Children learn to do many things, but reading is and will always be one of the most important things a child learns to do. How can we as parents, guardians, and educators ensure that children are receiving the right type of instruction to become successful readers? Well, to make that happen, they need explicit instruction with phonemic awareness and phonics.
What is phonological awareness?
“Phonological awareness is the understanding of different ways that oral language can be divided into smaller components and manipulated.” (Chard and Dickson, 1999)
Essentially, phonological awareness is the big umbrella that covers reading skills. Under that umbrella, you will find 4 sub-categories that have their own sub-skills. In these sub-categories, children will learn that a word is the largest unit of language. When we begin teaching at the word level, children will learn that words can be blended, segmented, and manipulated.
What is phonemic awareness?
Under the umbrella of phonological awareness, children need to develop mastery in a sub-category called phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that spoken words are made of individual sounds called phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound we hear in a word. Phonemic awareness is oral and auditory with a focus on the sounds. This does not require visuals. It is broken down into 6 sub-categories.
What is phonics?
Phonics instruction is visual and auditory. It focuses primarily on the letter-sound relationship. Therefore, phonemic awareness and phonics are NOT the same. Children need explicit instruction so they can understand how sounds work. They need to make a connection between what they see in print to the 44 sounds in the English language. Without mastery in phonemic awareness, reading will likely be challenging for children because the print does not make sense to them.
What are the 6 sub-categories of Phonemic Awareness?
Assess if the beginning, medial (middle), or final sound can be heard. The sounds in HAT
For example, when a child learns a word, he/she will learn to blend by putting sounds and word parts together. Take the words cup and cake, when they are blended together, the new word (compound) is cupcake. The new word has two syllables.
Segmenting- When we segment, we take the whole word and break it into parts. Segmenting is similar to blending and it connects to a child's ability to encode (spell). They will use their knowledge of sounds to write the letters that correlate to each letter or letter combinations. For example, when I ask a child to segment the word watermelon into syllables, he/she will say how many syllables are in the word. Watermelon has four syllables, /wa/-/ter/-mel/-/on/.
Manipulation- Phoneme manipulation is broken down into 3 sub-categories:
Cap: /c/ is the onset because it comes before the vowel and /at/ is the rime because it includes the vowel and everything after.
/m/ is the onset and /ake/ is the rime.
/pl/ is the onset and /ate/ is the rime.
We can also manipulate syllables:
Why are Phonemic Awareness AND Phonics Instruction Important to Teach?
It is important because reading is not a natural thing that humans do. You have to explicitly teach someone how sounds (phonemic awareness) work and how it connects to the print (phonics) they see daily. Both skills are extremely necessary for children learn to decode words accurately and with automaticity .
Play games centered around identifying letters, sounds, rhyme, etc. These little things will set the foundation for reading. By kindergarten, your child will be introduced to more rhyming, word families (rime), syllables, and manipulating sounds (adding, deleting, and substitution) so they can become great independent readers and spellers.
Are you all E.A.R.S when you’re ready? You’re probably wondering what that even means. If you know anything about reading, then you know reading entails many skills that children have to develop: decoding, fluency, comprehension, rhythm, and much more.
As an early childhood educator, I know how important it is to develop reading skills in lower elementary to eliminate or minimize the challenges that children experience in upper elementary and beyond. A great start is to implement the acronym E.A.R.S, strategies that I’ve used for years but never had a cute name for it. You can purchase the text The Megabook of Fluency by Timothy V. Rasinski to learn more about reading fluency as the author dives more into the acronym. Anyhow, let’s get right into E.A.R.S!
When you read to your child, it’s important to read with expression. We use expressions in our day to day conversation, therefore, we must do the same when reading to reflect and expand on the meaning of text. Reading in a monotone voice will never convey the meaning of the text, so get creative, put on an Oscar winning hat and give your best performance. And besides, children love when you read with enthusiasm. They will eventually become readers and read with expression to show emotion and feelings (tone). And don’t be afraid to read with emphasis. Some words need emphasis to convey a specific meaning.
Automatic Word Recognition
Reading fluency comes with the ability to quickly recognize. Once it becomes automatic, the child is able to read with a certain amount of speed to move through a text. You may have heard of it as reading automaticity. Reading with automaticity supports a child’s comprehension because they recognize the word automatically, thus, allowing them to focus on comprehending what they are reading. As you read this, you are quickly reading through because the words are automatic for you, so your focus now is simply to comprehend what you are reading. If a child is spending a considerable amount of time to decode words, they will lose the comprehension component.
Rhythm and Phrasing
Reading requires you to find a good rhythm because it also helps with comprehension. Have you ever read something without chunking the sentence correctly and it didn’t make sense? What did you do? You probably went back to read it again with appropriate chunking so it made sense. Also, when you read, don’t be afraid to use punctuations appropriately. Commas are your best friend. Sometimes a pause is required because omitting a pause changes the meaning and ultimately hinders comprehension. For example: I ate grandma. Vs. I ate, grandma. There’s a whole new meaning with a simple comma.
The ability to accurately decode words regardless of the speed they read. This may sound similar to the above (Automatic Word Recognition). With that, the focus is automaticity and speed. When it comes to smoothness, it’s not so much the speed, the focus is: can the child decode the words accurately AND are they able to self correct when an error is made.
How Can You Help Your Child?
Wondering how you can help your child or students with all of the above? Simple:
Teaching young children how to recognize their name in print and to identify the letters can come with many struggles. There could be many reasons for that, but one reason could be, simply put: your child is not interested. I have an idea to help with learning letters. Start with the letters in your child’s names. A child’s name is meaningful and they are more likely to stay engaged and become eager about learning those special letters. In no time, you will hear your child identify any given letter in his/her name by saying, “That’s my name!”
Here are 10 activities to teacher name recognition at home or in a classroom:
The trick is to make the letters meaningful. You can include family, friends and pet names in the process. In addition to teaching your child how to recognize his/her name, it is equally important to know the names of each letter in the name. I’ve worked with preschoolers for over 10 years and I have witnessed many children who can “recognize” their name, but are not able to identify any of the letters in the name or spell the name from rote memory. I have heard children spell their names with lightning speed, but unable to identify any of the letter names or recognize their name.
Beaded Name- Use beads and gems to spell name including names of family and friends. Be
Sensory Bin Letter Hunt- Place rice, pasta, or beans into a tub and have children hunt for the letters in their name.
If you like this activity, you may like this blog post:
Cookies, Letters, and Phonics
Teaching letter sounds is an important piece for children as they learn to read. The 26 letters of the English alphabet make 44 sounds. Vowels give us short and long sounds, some consonants have a hard and soft sound, then you have your digraphs (two letters that make one sound). There’s a lot for the kiddos to learn when they are just starting out, but I caution you to only focus on the most common letter sounds from A-Z. Teach the short vowels (A-E-I-O-U) and hard consonant sound for letters C and G. Over time, you can mention that the letters have another sound, but teaching it in conjunction with the most common sounds in the beginning can overwhelm a child.
Short Vowel Sounds (NOT long)
Hard Consonant Sounds (NOT Soft)
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Let’s chat about the way letter sounds should be taught. I’ve worked with my fair share of 4-6 year olds and more than half of them have entered my classroom saying the letter sounds the wrong way. I’ve heard letter sounds mispronounced from many educational songs and that is where most children are learning about letters and sounds.
Here are the most mispronounced letter sounds:
The above sounds are mispronounced with an extra sound /uh/ at the end. For example:
Adding the extra sound at the end of those consonants will be problematic for decoding. It makes it challenging to hear the word when you ask children to blend all the sounds together. Here is an example of how wrong letter sounds will prevent proper blending:
CAT: the correct way is /c/-/a/-/t/
CAT: the wrong way is /c-uh/-/a/-/t-uh/
The T is a short clip sound that was pronounced with an added /uh/ which doesn't allow for an easy blend.
SUB: the wrong way /s/ /-uh/- /buh/
When the child reads SUB the wrong way, it’s hard for them to figure out what it says because they don’t know a word that says SUBUH. That is why it’s so important to teach letter sounds the correct way.
The thing is, some letters have continuous sounds and some have what we call clip stop sounds.
These letters are great for teaching the continuous sounds (m,n,s,a) and be sure to explain why the sounds are continuous. Try saying it and you’ll hear how the sound continues. Like letter M when we stretch it out (mmmmmmmm). When a child tries to read the word man it will sound like this mmmmmmmaaaaaaannnnnn. This makes learning to read a lot easier for beginners because it creates a blend.
Short Clip Sounds
When you begin to teach letters with short clip sounds, remind children that the other letters they’ve learned are continuous sounds. Explain that they will now learn short clip sounds, meaning that they won’t be able to hold the sound. The word TIGER is a short clip sound. Ask children if they can hold the /t/. They’ll most likely try and what will happen is the added /uh/ at the end when they hold it. You’ll have to explain that the sound has to quickly stop and that is why it is a short clip sound.
To wrap this up, there are great educational videos on the internet, but I recommend previewing the songs prior to sitting your children or students in front of a screen to learn improper letter sounds because it can affect their reading ability. After reading this post and you've come to the realization that you are teaching incorrect letter sounds, don't stress, you can always make a pivot now. What matters is that know the proper way and you can correct it.
Here is an example of how to say the correct letter sounds. WATCH HERE.
It's the first day of February and that means it is Black History Month. As you prepare to dive into books about Black History, be mindful of your book selections that can cause trauma for children, especially with preschoolers who are not able to fully understand the complexities of what transpired. We all know literacy is an important part of a child's development, so it's important that they have access to books. Access should also include books that allow children to see positive representations of children who look like them. Below you will find a list of books that highlight Black children in positive ways.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
Little Zuri shows off all the wonderful hairstyles she can do with her hair. And her dad is right by her side helping to style her hair. Little black girls can relate to this books because they see someone who looks like them, same hair texture, and even hairstyles that they have probably had before.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
This self-affirmation book celebrates the wonders and joys of Black boys.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
February is National Children's Dental Month. I know visiting the dentist can be nerve-racking for kids and even some adults. Sometimes reading a book before visiting the dentist can help to ease any anxiety children experience. I have compiled a list of books you can use to have conversations about visiting the dentist.
At the Dentist by Mari Schuh
This book explains going to the dentist in a very simple way for young learners. The photographs shows what to expect at a dentist visit.
The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Sister Bear has a loose tooth and is nervous about visiting the dentist. She joins her brother on his visit to the dentist and learns about all the tools a dentist uses. She even gets a turn to sit in the chair and get her teeth checked out.
Just Going To The Dentist by Mercer Mayer
Little Critter visits the dentist with his mom. It shows him playing in the waiting room and then being called to see the dentist all by himself.
Brushing Teeth by Mari Schuh
This informational text teaches children why we brush and what type of toothbrush they should brush with.
All About Teeth by Mari Schuh
An informational text about teeth. Children will learn about molars, canines, and cavities.
Flossing Teeth by Mari Schuh
An informational text for young learners explain what floss is and why it is important to floss every day.
Pete the Cat And The Lost Tooth by James Dean
Pete lost his tooth and placed it under his pillow. The tooth fairy showed up and invited Pete to help her for the night.
Snacks for Healthy Teeth by Mari Schuh
A book about good snacks that keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
The perfect book to teach the the alphabet and promote healthy eating for healthy teeth.
Alan's Big, Scary Teeth by Jarvis
Alan has a big set of shiny teeth that he brushes every day for 10 minutes.
How To Catch the Tooth Fairy by Adam Wallace
Keep little ears perked as they listen for all the rhyming words throughout the story.
How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell
If your kid is into pulling pranks, then this is the perfect book. How will Kaylee trick the tooth fairy?
The Night Before the Tooth Fairy by Natasha Wing
When the little boy's tooth becomes loose, he is very excited about it falling out.
Open Wide by Laurie Keller
At the tooth school, the students are teeth and the principal is a dentist. Make sure you start your morning with the tooth pledge of allegiance.
Brush Your Teeth Please by Jean Pidgeon
Youngsters will enjoy this pop-up book as they learn proper dental hygiene.
Why We Go To The Dentist by Rosalyn Clark
This book gives children all the information they need to know about visiting the dentist and why it is important.
What If You Had Animal Teeth? by Scholastic
What If? Start this story by telling children to put on their imagination hats as they listen to facts about animal teeth.
Pony Brushes His Teeth by Michael Dahl
Simple how-to book for toddlers. Pony learns to brush his teeth from his dad.
A Day in the Life of a Dentist by Heather Adamson
A non-fiction book about a dentist's workday. Ideally, it would be suited for K-2, but if you read this to preschoolers, focus on the pictures as it can be wordy for younger learners.
Let's Meet a Dentist by Bridget Heos
A group of children visit Dr. Florez to find out how to keep teeth clean and healthy. The children visit the exam room and ask Dr. Florez a lot of questions.
LOVE these book? Pin this image!
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Children love to play with a number of things from store bought toys to boxes. If you ask me, they prefer the boxes over the store bought toys because their imagination runs wild. They also have a love for building structures whether it's with wooden, cardboard, or even large Lego blocks. Play is the job of a child. That’s what childhood is all about, but play can always be turned into meaningful experiences. Have you ever heard the saying, “children learn through play”? I’m sure you have. Today's blog post is a great read for National Lego Day.
In my PreK class, my students absolutely love the block area for many reasons. But like anything that you do a lot, you would eventually get bored. In order to keep the excitement in the block area, I added letters and numbers to the large Lego blocks. As children play, it affords them an opportunity to reinforce their letter recognition and put the alphabet in order. Here are some ways to use these Lego blocks with letters:
Alphabet Sequence: Encourage children to put the letters in order from A to Z. Pay attention to the strategies they may use to sequence the letters. Are they repeating the alphabet from the beginning for each letter until they get to the next one? Or, do they already know what comes after the previous letter. Are they using charts in their environment to assist with completing the task?
Letter Sound Hunt: Say each letter sound in no particular order and encourage children to find the letter that matches the sound. To add a challenge to this, set a timer, ask your child to race against the timer to see how many blocks can be found in a set number of seconds or minutes. If you choose to do this with two or more players, at the end they can count the total number of blocks each person has and determine who has more and less.
Uppercase and Lowercase Letter Match: Tape the uppercase and lowercase on separate Lego blocks. Ask children to find the lowercase that goes with the uppercase letter.
Lego Sight Word Builder: Use a sharpie marker to write letters on the Legos. Encourage children to build the words that you have already taught them. Provide index cards with the words so children can use it as a reference as they build the words.
The Lego blocks are not limited to literacy, you can also incorporate math skills:
Numeral and Quantity Match: Label the Lego blocks with separate number and dot cards. Mix all the blocks up before children begin to play. As they pick up a block, they must identify the number or the quantity, then they must find the other block to match. For example, if the child grabs a Lego block with 6 dots, he/she must count to tell how many, then find the numeral block.
Sequence Numbers: The blocks are numbered 1 through 10. Children can have fun putting the numbers in order. Each block has the numeral and the quantity on the same card. The number of dots help to reinforce the numeral and quantity relationship. If a child does not know the name of the number, encourage them to count the dots to determine the number's name.
Alphabet Height: Measurement is part of PreK standards. Children can talk about how many Legos tall they are or which letter tall they are after putting the letters in order. Also, include other materials that children can use for measuring.
I have worked with preschoolers for many years and have noticed a decline in their fine motor skills as technology became more and more popular with the little ones. I mean, think about how many preschoolers you know with a tablet. Probably quite a few. I am not saying that it is wrong to have one, just simply limiting the time and activities on the device. Children have fewer opportunities to participate in activities that will strengthen their little hands, and because of that, I have found writing to be a challenge due to a lack of muscle strength in their hands.
After making the connection between the increased use of electronic devices and low muscle tone in hands, I began to implement strategies to develop their pencil grip in my classroom and I have also used these strategies with my children at home.
Access to Materials: Create space in your home for your child to independently access paper and a variety of writing tools. Whenever your child wants to doodle, write, or color, he or she can go to the writing station. Consider putting a basket in multiple rooms in your home if possible.
Hand Strength: Implement activities that will strengthen the hands such as playdough or clay, buttoning, snapping, zipping, cutting, and stringing small beads onto an old shoestring. You can also let your child cut straws to use for stringing.
Writing Prompts Together, discuss your child's interests and then create a writing prompt based on the interest. Write each on a small piece of paper which you will later place into a 'writing jar'. You can also add a few additional topics into the jar. Every day, your child will pull a piece of paper out and that will be their writing prompt. Encourage your child to draw or write to respond to the prompt.
Practice Makes Perfect: Like anything that you do, you must practice in order to see results. Writing every day is ideal. It can be as simple as letting your child write or trace his or her name daily. A little pencil grip practice goes a long way. In my PreK class, my students visit the writing center every morning to write their name and at the end of every month, they write their name on these sheets (see below). I staple it on the board adding a new sheet every month. At the end of the year, they go home with a book from September through June showing the improvement of their handwriting. Cute little keepsake.
This is a double sheet and is great for making multiple copies for a class.
Like the name writing sheets? You can use this in your classroom or home if you're homeschooling. Download a free copy here.
If you're like me, then you're probably wondering what will this new school year be like? Like most parents and teachers who were thrown into virtual learning six months ago, we had no clue what we were doing, but, with trial and error, we somehow figured things out. And then school closed for summer break JUST when we were starting to get the hang of things. So, here were are six months later for what is possibly going to be a longer virtual learning experience than the first which was only about 3 months. As a teacher AND mom, I saw what worked with my students and with my children to lessen the stress levels of virtual learning. I thought I should share a few tips with you...
Tip #1 CREATE RULES
It is very important that you set clear guidelines for what homeschooling will look like. Think of yourself as the teacher at the beginning of the school year who lays out all the rules and expectations for the classroom. Now, you'll be doing the same for your home which has become an overnight school. Include your children in the process when you create the rules. If you have your set of non-negotiable rules, that's fine, but include your child in the conversation about some acceptable rules to add to the list. They will more likely follow the rules they helped to create. Work it out together and then post it in a visible area of your home and refer back to it when needed, the same way a classroom teacher would. You can purchase a large poster board oak tag from your local dollar tree.
Tip #2 CREATE A SCHEDULE
Create a schedule. Children need consistency and structure, while they may not like it, they need it. In a regular school setting, children have a schedule that they follow on a daily basis which helps with their structured day. I know it is easy to get very comfy at home and fall into a 'go with the flow' way of homeschooling, but, keep in mind, this is temporary. Your children will eventually go back to a school building and by maintaining some school structure, it will make the transition easier once schools are back to normal. And by having a schedule, it also makes your days easier because you know what's ahead, especially if you have multiple little learners at home. Take a moment to think about what it would be like to not know your children's daily schedule and you're frantically running around your living room trying to figure it out last minute...pure chaos. I learned the hard way of going with the flow and trying to teach online. And then I decided to implement a daily message with my children. I was already doing it with my students prior to virtual learning and I continued the same practice once we transitioned to virtual. At the beginning of each day, I read the message detailing what's ahead. Once I started doing that with my children at home, they were excited for their day because they knew everything that was going to happen. And, they knew the order of how things would happen. A schedule will eliminate the stress each day. Be as creative as you want with the daily schedule. When you create your child's schedule, don't forget to put a recess break in there. Recess can be outdoors or you can check out the Go Noodle YouTube channel. This station is sure to get your kids moving. If not, ask your child to help you make a few brain break options. My children also had play-doh, magnet building tiles, and board games as some of the break choices.
Tip #3 CREATE A DESIGNATED LEARNING AREA
As I have said before, it is easy to get comfortable being at home. I know all to well as a teacher from seeing what was happening in my students' homes as I taught virtually, and as a mom, sometimes I just couldn't be bothered. I took the easy and comfortable way out. So, no judgement here. But, I saw a difference in my students and my children who had designated learning areas in their homes away from all distractions. I have seen children sitting in their kitchens while mom cooks breakfast, children sitting in the living with a loud television on in the background, or a younger sibling who is constantly running in front of the computer. Those are all distracting and I also understand that some things are inevitable. However, a small area in your home, preferably an area with minimal traffic, would be perfect for your child's learning area. If your child in in lower elementary (PreK-2nd grade) I would recommend sitting nearby to provide assistance when needed. The first and second graders will eventually get the hang of it, but PreK and Kindergarten will really need your support to mute and un-mute, along with other requests from their teachers. And not only will your child need support, but if you are nearby, it deters children from not focusing on their learning. I noticed during my live classes, students who had parents sitting with more engaged with the lesson.
Tip #4 LOGIN INFORMATION
With virtual learning, you are sure to spend your day logging into many platforms: Google Classroom, Zoom, Pearson, I-Ready, MyOn to name a few. To make your life easy, make a list of all your child's platforms and passwords. You'll thank me later. And if your child is at the age where he or she can login independently, definitely spend some time teaching them how to login or save the passwords that way you don't have to type it in each time. That will free up some time on your end. And don't forget to bookmark all the platforms. You can place the icons on the desktop's home screen or if you are using a tablet, create a folder with all the apps. I did that for my then kindergarten daughter who was able to find all her school apps in one place.
Tip #5 BREATHE AND RELAX
When you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a moment to do some deep breathing. Whatever it is that you are doing, leave it alone and return at a later time. It's okay to feel frustration, but what's most important, is to know when to walk away from what's causing you to become frustrated. No one said homeschooling would be easy and you are doing the best you can. Hang it there :).
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Summer is in the air and so are butterflies. Don’t you just love seeing a butterfly flutter by as you stroll to your destination? My children love trying to catch them, but those flutters are too quick for their little hands. I thought to myself, why not order caterpillars so they can see the changes of a butterfly’s life cycle. They were already familiar with the life cycle of a butterfly from the very popular children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle about a caterpillar who ate too much and then transformed into a beautiful butterfly. We have read the book so many times that they have memorized the story. So, I made the decision to order the Insect Lore Butterfly Garden kit as a surprise, and boy were they surprised when the package arrived.
Before the package arrived, I knew I wanted them to document the transformation from day one to the very end. What better way than a caterpillar to butterfly life cycle journal? I set out to make just the journals, but in the end, I made several relatable worksheets to go along with the caterpillars transformation. There are two versions of the journal because my children are 4 and 6 years old, and developmentally, they aren’t able to do the same things. Both have a jar to draw their observations, circle a picture to indicate what they see, and label which observation day it is. My daughter is capable of writing sentences, therefore I included lines for her to write about her observations and drawings. My son provided a dictation about his drawing which I wrote in his journal. What I liked most about having the journals was watching my children go back to the previous pages to look at their drawings to see the changes and having meaningful conversations with each other.
They used these cut and paste worksheets was after the caterpillars turned into butterflies. The focus was to recall what happened and in the correct order. In addition, it provided an opportunity for my children to work on their scissors skills. I try my best to incorporate some type of fine motor activity when I do activities with them. My daughter's has sequence words and space to write sentences.
It was amazing to see how quickly the caterpillars grew in a short period of time. We closely observed and updated the journals for two weeks until the metamorphosis process was completed. My children were so excited about the process that they updated their journals without me asking. I must say, I have purchased butterfly kits for years in my Prek classes every spring, and I have never noticed the observation my daughter made. She noticed that you can see the butterfly's wings through the chrysalis (cocoon). I have never noticed that before! After her awesome observation, we used that as an indicator to let us know when the other butterflies were going to emerge.
While we waited for the other butterflies to hatch, we placed orange slices in the net for the others to drink ‘nectar’. My children understood that we did not have fresh flowers in our home, so the alternative was a piece of fruit.
They all hatched on different days, so we waited 3 days after the last butterfly to release them. The excitement on my daughter's face about the ‘release party’ was priceless. She was very hopeful about a butterfly landing on her finger, and what do you know, a butterfly landed on her finger!
Sadly, summer will be over before you know it, but I have just the thing to cheer you up if you decide to get your own butterfly kit. Check out this freebie cut and paste worksheet.
Hi, I am Odessa. I'm a mom of two wonderful children and a teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education and a Master of Science in Childhood Education with over 10 years of PreK and Kindergarten experience. I am a lover of all things literacy for children and their curiosity of the world. Get comfy and click around my site. I hope you find something you'll like, and something your kids will love! P.S. Akwaaba means 'welcome' :)
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