Oaks News from the Wild #15

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If I had to choose one word that sums up what we do at Audubon, it would be

connections

We connect children to nature. We teach about the connections in nature. But also, we connect children to each other. We all live together on this planet. We share a place and a responsibility to each other. That’s what it means to be human, whether you are 5 or 50.

As I look at the pictures from our last two weeks, I see these connections so strongly. And as hard as it is to say farewell to children who will be moving on, I know we will always be connected to each other through this shared experience.

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We’ve spent the past three weeks learning about birds. In addition to a person of the day, we introduced a Bird of the Day. We learned their calls, where they nest and what they eat. Knowing the most common birds adds strands to our human-nature web – suddenly the chirps, tweets and trills become not just pleasant background music, but old friends. “I heard tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle! It’s the Carolina Wren!” And the birds cooperated, with close-up encounters with pileated and downy woodpeckers, a wren nesting in the box on the Oaks play-yard, and of course the daily joy of watching our chicks grow up.

At Hilltop Home and on the Play-yard, the Oak’s cooperative play shows connections in action. Shared ideas, goals, stories, language, and skills. Constant negotiation, problem-solving and team-work.

Drawing and writing happen everywhere – they feel the power of putting their ideas down on paper, of making their mark.

We made a list of our favorite places at Woodend, so we would be sure to visit them all in the last two weeks of school. Right at the top of the list is the Creekbed. The Oaks LOVE the water, and the rains were welcomed  with whoops of joy. “It’s FLOWING!!! The creek is flowing!!!”

Connections – to each other and to nature. And stories to tell.

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Birds we learned

Robin

Cardinal

Blue Jay

Carolina Wren

House Sparrow

Mourning Dove

Downy Woodpecker

White-breasted Nuthatch

Chickadee

Some books we read:

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray

The Seven Ravens by Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm

The Six Swans by Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm

Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra

Rumplelstiltskin by Paul Zelinsky

And many other informational books about birds and too many other books to count : )

Songs we sang

The Playground Gate

I saw a (name of bird) at the playground gate

That (robin) was my playmate.

That (robin) said, “Cheerup, cheerily, chirrup, cheerily, cheerily, chirrup!”

Robin Redbreast

Robin redbreast, crow flying round

Nuthatch hopping down the tree

Chickadee, dee, dee, dee, dee!!

 

 

 

 

Oaks News from the Wild #13

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The week before spring break brought us a last blast of winter. Finally, snow and school together. The Oaks enjoyed a just-right sledding hill and learned to roll giant snow balls to make a fort. A few children shaped snow into their special animals, including a chomping crocodile, a panda playing with a ball, and a 2D colobus monkey. Snow play is so great for gross motor development, along with all the social skills practice in negotiation, turn-taking, communication and more.

 

We finished up our long-term animal project before break, putting finishing touches on murals and animal books. The children were overjoyed to learn they could take their animals home to KEEP!

 

Inside, stories flow through the children’s minds and into their dramatic play, building and art. Talking with each other and with adults about their stories and ideas is so important to development at this age.

Outside, Hilltop Home is HOME, a place they know as well as the classroom, and a place where they turn to each other in cooperative play. Games that started there a week ago pick up and shift with new ideas. Lava, ice and fire ninjas have given way to Lizard Ninjas. Powerful Cats can be found prowling and making homes here, on the play-yard and in the classroom.

After a week home with family, the Oaks returned to Real Spring.

 

We spent an afternoon at the Children’s Garden, where we planted the kale, chard and lettuce we started from seed a few weeks ago, checked on our pea sprouts, and enjoyed the smells and feel of freshly turned earth.

 

The children love the area around the Tree-Friendly Rain Garden and the magnificent walnut tree. At least two different group games got going involving panthers, lizard ninjas, and many other changing roles and rules. Negotiating these games with each other, without adults directing the play, is so important for both social emotional growth and for language development. The story-lines are rich and completely theirs. And this space is so enticing for both the open space to run AND all the hiding places.

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Decorating the classroom for our Spring Celebration was one way the children thought about symbols of spring. They made flowers for our branch, and created a flower for our window.

Caroline continues to guide the Oaks in weekly mindfulness lessons. She read Anh’s Anger and Steps and Stone to talk about how to calm your mind and body when feelings are overwhelming.

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This week we started a magical tales (fairy tales, myths and legends) unit. We’ll be talking about story elements, like characters, setting, plot. The children will be working together to create their own tales to share with the class.

The Spring Celebration brought families together to celebrate the warmth of the returning sun and the warmth of community.

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Songs we sang:

Books/stories we read:

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henke

Anh’s Anger and Steps and Stones by Gail Silver

The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci

Sleeping Beauty

Signs of Spring (adapted from an Equinox reading)

And many, many more…

 

Oaks News from the Wild #11

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Someone asked me recently, “How do you plan lessons that reach all the children, with such a big age and developmental range?” So many thoughts flew through my brain as I figured out my response. Part of me wanted to say, “I don’t plan lessons” and this is both true and not true. We do plan some teacher-directed learning activities that are what would be traditionally recognized as lessons. But mostly, we plan experiences that create opportunities for learning.  We take the children to the garden with a plan to plant peas. We go on a long walk to look for signs of spring. We spend an afternoon at the pond. These experiences create opportunities to wonder, to think, to ask questions, to explore and yes, to learn.

But not necessarily to learn what we plan for them to learn. As teachers, we bring our knowledge and ideas to the children all day long – but we are also listening to theirs. We ask questions, we explore together, we drop new words and concepts into their open minds, we observe and guide. We support the children who need support, we challenge the ones who need to stretch. We know and love the children.

I could have spent several days talking educational philosophy, but instead gave the example of the gardening experiences we include in our spring curriculum. This week, we went to the garden, harvested compost, prepared the garden bed by turning over the soil. We looked for critters in the compost and in the soil, we noted what had decomposed and had not, we examined sprouting pea seeds for roots and shoots, we measured the depth and distance for our holes, we felt the damp soil, we set up a trellis, we planted peas. We also looked at the plants that had made it through the winter, tasted sorrel, imagined what our peas would look like. On the side, rousing imaginary play soared and crashed and soared again as roles and story-lines were negotiated. Some children stayed with every moment of the gardening experience, others popped in and out.

Back on the play-yard, we started some kale, chard and lettuce seedlings in pots. Some children planted two seeds, some twenty. Some wrote labels, others went back to play. To keep track of our seedlings, we made a grid to match our planter and mapped the location of all our seeds with a K, C or L. This mapping component was not planned – the experience called for it. Now we watch our seedlings – planted in soil and in the children’s minds and hearts – grow!

Outside on the play-yard, we set up an obstacle course for the children’s return last Monday. The children, of course, altered the course and added important story elements – a bridge over poison water and lots of hot lava.

Inside, a newly expanded dramatic play structure, new peg dolls and construction materials sparked new play. The Reggio Emilia philosophy recognizes the environment as the Third Teacher. By offering new materials, new spaces or twists on the known environment, we create new opportunities for play and learning.

Our marvelous intern Meredith has been working on math games with the children, which in turn sparked independent math play. Each child also added a page to their animal research project book about their animal’s body parts.

And since the interest in Ninjago is still going full force, some children offered Ninjago drawing lessons. Just in time to make a birthday book that doubled as a Ninjago manual for the birthday girl. (ps, Ninjago is a Lego ninja storyline, brought from home and fully owned and expanded by the children’s imaginations)

We celebrated two half-birthdays in this short week, celebrating the children’s trips around the sun with their families.

Books we read:

Inch by Inch: The Garden Song by David Mallett

The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz (a new chapter book)

Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain: Stretch it, Shape it by Dr. JoAnn Deak

And many many books about animals and animal body parts

Songs we sang:

The animal body parts song (to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, and sung cumulatively):

Some animals have very special parts,

yes, some animals have very special parts.

I have fingers, I have toes

On my face I have a nose,

but some animals have parts like their…

teeth – chomp, chomp

fins – swish, swish

wings – flap, flap

tails – wag, wag

We also sing versions of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and Boom, Chicka Boom for each Person of the Day’s animal.

 

 

 

 

 

Oaks News from the Wild #10

What fun times the Oaks class has had in different kinds of weather- rain, ice and sunshine- all in a 2 week period!  We are even beginning to see some signs of spring.

Playground Fun

When the temperature got below freezing, the kids had a wonderful time playing with the ice on the playground.  One day we got out magnifying glasses and directed the sunlight to melt a hole in a piece of ice.

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Dog Day with Cosi

Julie’s dog, Cosi, came to visit the Oaks playground one Friday.  What fun the kids had throwing the ball for her to catch and patting her soft fur.  We read lots of fun books about dogs that day.

Woodend Walks

Every afternoon we walk and explore different parts of Woodend.  We went on our winter journey stick hike, collecting little mementos from nature.

As you see above, the class worked hard to build a bridge across the creek bed after a nice rain fall.  What great team work and problem solving skills!

Rain and Mud Play

We were excited to get some rain and enjoyed water in the creek bed and mud puddles all around.

Rock Creek Park 

The Oaks class when to Rock Creek Park for the second time.  We used a map and noticed landmarks (and stomped in puddles) along the way.  We enjoyed a snack and story and explored a new area for us- a peninsula in the creek with sliding and climbing hills, animal tracks, a praying mantis egg case, and lots of water and mud to enjoy.

While in Rock Creek Park, we read the beginning of chapter 6 in A House at Pooh Corner about the game of pooh sticks.  After the story, the kids found sticks of all sorts and sizes, tossed them off one side of the bridge, and watched them come out from the other side.

Our Mapping Unit

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Valentine’s Day

On February 14, we celebrated love and kindness.  We enjoyed a special snack that included heart shaped cookies and Love Potion # 9 (banana and berry frozen drinks), read the book Plant a Kiss, and make cards for others.  We also finished making our kindness rocks and placed them in special spots on the grounds of Woodend (making the locations on our map).

The Animal Project

We continued our animal project, including learning about the life cycle of animals.  We sang songs and learned about the life cycle of penguins, squirrels and frogs as well as each of the children’s chosen animals.

Nancy lead a game about the life cycle of a frog and told the hilarious story of “The Wide Mouth Frog.”

Classroom Experiences


BOOKS We’ve Read

We read books on the playground, inside the classroom and in locations around Woodend.  Here are some of the whole group read alouds from the past 2 weeks.

As the Crow Flies (Mapping)

Winter Walk

Plant a Kiss

Draw the Line

Always in Trouble (a book about a dog like Cosi)

One Smile

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.  Chapter 6 “In Which Pooh Invents a Game and Eeyore Joins In”

SONGS We’ve Sung

“Life Cycles”

“A Ram Sam Sam” adapted to include each of the kids’ chosen animals as we gather for our morning circle

A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam

A ram sam sam, a ram sam sam
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam

A rafi, a rafi
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam

A rafi, a rafi
Guli guli guli guli guli ram sam sam

“Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”  with different versions for each of the kids’ chosen animals developed with the person of the day

Ex:  Stingray (with gestures)

Body, flippers and long tail, long tail.

Body, flippers and long tail, long tail.

It has a spine with venom inside.

Body, flippers and long tail, long tail.

“Boom Chicka Boom” with adaptations for each of the kids’ chosen animals as we celebrate the person of the day.  This is a call and response chant

I said a boom chicka boom.  (I said a boom chicka boom.)

(Louder) I said a boom chicka boom.  (I said a boom chicka boom.)

I said a boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom. 

(I said a boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom. 

Uh huh. (Uh huh).  Okay (Okay).

Let’s do it again, the _______________ way.

Ex:  Let’s do it again, the stingray way.

I said a boom swisha boom.  (I said a boom swishy boom.)

(Louder) I said a boom swisha boom.  (I said a boom swisha boom.)

I said a boom swisha rocka swisha rocka swisha boom.

(I said a boom swisha rocka swisha rocka swisha boom.)

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Oaks News from the Wild #9

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Woodend continues to provide endless opportunities to explore and learn. From the icy pond to the inside of a giant tulip tree, there is always something new in nature.

Animals, Animals!

We’ve been learning about habitats as part of our on-going animal project. Each child learned about the habitat of their chosen animal, added a habitat page to their books, and created habitat paintings. The paintings were created by looking at pictures in their animal books, then drawing what they saw and imagined of their animal’s habitat. Afterwards, they painted their habitats, then cut out and added collage elements. Next up, life cycles!

We played a few animal games, including one we called Habitat, Habitat based on Mother May I. “If your animal lives in the ocean, swim three times. If your animal lives in the trees, move two times.”  Fox (and Hawk) and Rabbit was fun to play in the tall meadow grass. Rabbits had to decide whether to hide and freeze, or try to bolt for the rabbit warren.

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Our guest naturalist Nancy brought us a real squirrel drey to examine, then we went out drey-hunting on our longest hike to date. The Oaks spotted 15 dreys in the tree-tops on a full-circle hike of Woodend.

Mapping

After mastering 3D model maps, the Oaks moved on to 2D maps on paper. We created a map of the play-yard, and played the treasure hunt game again. The children hid small animals, marked them on the map, then sent their friends off to find them. Pretty soon, they could play the game completely independently. Taking it to the next step, the Oaks created a map of the preschool playground. Each child added elements to the map, talking with the teachers and each other about where things should go and how big they should be. “The stumps are actually behind the play structure.” “Where should this tree go?” Then they hid shiny gemstones for the Saplings to find, added Xs to mark the spots on the map, and got some help from a visiting third grader to write a poem with clues.

After a rain, we donned our gear and decided to hike the creek bed from one side of Woodend to the other. We brought along a laminated map of Woodend, so the children could check our location in the creek bed as we went along and add important missing elements to the map, like the one part of the creek that usually actually has water (or at least mud!).

Next up with mapping: creating sequencing maps of the route from the Oaks classroom to Hilltop Home.

Play!

In the classroom and outdoors, the Oaks continued the real work of early childhood – play! So much negotiation, problem-solving, language development, risk-taking, creativity and imagination.

Read, Read, Read

The Oaks LOVE books, anywhere, anytime, any kind. So we bring along stories wherever we go. We’ve really enjoyed our person-of-the-day favorite book parent visits. Nothing is better than your favorite story read by your favorite person and shared with friends.

This week, we started reading a series of books dealing with social emotional issues. These stories sparked animated discussion and sharing about feelings and how to manage them. We’ll continue with these books next week, giving us a shared language to use when problems arise.

Inside the classroom, the Oaks waited excitedly for the Mr. and Mrs. Penguin to lay an egg. Then they waited patiently for the egg to hatch. After three days, Little Waddle emerged from his/her shell! S/he is being well taken care of by the children, who are fully immersed in the magic.

Mindfulness is part of every day, as we learn to slow our engines down with breathing exercises, visit our sit spots at Hilltop Home, and practice mindful bodies, mindful listening, mindful seeing and mindful breathing.

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Books we read:

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

The Hat from Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (in honor of a class birthday)

Various books on the children’s individual animals and their habitats.

And many many more!

Oaks News from the Wild #7

 

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Life is precious. This time of early childhood is precious. We feel so grateful to share the children’s joy at such a magical time in such a magical place.

The Oaks have been practicing mindfulness. We ring a chime inside or chant an ohm outside to start and end our morning circle meeting. When we line up to go inside, we practice breathing visualizations to slow our engines down for inside time. At Hilltop Home, the children have quiet Sit Spot Time. And to bring this all together, parent volunteer Caroline has been leading the class in mid-day mindfulness sessions. The children have practiced having mindful bodies (still and quiet), and mindful listening. While children are often naturally “in the moment”, the language we use with them helps them pay attention to what’s happening in their brains and bodies. This is one of the important components of self-regulation  – one of the most important skills young children are working on developing.

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Mindful listening with Caroline

Our adventures outside have included exploration of the pond before and after the hard freeze.

With the cold, we also had our first campfires. We talked about fire safety, roasted apples and bananas, and enjoyed stories around the fire. The area around the campfire circle is also full of fun places to explore and climb.

At Hilltop, new forts arose and the fairy playground got spruced up for winter.

We’ve been talking about animals preparing for winter the last two weeks. Nature is the best teacher, so we were thrilled when the children discovered a hibernating bat inside a new tree cave by the pond!

With our guest naturalist, we learned about which birds stay around for the winter, and which fly south. The children made suet bird feeders as a gift to our resident Woodend birds.

Inside, we worked on habitat murals. Together the children made the Meadow, Pond and Creekbed, and Hilltop Home/Forest. Each child chose a stuffed Audubon animal, drew it’s picture, cut it out and found it a snug hiding place in one of the murals. Puffy paint snow turned our murals into winter wonderlands.

Lots of animal play ensued inside the classroom, including the construction of a natural history museum with the animals sorted into taxonomic groups. A pet shop opened, selling all kinds of wildlife (I know! But I promise these children will grow up loving and doing right by wildlife…). This kind of play springs entirely from the children’s imaginations, aided by props we bring. A new cash register and money appeared when the “shop” play arc began, and the new props sparked new play and drew in new children to dramatic play. Outside, we retold the story of the The Mitten with our Audubon animals.

We created beautiful snowflakes to decorate our classroom for our Winter Celebration and winter cards. A Gingerbread family moved into the classroom and left notes for the children each day. They also hid the children’s special animals each night. The Gingerbreads had to move to a bigger house to make room for a gingerbread baby, so the Oaks got to eat their old house at our final campfire.

The play-yard is always a great place for imaginative play.  We had fun with ice and snow, forts and obstacle courses get built and rebuilt, and we even built a “telephone” to send messages between two forts. When play inspires the need to write, that’s emergent literacy at its best!

And in a final burst of love and light, we gathered with families for the Winter Celebration. We sang songs, decorated lanterns and star cookies, and walked with our lights through a sparkling star labyrinth singing “This Little Light of Mine.” May the light of your little ones always shine brightly in your lives.

Oaks News from the Wild #6

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“Tree Caving’

 

Joy and Wonder

We spend our days as a class laughing, exploring, reading, wondering, talking, climbing, drawing, writing, singing, building, counting, imagining, creating, observing, playing, and otherwise living and learning joyfully.

Giving Thanks

Before Thanksgiving, we read beautiful books including “Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message” and drew and shared about what we are thankful for.  We sang “Oh, the Earth is Good to Me,” and we each made our own version that included some things we are thankful for.  The children also made beautiful cards for their families.

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Sunny Ray Planet Pal

We introduced a 2nd planet pal this week- Sunny Ray.  We talked about her “super powers,” sang a song about her (based on the Raffi song “Mr. Sun”), played a sun ball game, traced our shadows in chalk, made solar prints with natural objects, and enjoyed the folktales “Grandma Spider Brings the Sun” and “The Story of the Sun.”

 

 

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Telling the story “Grandmother Spider Bring the Sun”

Indoor Experiences

 

We introduced some new materials this week; the marble race tracks were definitely a hit!

 

 

 

Playground Activities

Creative and cooperative play abounds on the Oaks’ playground and on our Friday morning visits to the Saplings’ playground.  Sure, conflicts do occur, but we work through them together.  And there are opportunities for alone time as well (whether it’s coloring ginkgo leaves to make fairy fans, being a planet pal superhero complete with cape, or concocting a dish in the mud kitchen).

 

 

Exploring more of the 40 Acres of Woodend

We continue to love going to Hilltop Home 2-3 times a week.  Fairies, ninjas, transformers and aliens continue to visit there as well.  : )

This week we ventured to the Far Corner of Woodend to the hollow log and the hollow tree (or the “possum pouch” as one child dubbed it).  What a unique and amazing adventure.  Many, but not all children, climbed into the tree to explore the “tree cave” inside.

 

 

Exploring the hollow tree and log made for a truly amazing day, and just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, the Pied Piper of Audubon appeared and serenaded us through Woodend!

 

 

That was the best day ever!  Except maybe for this day…

It was a perfect fall day at Woodend, under a red canopy of Japanese maple tress.. Some children explored, climbed on logs, swung on branches, while others sat by a tree observing insects and creating little nature books.  At the end of the day, the children lay down and looked up at the wondrous sight of the fall leaves overhead.

 

 

Finding Animals and Mushrooms

 

Volcanoes at Audubon!

Some students have expressed interest in volcanoes, so we decided to make our own with sand and pieces of bamboo and with baking soda and vinegar “lava.”  Many volcanic eruptions occurred that day at Audubon!

 

 

 

We have begun to learn about ways that animals prepare for and adapt to winter.  We are looking forward to continuing this study and also learning about nocturnal animals.  And our winter celebration with families is just around the corner!

Books We Read

Every day we read wonderful books throughout the day.  A typical morning might start with a group of kids gathering around a teacher singing from song books on the Oaks playground.  Later in the classroom, other children perch on a counter top window seat and share giggles over an Elephant and Piggie book.  In the afternoon at Hilltop Home, a master naturalist volunteer shares a beautifully illustrated nature book, and later on, next to the fairy house, a few children listen again to the story of “Twinkle”, the fairy who causes quite a ruckus when trying to cast spells with her wand for the first time.  Some favorite books we have read recently include:

“I’m Thankful Each Day!”  by P.K. Hallinan

“Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message”by Jake Swamp

“Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun” (Cherokee story)

“The Story of the Sun” retold by Ned Jensen

“Moon Glowing” by Elizabeth Partridge

“Time to Sleep” by Denise Fleming

“Miss Suzy” by Miriam Young

 

Songs We Sang

“We’ve Got the Whole World in our Hands” (with signs and gestures)

“Oh, the Earth is Good to Me” (with signs and gestures):  Oh, the Earth is good to me.  And so I thank the Earth. For giving me the things I need- the sun and the rain and the apple seed. Oh, the Earth is good to me.

“The 4 Seasons Song” (with gestures)- Winter, spring, summer, fall. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Winter, spring, summer, fall. There are 4 seasons in all.

In addition, we sang “Sunny Ray” and many songs from song books including “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Catalina Magdalena,” “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed” and “5 Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree.”