the topics that they do learn, the breadth and depth vary immensely. Very few children get 100% in every course. And research from unschooling shows that it will be just fine!

Except for math and English, which are skill building topics, every other topic in social studies, science, health, physed, art, religion, languages and music is specifically chosen by someone other than the learner. Those people are curriculum developers, and then the government, and then the school and then the particular teacher, who has decided what kids should learn, and how much. The topics are local to the Province/State and country. Kids in other countries get a different education. But all over the world, math and language are the same.

Self-directed learners, (unschoolers), will learn many of those same topics on their own through play, research and projects, if interested, and if they are not interested – they will gain it at some other point in their life, not through study, but through living life when they deem it useful to know. They save everyone’s time and money when they are not forced to learn topics they are absolutely not interested in.

Many of the same grade 1-9 topics are covered again in high school where many unschooled children decide to take a more formalized program, whether chosen by the government or by themselves. School curriculums give students only a bare taste of as many topics as they can cram in. Students learn an inch deep and a mile wide. Homeschoolers and unschoolers have the privilege of unstructured time and can go a mile deep and an inch wide, in topics they choose. Unencumbered by the school year of 200 days and 1000 hours a grade, they can learn about whatever topic they choose, how much of the topic, in what method and can drop studies whenever they wish if they have reach a saturation level. Perhaps that explains why many homeschoolers know at an early age what they would like to do for adult work and study. They had time to discover their passions earlier and delve in deeply.

Every child who attends school has gaps. The school can’t possible teach about the 195 countries in the world, so has to pick 5. They can’t possible teach about all the major fields of science (math, computers, geology, physics, technology, biology, chemistry, astronomy) so they choose a few. They can’t teach about all the fields of social studies (geography, art history, politics, economics, culture, psychology, sociology, environmentalism, etc.) so they pick a few. There are 4000 languages in the world. They pick 1 or two. But why should they pick?

Why can’t the learner pick based on what they are interested in? When learning is desired, and internally motivated, concepts stick in long term memory much better. No one knows better what the learner needs to learn for that particular moment in time, than the learner themselves.

If children don’t need all they teach in school, why is there 1000 hours a programming per year? We all know that the task expands to fill the allotted space. Children under the age of 12 need supervision while their parents are working and school fills an important adult need of employment support. The curriculum expands every year to fill more and more of the 8-4 pm Monday to Friday workday of their parents. Preschool curriculum gets more in-depth every year – not because children can’t learn everything they learn in school at home, because it justifys jobs and an industry. Kindergarten grows from 2 hours a day to full day. It explains why elementary school is 10 months a year, high school is less than 8 months and university even less at around 7 months per year. As children age, time spent in school becomes less about childcare and more around learning specific knowledge.

So don’t worry about gaps. The ability to read enables children to learn anything they want. Math is simply a set of tools on how to figure out life’s daily problems. As long as kids can read and do basic math concepts like adding, substracting, multiplication, division, decimals and fractions by the end of grade 9, they are fit and ready to complete a regular high school diploma or continue living as a contributing citizen and learning what they want. Unschoolers will have gaps just like their school peers – but they will have extra knowledge and skills in areas that their school peers won’t have.

All children learn. All children progress. No matter what the topic. If they breathe, they learn. It’s all good!

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Fire is Just as Much Science as Water

Fire. The four-letter F word that is taboo to speak about in parenting. In science learning, children find fire just as interesting as water. So lets talk honestly about children and fire. Before we do, lets set the stage: lets be judgement free! My house has working fire alarms every 10 feet, batteries changed every year. We have yearly fire drills, keep the bedrooms door closed at night, set a muster point and each child knows 2 ways out of their bedrooms. The matches and lighters are hidden in child-proof places. We supervise all fire-related activities including candles, fireplace and firepit. Most parents will tell you that children are as fascinated by fire as they are with water, ice, dirt, rocks and metal. Fire is science and we empowered our children to learn about all the elements.

When I was 7, my brother and I were curious about fire. We waited until our parents were out for the evening and the babysitter was engaged in the TV show. We took a box of tissues, a pack of matches and headed to lock ourselves in the bathroom. We gleefully set every tissue on fire in the empty bathtub and watched the result with fascination. That babysitter never knew, but our parents found the remnants the next day (7 and 8 year olds don’t clean up very well!) and we were punished accordingly. However, our fascination with fire never waned. It just went underground.

I operate under the parenting theory of Forbidden Fruit Tastes the Sweetest. My children loved exploring the elements as all children do. They loved magnets, sand, mud, water and fire. We empowered them to play with all those elements except the last. Fire is fascinating to children and people. The hearth of warmth and the people gathered around it is the primary reason humans survived and evolved over millions of years. Fire is essential to our lives. As water is.

Both water and fire can be deadly and require respect. However, my children learn through hands-on experiences. With water, we supervised constantly and were an arms length away until the children were 10 years old and through us out of the bathroom. We did the same with fire.  We empowered our children to experiment with fire-safely.

The kids called our fire pit – the Power Plant and would beg us regularly to let them play “Power Plant.” We supervised constantly. We showed them how to douse the different types of fire and had a hose and extinguisher readily available. We taught them what to wear such as no dangling sleeves. We watched the kids enjoy the experimentation – how a cheezie would burn, how fast paper catches fire, and what blowing air does to ignite a dying fire. They learned how fire starts, what keeps it going and how coals burn long after fire is doused. They learned what types of materials burned the fastest and slowest and what didn’t burn (foil). They learned the deadly properties of smoke and how it affects the human body.

Many times they wanted to play “power plant” but the timing didn’t work so we could supervise. We honoured their curiosity by putting a time on the calendar and being sure to make it happen. They honoured our concern for safety and didn’t try it on their own. Of course, they is age appropriate – we only began this about age 7, when they had a bit of frontal cortex brain development.

No, I wouldn’t let my kids try drugs in the name of exploring science, but experimenting with fire is different. None of them set fires outside the safety parameters we set up and they learned a lot of science in our studies. Not every parent is comfortable with what we did and that is okay, but we need to talk about it – children are curious and learning about science in a safe and supervised environment means that kids probably won’t do it on the sneak.

Join our UnschoolingSTEM facebook group!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/UnschoolingSTEM

Posted in Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, University-College Ages 18-25, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unschooling STEM

When parents think of “unschooling” they imagine their child as a clerk flipping hamburgers at McDonalds. We all need hamburger flippers, but we also need to dispel the myth that unschooled children are uneducated. And especially in the STEM fields. Math is one area that many unschooling parents worry about and it is needless. Math is all around us.

UnschoolingSTEM

When children unschool, they are empowered to explore their passions and for some children, that is interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Babies, toddlers and young children are natural scientists. My 2 year-old son’s favourite activity was to open the fridge door, reach high for the egg tray and drop each egg from the height of his eyelevel. He loved the sound of the eggs cracking on the floor. He was learning velocity, physics, and biology in an experiential learning environment. After we duct-taped the fridge door closed, he moved on to other science adventures.

 

We allowed as much exploration as our tolerance for mess and our need for safety would allow. The children learned math and science through play, watching Magic School Bus Videos and their own self-designed projects and experiences. And, by playing a lot of computer and video games. When they reached the age of 13, their brains developed their abstract thinking abilities and they took their first formal structured math class taught by a teacher at a grade 8 level. They skipped the grade 9 level and went structured again for grades 10, 11, and 12. Their first science class was grade 10. Many of these courses were self-taught by reading the textbook, trying the experiments and writing the qualifying exams. They were keyboarding at age 4 because we had few limits on computer and gaming time. They weren’t starting at a grade 1 level because math and science is all around us and they were familiar with many concepts at a experiential level. By the teen years, they were ready for textbook and workbook study. They were motivated because they wanted a career in STEM, not us.

 

Today, 1 child is now an electrical engineer, another has a degree in Bioscience and another is working on a degree in Chemistry. The other 2 kids could have persued a degree in STEM (their math marks in high school were 90’s) but decided on humanities instead.

 

The beauty of unschooling STEM is that the learner is in control of the learning insights, exploration and discovery. Do children need classes in STEM? No. If they desire them, fine, but STEM classes with proscribed curriculum can smother the joy, curiosity and creativity needed to succeed at finding out “why….?”

 

All children love science and are good at it…we just need to get out of their way and empower them to learn what they want to learn, not just what we want them to learn.

Watch “Unschooling STEM” from the AEROx Conference Feb 2021

https://youtu.be/ELtHhtiJUNY

Watch “Unschooling STEM” from the Canadian Homeschooling Conference Nov 2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-fm5vw0OMM

 

For more information about unschoolingSTEM, this video explains how to nurture interest in STEM and the appropriate times to introduce more structured learning. Be sure to join our dedicated world-wide facebook group on UnschoolingSTEM:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/UnschoolingSTEM

 

Yes, you can unschool and still have your child thrive in STEM careers.

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Create a Learning Environment that Teaches Without Textbooks

Emily is unexcited about filling out another workbook page for grammar. She is resisting Mom’s coaxing and eventual threats. At age 8, Emily wants to play, but mom wants to feel like some “academic learning” is taking place. Can both get their needs met at the same time? Yes!

Unschoolers often do not use textbooks or workbooks to learn. Some children may ask for them but many under the ages of 13 learn best through experiential learning.

Many families new to homeschooling want to know how to make learning more fun and unschoolers can share resources they use for facilitating their children’s learning. There are many ways to learn core subjects without textbooks, workbooks and boring zoom lectures, especially for children under age 13 whose brains are wired to learn in a 3D world, not a 2D screen setting. Teens are great online, and learn a lot through researching websites, but younger children need hands-on experiences to learn.

Here are ways to teach core subjects without using typical classroom workhorses such as textbooks and workbooks. These are excerpted from Chapter 13 Resources, from the book, Unschooling To University. In the book, there is also additional information on what video games teach.

Please note: Children do not need all these resources! Many were borrowed, bought at garage sales and many were not used because they did not appeal to the kids at certain ages and stages. This is only to give you an idea of thinking outside the box (of curriculum textbooks and workbooks!)

Check out the post “Ways to Learn Math Without a Workbook” for more math ideas teaching grades 1-8
Posted in Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers Ages 0-5, Elementary-Primary Children Ages 5-12, High School Children Ages 15-18, Homeschooling, How to Unschool, Junior High School Children Ages 12-15, What is Unschooling?, Why Unschool? | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Motivate Children to Do Assignments Without Tears and Tantrums

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In unschooling, there is no motivation problems because children do not have to do assignments. Everything they do in everyday life contributes to their knowledge base without them even knowing because life is an education. We don’t separate learning from … Continue reading

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