26 answers

Unmotivated 3Rd Grader

I have a very bright, extremely strong-willed 3rd grade daughter. This year has been a trial of forgotten or incomplete homework. I have tried nagging her, scolding her, taking away priviledges, adding chores, and more. I am at my wit's end and cannot figure out a way to motivate this daughter to try just a little bit.

She has spent this year doing as little as she can get away with and at times less than she can get away with. The problem is that she is very smart and not trying gets her good marks but her teacher and I know that se has the capacity to do so much more. Also, she is so charming that for a while she got away with it, but now that the teacher is aware, he isn't letting her get away with it anymore.

Does anyone have experience motivating children to do their best even when they do not see a huge benefit in trying harder because the grades wouldn't get any better?


1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

So I have tried more this week to praise the process my daughter chose than the smarts she has. And for a couple of days this week it worked and a couple it didn't. Also, I have tried to pull back on the correcting of the homework and just focus on whether it was done or not. This helped a little.

My daughter is in the top of her class for everything and she was motivated by starting next year's math book, but I really think she may have summeritice early. I will keep praising the process and hopefully it will continue to get better.

Thank you for all your responses. It gave me a lot to chew on and work on myself.

Featured Answers

I had the same problem - lack of motivation. I recognized at an early age what I really needed to learn and what information I would never need. I think as long as you give her the tools to find out what she needs to know. This is the information age and you can look up whatever you don't know. Tell her what grades you expect of her and let her go. Everyone's process is different, you can't control that.
That being said, let her concentrate on things she likes to do. I was always happier to jump though my parents/teachers hoops when I felt accomplished as an artist.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi D.,

I don't have a lot of advice on how to motivate her, but maybe she is acting this way because she is being teased by her classmates/friends for being too smart. Maybe she is trying to fit it and be "liked" instead of being "smart". Ask her how it feels to be "the smart kid" at school and what makes kids "popular" at school. Let me know what happens...

Hi D.,
I know it seems very simple, almost too simple but have you tried to find what word or words in that subject she does not understand and use a simple dictionary to clear it up? Or it might be as basic as "what's the definition of school?", "what's the definition of teacher". Things in her environment that she's around all the time but does not know what they mean. I have worked with many childeren before I had my little girl. Just clearing up simple terms has gotten them all back on the rails. Hope it helps.

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I've parented one into college, and two are closing in, so here's what I learned about this subject (through my mistakes): Pay particular attention to the responses of Patricia, Claire and Andrea. The article on praise that Andrea cites is excellent -- oh why didn't I read it twenty years ago (besides the fact that it wasn't yet written)?

Let your child's schoolwork be between her and her teacher. You just check for completion -- that's all. And like the article says, praise the effort. Do not make the child's homework your homework. This is especially important in the early years, before high school. Effort really matters more than results, at that age. In high school results matter a lot more if you are looking to get scholarships or need to get into college. In grade school it should be all about learning to learn and about discovering what is fun about learning. Having your mother nag you all the time because your homework isn't perfect is not fun.

Hindsight #2: The battle over homework took away from family fun and togetherness. That's a big loss and family fun was way more important than some math (or whatever). Save the battle for high school, if you have to, and reread those three moms' advice. They said it all.

p.s. - You said you are an overachiever. That is possibly the problem right there. Overachievers are awesome, but the need to overachieve must be their own, not one forced on them by someone else. Once I reread your post and saw that you are an overachiever I need to reiterate to you to read that article. It will open your eyes.

2 moms found this helpful

I have 3 children as well and I know that each of my children is driven in different ways. I try to allow them to find what is meaningful to them. With that said, I know that homework is important. My kids are currently on top of their game with homework. I have found letting up and stopping the nagging has helped with 2 things; they get to suffer the consequences by the teacher, secondly, they have found their internal motivation. She is in 3rd grade she has many years of school ahead. Not everyone at everytime is able or willing to live up to their potential especially if they feel they have to. Motivation comes from within, and it has to be discovered. Right now she can blame you and her teacher for forcing her to do bettter/more work and avoid responsibility. I would let up a little, it may be hard but worth it. Let her know that you think she is capable and intelligent, but you have maybe pushed her to hard. This may create an opening for talk about any issues she is having. This will take away some of the power struggle you are in. It really is a power game, everyone needs to feel in control in some way. Look at other more functional ways for her to gain this sense of control/power. After you have let up for awhile (weeks maybe), give her choices about her school work ie; what days of the week to do it, which pages to do. Your daughter is young she has a whole life time of hard work. Try not put your fears about her future success, or your concern about the meaning of it, on her at this point in her life. If you continue the battle she will never find her internal motivation.

2 moms found this helpful

You can't will your daughter to be an overachiever, but you can set some expectations in coordination with the teacher. Your daughter should be bringing home her "agenda" with all the homework assignments written in. The teacher should initial the day so that you know all the assignments are in the agenda. Then, you should be reviewing your daughter's homework just enough to see that she has completed the assignments. Don't correct her homework, but be available to tutor if she is stuck on a subject. Set up a quiet place for homework with a nice snack-- pretzels, fruit slices, etc. can make doing homework a little more pleasant. Review the homework with your daughter so that she has a sense of accomplishment. This means being very careful not to be critical when the quality of the work is below your expectations, but offering praise for completing the assignments. Most children pick up on our expectations for them. It can be difficult to let them turn in work that has "obvious flaws." Your third grader may take it quite personally when she's criticized for not working up to someone else's expectations. Help her to discover her potential by pointing out when the work is particularly well done.

The biggest mistake I made with my daughter was helping her to improve the quality of her assignments. My son, on the other hand, refused to let me see his homework because he couldn't cope with my corrections to his work. I learned from other parents and from their teachers that it was essential not to correct or criticize, but to check that the assignments were getting done and to praise accomplishments.

2 moms found this helpful

Without knowing all the specifics and going off what is written above...here are my thoughts. If your daughter is the off-spring of an over achiever, she may feel like she cannot compare to you. If she constantly feels like the end result of her work isn't good enough (in case you or the teacher tells her she can do better), then she'll be less motivated to even try...why even bother, right? So, make sure that you praise her effort more than the outcome.

Do you have a pretty good handle on how she's doing on her homework? Usually the work they send home lines up directly with what they are working on in class. If she's getting plenty of help from you and/or your husband, then you'll know her strengths and where she could use a little extra help, which you can then discuss with the teacher if need be. If she's confident doing her work at home, then that will most likely roll over into the classroom.

We've got a very consistent ritual after school. We get home and sit down for a snack. I clean up snack and she never leaves the barstool. We immediately start homework...I take a quick looksie at what she's working on and help with any needed instructions. After she's finished the required amount (varies per grade) I double check it, then we're done for the day with homework. She practices 15 minutes of piano and then she has the rest of the afternoon to do as she pleases.

There is no playing or webkinz or anything until homework is completed. There is no room for wiggle on this because it's an everyday part of our schedule.

Here's an article about praise. It's lengthy but worth the read. And like many studies, I find parts of it to be hooey...like when they poll h.s. students. But the jist of it is interesting and will really get you thinking about how we do/do not talk to our kids...praise the effort!


Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

Dear D.,
I too have a fabulously gifted daughter. She was advanced in everything from day one. Then, she went through phases where apparently she thought she could get by on her looks and charm when it came to school instead of doing the work. And she was charming and hilarious and social....
But what worked for her was that if she did not turn in her homework or assignments, her recesses were taken away. She was allowed to go potty and have lunch time, but no recesses. She was made to stay in the class or in the office and finish her work and have it handed it by the end of the day. She HATED it! So, she figured out it was just easier for her to do it in the first place, especially at home where Mom was willing to work on it with her than to lose her school priveleges. No recess, no field trips, no fun of any kind if she had missing assignments.
It worked.
Then, she went through it again in high school. She started completely goofing off and it was all about being social and having fun and paying zero attention to her responsibilities. There was no hounding or begging or punishing her at home that made any difference. So, one day she informed me she was going to the cheerleader tryouts. And I didn't even argue or say a single word. The second day of tryouts, she was asked to leave, in front of all the other girls, because her GPA made her ineligible.
She was crushed and embarrassed, but you know what? She went right back to work kicking major butt on her grades because she had to learn for herself, again, the hard way, that you can't goof and get what you want. And it wasn't ME nagging her. The SCHOOL said no. It put her right back on track.....Pronto!

There is nothing wrong with being cute and charming, but it won't get you a passing grade on an assignment you didn't bother to hand in. Losing privileges at school around her peers, and in front of them, is the only thing that ever worked for Angel.

Best of wishes!

1 mom found this helpful

I have on of these! It sounds just like my oldest. I can't stand giving what I call bribes, but with her it works. I set up a reward chart. She, even at ten, is not good at delayed gratification, so the rewards have to be frequent (every two weeks at the most). I don't like rewarding what I consider basic expectations, but it worked. It gave her a positive way to accomplish goals instead of me nagging and pushing and punishing. The rewards were inexpensive things, like littlest pet shops, ice cream out with mom, a new book, etc.

Schedule a conference with next years teacher when the school year starts. Tell her about your daughter's work habits and personality. Make it clear that you need to be informed when the first assignment is missing. Even if you warn them, teachers still fall victim to charming well behaved students. All my daughter's teachers have and are then surprised when she flakes on her assignments. Her fourth grade teacher has been little help on his end enforcing any type of discipline, so its been up to me to get her into a routine and enforce consequences when work is not done.

We have a consistent after school routine. She starts homework at 3:30 every day. After homework, its piano. I check her agenda to see what work she has. When she says she is finished I make her show me all her assignments. I don't take her word for any of it. She tends to "forget" math or spelling or what have you if I don't check for every assigment. I went through a few months of this before I began trusting her again. I know this wouldn't work great for kids who do sports. But there again, she is not allowed to do sports if her work habits are suffering.

My daughter depends on my being distracted by her younger siblings to get away with her slacker behavior. So its almost more of a challenge for me to keep her time scheduled than for her to follow it. (That's how I know she's bright, she works the system very well). She paricularly thrives on praise, so even when its hard, I find things to praise her for outside her work habits. Look for the positives to keep up your relationship. I find this has worked with my husband as well.

After weeks of my checking her homework and getting positive feedback for going all five days with completed work, my daugher grew into a better self starter. I am seeing steady improvement. Hope this helps. It can be so frustating.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi D.,

There is a reason why everything you have tried does not work: It is not creating a challenge for her in school, and it is not creating relevence. The challenge she is finding is getting around you and her teacher. You and the teacher need to step back and come in from a different angle. Do not BE the challenge, but find a way to create challenges for her that relate to what she should be learning. If the information is not RELEVANT, she will not find it interesting. Look for activities and information out in the world that you can do and find together which relate to what she is or should be learning. But don't say "here look at this - this is what you are learning in science!" instead, allow her to find the connection. If she is a bright as you say, she probably wont have much trouble finding a conection herself. If she enjoyed the activity you did and then she goes to class thinking "boring" but suddenly realizes that she is learning about something that she has experienced out in the world a light bulb will go on and she will want to share her ideas and involvement will just happen. When she comes home and tells you about these connections praise her for being so clever - intrinsic motivation will take you where you want to be - that is what you are looking for! Negative reinforcement will always make you both hit a wall. If the teacher is not creating relevance himself, it just means you have a bigger job, but tackle it now before she creates bad habbits that effect the rest of her schooling. Once she starts noticing these connections she will want all of her learning to be that way. Think about it, who wants to learn something that they can not relate to the world or their experiences. The challenge will come when she begins to seek out these experiences and outside information on her own. watch for this and support it, and once she takes the lead you can just join her for the ride!
(the exploratorium and the steinhart museum in San Francisco could be good places to start).

Intrinsic motivation is your key!!!

D. and Layla

1 mom found this helpful

Hi D.,
It is hard when your child is being rewarded (good grades) for not trying very hard. The answer, I think, is for you to reward her effort, regardless of the grade. In other words, work up a rewards system for number of minutes studying for a quiz, every time she goes a week of turning in her homework consistently, or every time you see a neat, completed homework assignment. Find rewards SHE is interested in- a lot of parents fall back on stickers or desert and this is not rewarding to every child, and write up the contract (rewards and consequences) and have her be a part of it.
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I had the same problem - lack of motivation. I recognized at an early age what I really needed to learn and what information I would never need. I think as long as you give her the tools to find out what she needs to know. This is the information age and you can look up whatever you don't know. Tell her what grades you expect of her and let her go. Everyone's process is different, you can't control that.
That being said, let her concentrate on things she likes to do. I was always happier to jump though my parents/teachers hoops when I felt accomplished as an artist.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi D.-

I'm going to copy this same response to the Mom asking her fourth grader, because I have a feeling that the same issues are at work.

First off, kids do not fail on purpose in elementary school, especially when they have parents who are trying to help them, keep them on schedules, get them to do their work, etc.

When kids constantly forget stuff, can't sit still long enough to get homework done, do poorly on tests even though they are bright enough to get high grades, don't appear to be motivated or are 'slacking off' THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. At this age, kids WANT to succeed and be good at school. If they are not doing as well as they are capable of doing, that means there is an issue.

For both moms, I recommend requesting a full assessment from your schools. To do this, write a letter to your school district's superintendent or to the director of special education and request a full psychological assessment. This sounds scary -- but don't let it intimidate you. Legally, the district MUST comply with an assessment.

Although I obviously can't diagnose anything based on these short summaries, 3rd grader mom sounds like you may have ADD or on your hands. Smart, capable, charming, unmotivated. The lack of motivation isn't laziness, it's because it is simply too hard to stay 'mentally organized' long enough to get the work done. However, you need to ask yourself honestly -- is it really a lack of motivation, or are your standards too high? If your daughter is just laid back like your husband, then maybe you need to let it go.

Michelle, this lack of organization in your daughter sounds like poor executive functioning, and if it isn't addressed soon, she will hit a wall in junior high, when she has 6 or 7 classes to content with. I would definitely recommend requesting assessment -- she may also have a learning disability that has not yet been obvious enough to be called out by the teachers. Either way, it is not a discipline issue and using discipline to get her to be more organized will only do more damage.

If either of you would like more information or referrals to private assessors, just let me know.

Best of luck!


1 mom found this helpful

Hi D.,
My Kids are 25 and 20 now...
My oldest had learning disabilities, but was very motivated and done very well.Working for Dr. Phil now as an editer.We are also a family of over achivers.When the second kid seemed unable to complete his homework,or any chore ect..right from the start.. I asummed it was a simalar issue. When we tested him, we found he had a huge IQ and no learning issues.
We tried everything over the years and never could get him motivated. He's a nice social kid who everyone likes. But he never finnihed anything. His intrest in sports seemed to drop off when he became a teen. We treated for ADD and a million other things.The phycologist said not to push him.(Tell that to the rest of the world)

College didnt go so well, and he kept being late for his job at Starbucks, a job he liked very well. This year we happend on a doctor who found he was having sleep issues, and has narcolepsy, which doesnt look like you might think it might in one so young. So try getting the tests for that. (all of them)

Then we found he had something called Charri 1 formation.(sp) It is a brain malformation in which the lower part of the brain hang down into the spinal colum. A simple brain scan can rule this out or in. It can make kids uncomfortable when trying to read or hold a book...and keep them awake at night..and many other problems.So you might want to rule those out. It took us years to find a doctor who thought of them. We have not begun treatment yet.But I understand the improvement is really night and day

The bigest thing I want to impress apon you is..to be true to your First motherly instinct. Listen to your heart. For YEARS my son has been bombarded by people, both family and elswhere who said he was lazy..But somehome I belived him when he said he just didint feel "right". How could he compare to something he had never been without!..But he just looked so smart and healthy.

And secondly. I think a childs self estem is the MOST importaint thing.Surely she can feel your disapointment.That can do so much more damage than a lackluster school history. If I had to do it all over I would have placed him in an arty school somewhere that let him focus on what he could do well in the way he could best do it..rather than the expencive private schools I placed him in....Let the kid have a joyful childhood, and teach them to be good people. I belive the rest will follow. Our kids are living in a socity that has grown WAY too complecated...being with nature and doing kid stuff has a healing effect...pressure does not help!Take it from me. STOP PUSHING! Would it be so awful to take a year off the pushing..sounds like that might be real hard for YOU.It was for me.What could it hurt? A year where you dialed down the pressure.I dont know if this will make sense to you..but have you ever tried one of those "Chinesse finger trap" toys? The harder you try to pull your finger out.. the tighter it is and you cant remove your fingers...its kind of like that with kids..the harder you push..the more they resist. Put her in a montisorrie and let her grow vegetables, and paint for a year. see what happens.Maybe her tempo differs from yours. Let her find something she loves. A reason to want to do more. Your need for her to do more wont pull her through life..Can you imagine being forced to live at someone elses tempo? Life is short..take your foot OFF the gas pedal..
best wishes..from someone who's been there...

Hi D.,
I know it seems very simple, almost too simple but have you tried to find what word or words in that subject she does not understand and use a simple dictionary to clear it up? Or it might be as basic as "what's the definition of school?", "what's the definition of teacher". Things in her environment that she's around all the time but does not know what they mean. I have worked with many childeren before I had my little girl. Just clearing up simple terms has gotten them all back on the rails. Hope it helps.

Could it be that this is the one thing she has figured out will really bug you and get your attenton?

Your description of your daughter as very bright jumped right out at me and set the bells going.

Could it be that she's bored (out of her mind)? That she's not being intellectually challenged? There's so much emphasis in education these days on children on the lower end of the spectrum that the advanced, higher-end-of-the-spectrum kids get short shrift, if they get anything.

A homework planner that you and the teacher sign daily is a good thing to do. Also, make a positive reinforcement chart. this works well with children of this age. Together figure out what your child has to do daily (homework, good spelling grade on Friday, whatever)and give happy faces or stars for every day that the tasks are completed. Together decide on a special prize for getting 5 stars or whatever you decide. Only give positive reinforcement. DO NOT take away a sticker that has already been earned. If it takes your child 2 weeks to earn 5 stars then hold off on the prize until the 5 stars have been earned. Another suggestion is- check your child out for ADHD. This is the age when the symptoms begin to appear, especially in a bright child. They've been able to coast before. Do this right away because you need your child's teacher's input. Contact the pediatrician who will either start the ball rolling or refer you to a specialist. I have been a teacher for 30 years so I have seen many cases. Good luck!

Hi D., I have been thinking about your question and my response all day long. One thing that keeps puzzling me-- why are you so determined to change your daught to be more like you when she seems to be happy being more like your 'wonderful husvand'? Accepting your daughter for who she is will pay off for both of you much more in the long run than the best grades she could ever achieve.

I am a great grandmother and mother of 5 children. My eldest and brightest was very inner directed and we made a mistake of trying to add further motivation to him.

I suspect that your very bright daughter is giving you and her teacher a a message. Find out what she is trying to say and what she really wants for herself. And let her be herself and show your love and support of her in whatever she decides unless it is harmful. It is very frustrating when we feel our children could do so much better and they refuse. It could get worse when she is in high school and trying to get into college so let it come from her at this stage and it will be easier at that future stage..Good luck!! Relax and rejoice!!


Hello D.,

Make sure you continue to encourage your child and check your child's homework daily. You need to spend some of your time working with your child. Treat it as a bonding time with your daughter. Find out which area of subjects is a challenge for your child. You might need to get a tutor in the area you can't help your daughter. You can also talk to your child's teacher how your child is performing and/or struggling in class and ask for suggestion how to encourage and help your child at home.

Could she be bored or not challenged in her classes. I know when I was in school if I was not challenged I took on the same attitude.

Hi D.,
One thing I have realized being a parent, is that all kids have their currency. Something they value and something they want. Instead of going the negative route, try to find out something she really likes to do or something she'd like to buy (if she had money). You could try a type of reward system each time she gets an assignment done early (2 coins), on time (1 coin) etc. The coins (or stickers, marbles, etc.) can also be earned for doing chores without being asked (2 coins) and for listening the first time (3 coins). Set an amount she needs to get if she wants _______. You can even just ask her what she'd really like to have and then decide how long you think she should work for it. (maybe she needs 25 coins if it's a small item 75 for a large ticket item) Let her decide on how to spend the coins (use the 25 to get x or wait til she gets 75 to get y)
Try to have fun with this! It'll help you all stay more positive and hopefully she'll really like the idea.

Hello there,

I had the same problem with my daughter when she was in second grade. She would finish her homework but take over 6 hours to do a few pages. I was very frustrated with her and tried everything to get her to do better. I was so upset that I threatened to remove her from the school and taking her to private school where she would be forced to do better. I ended up leaving her in school and she was forced to go to summer school. She hated having to go to school in the summer and this year she did a lot better despite two changes in teachers during the school year.

So my advice is the following: do as much as you can and if she has to fail the grade then let her have that consequence. Sometimes kids need to do that to find the motivation they may be lacking. Its a hard thing to tell a parent but that may be what she needs.

Good luck. I think you are doing a great job and you have done what you can to help her; the rest is up to her.

She needs to be challenged- raise expectations with harder work.

What about a reward chart instead that would give her small things if she remembers to bring the work home. And
then other rewards for the work getting done.

Everybody says their kid is really smart. My mom said that about me for the longest time, which made me feel uncomfortable, because I felt I had to live up to some weird expectation she had of me. I have to agree, I was smart, but I had a serious problem with numbers.

No one could wrap their heads around that fact, because I was reading and writing way above grade level, so how could this ridiculously annoying know it all factoids galore smarty pants kid actually have a *gasp* problem? "She's really smart! How come she won't do homework?"

I remember crying over my math homework, being very frustrated, feeling really angry, and just not "getting" it. And feeling sick and punished and the whole "why me" thing. And then I'd grab a judy blume book and stay up all night reading.

I am convinced I either had a learning disability that I eventually overcame, or I was not brain-ready for math at the time.

My homework and grades suffered intermittently in school. My teachers always reported that I was not very motivated for math and certain other related subjects. I was recommended for gifted classes but was ultimately rejected because of the crazy math issue. This really bummed my mom out, but I was glad because I already felt like a sore thumb because there was nobody who could read at a level high enough to be in a reading group with me.

Not sure if your daughter is picking and choosing which homework to complete, or if she hates a particular subject, or if she is really miserable in school and is like I was. I know I got into a rut where I would be forced to do math homework, would spend all my time on it, and be too exhausted or stubborn or frustrated to complete the rest. And it's very embarrassing. I felt almost cheated by my own self, but it self-perpetuated. Once I was convinced it was futile, I stopped doing it altogether. The grades would drop (except in reading) and my parents would come down really hard, which probably made me very depressed.

Have you checked into other teaching methods than what is already offered at your school? Your daughter may be in need of after school tutoring, or perhaps she would benefit from something like the Waldorf Method, which is geared toward meeting developing children as their strengths and maturity level as they occur instead of "forcing it", the way most schools do it. There is definitely something to the whole 'brain development' thing, and eventually someone will figure out a really cohesive and well rounded approach to educating children, but feeling frustrated, if that's what's going on with your daughter, is just going to make her current schooling regimen seem worse and worse.

The punishment for the behavior is also probably getting in the way of solving it on her end.
I applaud your looking at it as a motivational issue. Maybe that's all it is, and that all she needs is the right motivator. But as the adulthood version of your daughter, I hope you investigate some causes...and good luck finding out what's really going on! If it really is motivation, the one that worked best for my grandparents was to actually take their kids out of school for a whole day (they would surprise them and pick them up in front of all the other kids, they had to take a day off from work to do it, and this was a HUGE treat back in the 50s) if they got straight As, and sweep them off to disneyland. My dad went 4X a year from age 10-14! The best part was that the other kids in the family had to stay in school if their grades weren't up to par.

Now, if your daughter was 13 and into anime and was a gamer? I'd say she was just lazy and needed her ipod taken away until the history diorama was finished.

Hello, SAHM! I am too. I too am an over-achiever and I find that the more involve I get with school work, homework, extra learning tools it seems to help. I to have a 3rd grader (boy) that has started to slide a little when it comes to school. He enjoys that we do homework together, enjoys the praises of correct answers and most of all he feels that he gets the one-on-one attention that he may not get at school. Try to be patient, I know with other children, it is hard to split the time, but you will see a difference. Good luck! L.

A little about me: SAHM with 4 children, 15g, 14g, 8m, 1m.

Hi D.,

I don't have a lot of advice on how to motivate her, but maybe she is acting this way because she is being teased by her classmates/friends for being too smart. Maybe she is trying to fit it and be "liked" instead of being "smart". Ask her how it feels to be "the smart kid" at school and what makes kids "popular" at school. Let me know what happens...

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