Summer vacation and camps

Working Mother June/July 2010

The article/blurb above is great, but completely misses the point that many families don’t have the money to send their children to camp. With families with more than a few kids, multiple camp experiences are not financial realities.

Recently a reader (StepShep) alerted me to a recent article in Time magazine The Case Against Summer Vacation. I completely agree that summer vacation is too long for students who have no opportunity to attend a summer camp or have any kind of enriching experience over summer break. Initially the whole idea behind making time in the school calendar for summer vacation was so that children could help with the harvest!

Would I work a longer school year? Of course. But I believe that much learning happens outside of the classroom. Although summer vacation is really long, it should be a healthy break from traditional academics and more project-oriented learning. Instead kids are plugging into their televisions for entertainment for endless hours per day. Learning? The only thing they are learning is how to pass Level 10 with the monster you have to kill.

I wish that all kids could go to some kind of camp every summer. Of course with my serious case of “barnheart” (see my post about farms from last week) I wish that more kids from the cities could spend time at a farm camp. The peace that comes when one leaves a crowded area. It cannot be described with words. What about looking up and seeing the stars for once?


I love reading magazines. I subscribe to what really is too many for me to manage with what time I have. When I was on maternity leave, I stopped reading magazines for at least six months. I let them stack up while I devoted my whole being to my baby and my job. When I started diving in again, I had a huge pile up of more than 25 separate issues to slowly get through. I put them in a large carboard box and went through them little by little. Enjoyable reading and then off to be recycled.

It used to be just Gourmet and Elle but now my monthly collection has ballooned into including Working Mother, Parenting, Cooking Light, Midwest Living, ReadyMade, and Bon Appetit (which was what they sent me when Gourmet magazine was shuttered). I’ve just now signed up for W and Mother Jones (what was I thinking!)…  What are your favorite magazines? What do you think of the advertising you see (especially what is geared towards parents)?

So I just got myself a TwitPic account and so I’m now tweeting little pictures I’m taking while I read my magazines. I’m going to do blog posts on what I can, but some ads are too short to build a blog post around or the ads are interesting, but don’t relate directly to lunch or school food. So you can get a sneak peek on what might appear as a blog post in the future.

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32 thoughts on “Summer vacation and camps

  1. I disagree that summer is too long without a structured camp program. I went to camp for 1 week a couple of summers when I was a kid, but I hated it so my parents didn't make me go back after the second try. 🙂 And, I don't see what's so bad about unstructured time – if parents make a rule about turning off / limiting TV/electronics and stick to it. How about unstructured play with friends (or siblings, if there are lots of kids in the family – or even only 2!), books, swimming at a community pool, etc. Or how about being bored sometimes – heaven forbid! – and having to come up with something imaginative to do. I look back on long summers playing imaginative games with my sister like "Olympic gymnast" or "boarding school" or "running away to the attic" very fondly, and I think that being bored spurs this type of imagination to some extent. It really makes me sad to see such over-scheduled, over-structured lives that some kids lead these days. Parents can set limits – there are some fights, but believe me, kids will get over it (and be better for it)! And I grew up in the most boring, rural place you can imagine – a trip to the public library was exciting. So I think parents in more interesting locations have even more options!

  2. We subscribed to Shape, Interview, Cooking Light, Food and Wine, Prevention and Highlights. I enjoy Cooking Light and Shape the most. I often pick up a tabloid magazine and read it in the line at the grocery store! My next door neighbor shares her Entertainment Weekly with me when she finds something I would like (we are very good friends as well). My son is patiently waiting for his first issue of Lego magazine.

    As far as summer camp, we cannot afford to send all three, nor would I want to. Summer is a time for us, and, being a current stay at home mom and furture teacher, I would like to keep it that way. We go to the zoo twice a month, the library twice a week (where they offer FREE art camps and other activities), the museums every few weeks and spend 30 minutes to an hour a day on "school work." We spend most afternoons at the neighborhood pool after picking up a few friends. We go on family vacation and adventures (thnk road trip, but home by bedtime). I know its not possible for every family to have a parent home in the summer, but it is our choice to do so. I know my kids benefit from summer vacation.

  3. I know I have an unusual opinion, being a homeschooling mom, but for me and my family, the less time spent in structured activities, the better. I think kids can benefit from *more* time to be left to their own devices, not less. And I agree with what another poster said – there's nothing wrong with being bored sometimes. If every day is planned out for you, you never have the opportunity to work your own way out of that boredom.

  4. Having gone from a teaching career to an office career, I agree that 2 or 3 months is too long. I actually feel relief in the fall when school's starting back up, because I don't have that "aw, man, I have to go back" feeling.

    When I was teaching in Alabama and the budget was getting tight, there was a proposal floated to limit summer vacation to two or three weeks, and extend the other vacations throughout the year. This would allow just about the same "time off," but without the added expense and wasted time of shutting down and opening up–both facilities and minds–after extended breaks. Plus, it gets kids ready for the idea of working year-round in the "real" world.

  5. Out of curiosity, why would you think working "through the summer" would mean a longer year? When I attended schools that went year round, we were in school about the same amount of days as the agri-schedule kids. The breaks were just different, i.e. 2 or 3 week breaks here or there

  6. I have preteen and young teens kids. When they were younger, I would have agreed about shorter summer breaks, but now I feel differently. I see summer as a time for my family to reconnect without the crazy schedule – for mom to become a greater influence in their lives than their friends again. We do a few activities with the local rec center that are pretty inexpensive, we go to the library once a week and load up on books and talk about what we read. We play games together, hike, build fairy houses (my 10 yo still believes!), ride bikes, learn to cook and do laundry (!), and play outside with other kids in the neighborhood. My kids get tons more exercise and time management training than they do at school. If our schools started to run year-round, as difficult as it would be, I think I would choose to homeschool.

  7. As for the summer camp ~ there are so many other opportunities. Here where I live (mountains of NC) There are tons of church camps, which range from $50 for a week of day camp to $300 for a week of sleep away camp. Also Girl Scout and Boy Scout camps are pretty cheap and offer financial help. But we also have plenty of other day camps that are reasonable. For the very strapped families, we have PS-summer plus which is run by the public school system and you can get financial help to cover the cost through social services. Even better is our Boys and Girls club. They have a summer program where they go swimming and hiking, and on field trips all summer long for only $5 a year! That's right! $5 a year per child, and they even have buses that come out to pick them up and drop them off near your neighborhood.

    A lot of it is on the parents too to get them up and get them out. We go to the park, hiking, swimming, calm water kayaking, camping, skating, etc. And they also have to fit in their summer reading and math work.

    But I have found, as a single mother for years, where there is a will there is a way ~ camps even have scholarships. You just have to take the initiative to apply.

  8. I really appreciate what you guys are saying. I absolutely agree that there is value to unstructured time and exploring the world. It's just that so many kids don't have parents who have the skills to pull their kids away from a screen. Video game playing is an epidemic! Among my students I see it as either school or TV…it's such a shame!

  9. Agree with Mrs. Q. A lot of the commenters seemed from the perspective of a family that has someone home in the summer or lives in a very safe community. What about the kids who live in a dangerous urban area where it's not safe to play outside and they don't have a parent home with them during the day to monitor their TV time? This is a likely scenario for many city kids, esp on the southside of Chicago, although I'm not sure where specifically Mrs. Q is from.

  10. I am a fan of year round school. I've seen my teenager struggle every fall to get his mind back in the game. I set limits on screen time, I require daily reading, he gets unstructured time to hang out with his friends and go swimming, but he still struggles every single September and he has a lot of anxiety about going back which I think would decrease if the break wasn't so long.

  11. I marked my reaction as sad, as there is no check box for angry. I do agree with this individual that kids are not going outside and playing as much as they should like I know I did when I was young, and they do spend too much time on video games and TV. The reason why I am angry with this article is about the length of the school summer. I have a daughter who lives with my ex-spouse about a hour away. So we only see one another every other weekend, holiday, Spring Break, etc. The summer though we alternate weeks. It is wonderful to spend larger amounts of quality time with my child. When people/president bring up more schooling, like a shorter summer break and Saturday school (yes he brought this up in the past) do they think of the thousands of children that would not see their other parent-how can that be in the best interest of the child. Not all relationships work out-that is a huge reality in this world, and often the parent that has physical custody of the child uses that child to get back at the other parent because they are bitter. I know that I am rambling, and it is a little off topic, but, that is how I feel on the topic.

  12. @Anonymous — Thank you for commenting! That's a really great point and something I had not thought of. That was a big "duh" on my part. Summer is a time to be with family members who live faraway. There is so much value in summer!

  13. Mrs. Q. I feel for your students that need to have a school situation to raise them even in the down time of Summer. That is incredibly sad.
    For years as my kids were growing up I had noticed how different the neighborhood kid "scene" was to the carefree time I grew up in the 60's. So much scheduling and no off the cuff, pick up games. Kids who don't even know the other kids in their neighborhood.

    This year I have seen more kids out in the neighborhood. More kids running between each other's houses, riding their bikes and playing. Most of these kids are between the ages of 7 and 10 (with a few older) and there are a few parents that are making the time to be there for them so their kids can have that kind of a Summer. These few parents seem to be making a point of making sure their yards are a welcome place for the crowd to gather to play. The parents are not adding structure to the play, but are just There.

    It is the parents Who have made it possible.

    I have to tell you that I don't like the idea of year round school. My 16 yr old works so hard during the school year, she takes her grades so seriously that I think she needs the down time during the Summer.

    However, being the parent I am I asked Her what she thought. She actually likes the idea! (color me surprised)As long as they could regulate the temps in the classrooms so she is comfortable. She also likes the idea of breaks during the school year. That stretch between Feb. and April where there are no days off is a killer. So there you are a vote from a Teen saying Yes to year round school.

  14. @Viki – I'm surprised to hear that too. You know, I think "year-round" school is a misnomer. There is still a long summer break, but it's not 10-12 weeks. It's more like 5-6 weeks and the kids usually get those other weeks spread out within the school year.

    I personally struggle with the transitions between a very crazy May/June to –nothing– and then the ramp up to "back to school" can be anxiety provoking too. Many kids, especially kids with special needs, have issues with transitions too. Having a shorter break might help them out too.

  15. I think there are arguments to be made on both sides and I understand my situation is unique. My kids really need the unscheduled time in the summer to pursue their own interests, which their classroom schedule doesn't allow. Both are gifted but we have no funding for gifted programs in our district so they spend most of the school year doing busy work to satisfy their teachers. It's also the only significant time they have to spend together as siblings. Otherwise they are always on their own schedules, doing their own things, going their own ways. They reconnect as friends every summer.

    Summer is their time to pursue intellectual interests. I see the biggest growth in their creativity and skills development over the summer. Today, my eldest initiated a lunch date and "jam session" with a friend from band class last year. It would be difficult for them to find a block of time to do something like that during the school year. I wouldn't put my kids in things like community theater or baseball if we had year round school because the time commitment in addition to the school day would be too hard on them, so they'd lose some valuable opportunities that our schools are not financial able to provide.

    My kids are the most physically active in the summer but they also jump ahead by leaps and bounds in reading, math, and life skills like cooking during the summer when they can explore on their own. Before I had kids year round school sounded sensible but now I would be heart broken if we lost our summers. And my kids have zero interest in attending camp! Great for some kids but not essential.

    At various times I've subscribed to Time, Newsweek, Family Fun, Glamour, The Week, Shape, and various crafting and gardening magazines but I've given them all up. When I get behind, I feel bad recycling before reading them but then I hate the paper clutter laying around my house. I probably miss the news magazines most though.

    Somehow about 10 yrs ago I got a free Working Mother subscription and I didn't care for it. At the time it seemed too self-promoting and I felt the articles were really biased–the tone always seemed to be "kids can only be healthy and happy if they are in daycare with mom working full time".

  16. My nephews in Arizona get "year-round" school, mostly so they can get longer breaks during fall and spring when the weather isn't so hot. It works out rather well for them, the longer breaks during the year mean more time for vacations during off-peak summer times. Then get go back to the air conditioned schools during some of the worst of the summer heat.

    I subscribed to Mother Jones for a while, but I found that whenever I read it I just felt really angry and helpless, so I stopped. We get Vegetarian Times, Parenting, Utne Reader, Discover, and we may be at the tail end of a Conde Naste Traveler subscription. I find that we get way behind on every subscription except Veg Times, so we might drop the rest.

  17. I'm not a parent yet but I spent a couple weeks at Girl Scout summer camp every year from 5th grade until I was 16 when I became camp staff and stayed the whole summer. I don't think kids need to give up their entire summers to camp (unless they want to) but I agree with Mrs. Q that camp can be a great thing.

    Camps come in all sizes and shapes, and prices to match, I know that. Many camps offer camperships (think scholarships, but for summer camp) to allow children of all backgrounds a chance to go, and there are a lot of benefits to going to camp — you learn a lot about your self and how to get along without mom and dad RIGHT THERE to help you through things, which is something every child should learn.

    You get the chance to step out of your comfort zone and try new things (how many local pools let you sink a canoe in the deep end then figure out how to get it back up and get yourself back in it?).

    I will admit though, when the kids go off to camp. its often harder on mom and dad than it is on the camper – mom doesnt want to let go.

    To those who would like to see year round school — camp is a place to learn a lot of things you don't learn about in traditional classrooms.

    For the families where someone is able to take kids to do all sorts of non-tv activities thats great, but for those who both parents have to wokr, or those who live in neighborhoods that are unsafe — camp is amazing — I've seen kids who'd never been canoing before, never slept in a tent, had never tasted a s'more, get the chance to do all that and more. And thats one of the beauties of camp.

  18. I gave up all of my magazine subscriptions last year (except that I do maintain an online subscription to Consumer Reports). Now I check magazines out of the library. They're due back in 3 weeks which I find to be ample time. My recycle bin is noticeably skinnier and I'm saving significant $$$.

    When I was a kid living in the Midwest, summer was swimming pool season. I would have hated going to school in the summer because every day spent in class would have robbed me of a day of swimming. My high school had an indoor pool but that doesn't even come close to swimming in the sunshine on a hot summer day.

    Now I live in New England and go to the beach every chance I get. When I see how much fun and exercise kids get at the beach, I always think how great it is that they get that chance.

    There's a school bus that brings kids to "my" beach on weekdays from a day camp program for kids from low income families. They're good kids and they have such a blast. I would much rather see them play at the beach than sit cooped up in a classroom during beautiful weather. Our summers are so short here and our winters are so long and grey. Kids really need to get out and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible during the best weather.

  19. Long summer breaks are probably a contributing factor to the poor performance of American students compared to other countries. 6 weeks for summer is more than enough, and then breaks are spread out in 1-2 week chunks throughout the rest of the year. The kids get more frequent breaks from the stress, but shorter breaks increase their chances of retaining what they learned before the break started. With the American system, time is constantly being wasted re-learning what everyone forgot during a 12 week break.

    So long as the breaks are real breaks, with NO homework or assignments the children even have the option of working on, I think more frequent breaks could only be beneficial.

  20. I think different lengths of breaks are good for different families. My mother was very strict with TV. We were only allowed to turn it on after 5 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. We spent the summers hiking and visiting relatives all over the country.
    My husband spent his summers driving around the US and Canada in a motor home, visiting historic sites and biking.
    However, there are many families where both parents work and have very little vacation time. Many times if these parents can't afford camps or quality child care their children end up wasting away on the couch for most of the summer. It would be nice if there were more affordable options for these families.

  21. As an about-to-be-senior in college, I wonder what the breakdown of parent-adult to student responses would be on this topic. I know that as a highschool student, my peers anxiously awaited the summer all the time. As a college student away from home, I look forward to the summer as a time to reconnect with family and friends who have all gone their separate ways, but start to miss the structured madness of college routine. Having 4 siblings still in K-8, 2 being boys and 2 being girls, I see the struggle with the TV, computer thing. My parents both have full time jobs, and our nanny of 15 years has to resort to hiding the mouses and keyboards to tear the kids away from the screens. But it DOES force them to find other things to do. Our new summer rule is that the kids get 45 minutes of "Screen Time" a day to do their own thing. They are allowed more if the games they play are approved as educational such as test-prep games and mind puzzlers. Camps are not for us. As a former camp instructor, I witnessed the misery of summer camps and can see why most kids would rather be at home watching cartoons!

  22. Mrs Q

    Out of necessity, my kids have always had camp in the summer as a means of childcare. Four years ago, they asked why didn't they get to go to sleep away camp, so we looked into it. This is their third year at a YMCA sleep away camp and they love it. Each session is 12 nights – they leave on a Sunday and come home on Fridays, giving me enough time to do all the laundry. They LOVE it and look forward to it – they are out in the woods with NO computers, NO iPods, NO video games. They swim in a Lake, they have learned canoeing, boating, archery, Environment Hikes and such. I love the fact that they still want to go even though they are now old enough to leave home alone (16 and 14). They make friends with other kids and they have learned how to go outside and PLAY!! I am currently unemployed but felt that the camp experience is too important for them to go without, so somehow I managed to make it happen again this year for them. They will come home this Friday, and August brings Band Camp and Football camp locally. I feel better knowing that they will not have spent their summer inside on electronics.

  23. Anonymous @ 11:38 AM-

    So THAT's why they taught us to diagram sentences year after year after year…. All this time I thought it was because some kids didn't catch on the first 37 times it was covered. Oh, well. At least it was any easy A, if you could stay awake, that is.

    I hated having to sit thru material previously covered; it was pure torture. Those kids many assume "forgot" over a 12-week summer what they "learned" the previous school year never really learned it in the first place. The rest of the kids, who learned and remembered it, are done a disservice by having to sit thru the same stuff all over again instead of being taught something new.

  24. The idea that summer vacation is a farm-community hold-over is a myth. When farm communities were free to set their own schedules, they held school in winter and mid-summer when the workload was less, and were off in the spring and fall for planting and harvest. I expect the exact time frames varied greatly with the growing seasons in different parts of the country.

    The long summer break actually originated with the large cities when the schools got unbearably hot in non-air-conditioned buildings. Families took advantage of the break and sent the kids to relatives or camps in the country.

    Personally, living in MN, I would NOT want to give up one bit of our summer break in return for a longer school year. The beautiful summer weather is so short in comparison to our long winter, and I want our kids to take as much advantage of it as possible, not spend it sitting inside and staring out the window at a gorgeous day they can't go enjoy.

    I think every city/state should rethink their school-year calendar to give the kids freedom in the best weather, and put them in school when it's too hot or too cold to be outside.

  25. I am a junior in college and I have worked at a daily summer camp for the past five summers. The kids (and unfortunately, the counselors) usually don't look forward to going there. It's early (this camp is mostly for kids whose parents both work and cannot watch them), and everyone is often bored. This summer, we are at the community pool every day but the kids still get bored, especially on rainy/cloudy/cold days, which seem to happen relatively often in New Jersey. Not only is the camp boring, but the kids don't eat well, at all. The snack stand is open (and I am completely against having it open for the kids early, but that's not my call). I know three sisters who buy french fries, soda, mozzarella sticks, and air heads every day for lunch – one of them is only 5 and a half years old, and that is what she eats for lunch every day. It's expensive AND very unhealthy! The kids just snack on candy all day and are constantly lining up at the snack bar. And there I am sitting with my packed lunch of wheat bread, natural peanut butter and jelly, a piece of fruit, and a granola bar! =P Just from my experience with camps, I really don't think they help much. The kids don't like going home either – it's like an endless cycle for them. I guess that in conclusion, I am also a supporter of year-round school with breaks… and even though I'm going to be a teacher in two years, I still wish that school was year-round here!

  26. As more schools move to year round calendars, I wonder if anyone has looked at college attendance rates among low income students coming out of those schools. A lot of students use summer as a time to make money for college. It seems like a big difference between working a couple part time jobs during the summer and having to hold down jobs all school year so you can be available to work during your weeks off.

    Our school starts 2 weeks earlier this year and I know the city lifeguards (mostly HS students and recent grads) are losing a lot of money as a result because the pool is only open on weekends once school starts. The city will also be losing income from admission fees to the pool, the local ice cream place is losing most of their workers (HS students) during day time hours, etc. I think it would really change our local economy if our summer became shorter still.

  27. I would love to see both my daughter's school, and the college where I teach, go to a school year with longer breaks during the year and a shorter break during the summer. I just think it would be better for student learning. Of course, where I live, in northern IL, spring and fall are the best times to be outside.

    BTW, Mrs. Q, I wonder if you have come across Brain, Child, a fabulous magazine for parents (not a parenting magazine). It has the most wonderful essays –if you haven't seen it, you should check it out:

  28. I personally am in the "magazines are a waste of paper" camp. But I have digital subscriptions to Wired, MoJo, The Atlantic, Newsweek (probably going to cancel), and Time. And at the rate I go through NYT articles it looks like when they enact their paywall I'll have to send some money their way too…but that opens up their crosswords! I also used to subscribe to The Nation and The New Republic but they don't provide what they used to. My new favorite is Longshot Magazine, formerly 48 Hours Magazine, but they sell those on an issue-by-issue basis.

  29. In the UK I think we have what you are calling year round school. The children break up for summer in mid- to late July and return early September. It's normally a 6-week long summer vacation. For the rest of the year, the kids get a 'half-term' week off (a term is 10-12 weeks, and there are three a year; September to Christmas, January to Easter, and Easter to summer break up.) So every 5-6 weeks, the kids get a week off. They also get 2-3 weeks at Christmas, and the same at Easter. They will be expected to do some work in that time, but it does help you recharge your batteries. I couldn't imagine school without these breaks, and wouldn't think it desirable for the children either.

    Occasionally keeping kids in school until mid-July becomes problematic heat-wise as no UK schools are air conditioned, and they can become quite hot. However, most of the important work and exams are done by them, and most teachers are quite happy to take classes outside, or swap English for some outdoor time if the kids aren't concentrating.

    Having never had a 2-3 month break as a child I can't imagine what it is like for both child and parent. I think it would cripple a lot of UK family finances to find daycare for their kids for that long (daycare is really really expensive here).

    However, as I am older now, I do see the advantages for 16 year olds plus to have longer summers to participate in work, and work experience to get them ready for university.

  30. This post, in combination with your childhood memories post on Monday, led me to recall that as a child I asked to go to camp. I grew up on a farm and was informed that camp was for "town kids" who didn't get to be outside since they didn't have an entire farm of their own.

    However, I still think that the "town kids" at camp were probably doing things more entertaining than watering and weeding, mowing and all that fun stuff. *smile* Still, not a bad thing and the end result was the same. Not a lot of sitting around!

    This did get me thinking about the bigger picture of childhood health. Where do we start to make a difference? If children don't have a safe space outside of school to do the activities they are exposed to at school (hopefully they are exposed to activity…in schools that have Physical Education and recess), it isn't a lot of good.

    Same thing with the food aspect…will putting the correct foods on the tray (whenever we can agree on what those correct foods are) be the whole answer if the students won't/don't consume them or have access to the foods outside school or parents don't have the knowledge, time, place to prepare them?

    It's still a big issue, with many sides, and different depending on the area.

  31. I think you are totally correct in that the blurb misses the point on families that cannot afford camps. I think a lot of the comments above also miss the point on how hard it is for some children to even get outside or go to local community centers during the summer. I grew up in a small, wealthy, safe town and now struggle to pay my rent so I can live in a very wealthy Washington DC suburb that is a great area for children. But, being close to certain areas of DC I see that the go ouside and run around option is not available for a lot of children. Summer has the highest crime rates of the year with certain sections of DC where gun related crimes are extremely high. I'm not trying to exaggerate or be dramatic, but there are actually midday shottings in the same areas multiple time a week and lots of times the people injured are teen/children that just happen to be outside and are caught in the crossfire. It is just not safe for children to even walk around outside. In these same areas they have set up youth summer work programs, but this year they are having a problem with kids who are wearing the mandated program tee shirt getting robbed on pay days. I just think that people commenting need to take children and families in these types of areas into account and realize that not everyone is afforded the same opportunities.

  32. I believe there is a strong value to true "camps" whether they be day camps or overnight camps. Kids learn through exploring, responsibility, and exposure to other campers and staff that are different from them. For me, growing up, it was where I was able to be myself for a week or two. Unfortunately, there is no way to regulate the word "camp" and it has been adopted by any group of kids in the summer. Also, unfortunately, many parents do not know the right questions to ask to find out if their kids will be having a camp like experience or if it's just daycare with a different name. is a great resource for parents looking for a camp for their kids, and learning what questions they should ask before signing their child up for a session.
    As for the expense, I have been involved with several camping programs over the years, and know that not only are their camps geared directly towards low-income families, most "traditional" camps have scholarship programs, and former campers or philanthropic organizations that will "sponsor" kids that may not have the opportunity to go to camp otherwise.

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