The Learning Zone

Ten Tips for Tax Free Weekend Back to School Shopping in Virginia


The Virginia Sales Tax Holiday or Tax Free Weekend is coming up this Friday, August 4th through Sunday, August 6th. During this time period, you can buy qualifying school supplies, clothing, footwear, hurricane and emergency preparedness items, and Energy Star and WaterSense items without paying sales tax. This is a great time to shop in order to get the best deals on back-to-school items! Here are some tips to follow while you are out shopping this weekend:


1. School supply items need to be under $20.

Many more expensive school supplies do not qualify, like graphing calculators, musical instruments over $20 and more durable book bags over $20.


2. Clothing and footwear items need to be under $100.


3. School supply or clothing items can be new or used.


4. You cannot split up items normally sold as a unit so that they qualify for the tax exemption.


5. If items are “buy one, get one free” you cannot average the price of the items to make them eligible for the tax exemption.

For example, if calculators are buy one, get one free for $40, you can not say that each calculator is $20.


6. You can use a coupon to bring down the sales price.

For example, if a clothing item is $120 and you have a 20% off coupon from the retailer or manufacturer, you can use this coupon to reduce the price to $96 in order to qualify for the tax holiday. However, a gift certificate or gift card does not reduce the price in this manner. You also cannot use a rebate to bring down the price.


7. Shipping and handling charges are not a part of the base price of an item.

If you buy a dress online for $98 and there is a shipping and handling price of $5.99, the dress will still qualify for the tax exemption.


8. Some items do not qualify under the clothing tax-exemption.

Briefcases, cosmetics, materials used to make clothing, handbags, handkerchiefs, jewelry, sunglasses, umbrellas, wallets, watches, and hair items or accessories do not qualify.


9. Protective equipment for sports is not included in the tax-exemption.

Items like baseball gloves, ballet and tap shoes, shoulder pads, and mouth guards do not qualify for the tax exemption.


10. It is a great time to stock up on some other useful supplies.

Items that are considered “hurricane preparedness items” or Energy Star and Watersense items are also tax-free. Here is a complete list . Some everyday items that are included are:  batteries, cell phone batteries and chargers, duct tape, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, bottled water, and first aid kits.


While you are out, stop by the Stuff the Bus School Supplies Drive to volunteer and/or make a donation to help homeless and needy students who attend Spotsylvania County Schools. Tune in to Town Talk on News Talk WFVA 1230 Friday morning at 8:00 to learn more about this event.


Happy shopping, Virginia!

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8 Essential Study and Life Skills You Won't Learn in School


I can’t even count the number of teachers that I have heard say something along the lines of, “if it’s not on the test, I don’t teach it.” I don’t really blame them. We have created a culture in our schools that is completely focused on testing. Teachers are often reprimanded if they diverge from the tested content. But what is the result of this? Kids who know a lot of facts and academic content but often do not have the “soft skills” to use and apply that knowledge.This doesn’t seem very logical to me since we can find pretty much any fact we need using this thing called the internet. In order to succeed, our kids will need to be able to ask the right questions.They will need research skills, the ability to synthesize information and think critically, and an aptitude for communicating effectively with others.So here are eight valuable “soft skills” to start working on with your kids today:

1. Set Goals for Your Own Achievement

We have a quote from Yogi Berra hanging in our office that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” I agree that sometimes the joy is in the journey, but there is not much joy in a never-ending journey on a road that leads to nowhere. Without goals what do you base your decisions on? How do you even make good decisions if you don’t know where you are headed? Goals help us define our path in life. The goal setting process makes our priorities clearer so we are able to make day-to-day decisions more easily in a logical and stress-free manner. Try to set specific and measurable goals and break them into manageable steps.

2. Effective Time Management

Once you decide what you would like to do, whether or not it is accomplished will be based on how effective your time management is. People with good time management can take a large task and split it up into manageable chunks.Try to estimate how much time each piece of the task will take and schedule it in on the calendar. Then also put these items on a daily to-do list so that the minutiae and chaos of everyday life does not interfere with getting more important tasks accomplished.

3. Stay Focused When You are Surrounded by Distractions

Scheduling time to complete a task is the first step, but your ability to stay focused will determine how quickly you can get it done or if it ever gets completed. Life is full of distractions. Learning to focus, with a goal in mind, is key. Try clearing your work space of potential distractions. Set your cell phone to silent and move it somewhere it is not visible. Try an app for your computer that blocks out potential distracting websites. Then start with the most difficult or creative task that you have to do. Set a timer and stay fully focused on that task during that time. Start small, like 15 minutes, and then extend the time as your focus improves. If you are distracted during the time, reset the timer. If you stay focused during the time, take a short (timed) break before setting the timer again.

4. Self-Motivation and Resilience

To succeed in life we all need motivation, drive, and initiative that comes from within. Children and young adults who have always received incentives to perform daily activities may have difficulty in the area of intrinsic motivation. Rewards have been shown to not only decrease motivation for activities that we don’t really enjoy, they also decrease motivation for activities that we do enjoy. Instead of rewards, try engagement. Studies have found that kids (like most people) like tasks to be interesting. They are willing to work harder and longer on boring tasks if they know why they are doing it and have learned some background information (cool stories) about the real-world application of this skill and how or why it works.

Regardless of how motivated we are, we will all fail at some point, probably many times. Learning how to bounce back from that failure is an important life skill. Instead of teaching your kids to focus on the results (straight A’s) or being good at everything, teach them to focus on the effort that they put in or on the process.

5. How to Take Effective Notes

In school and for most jobs you will need to be able to take effective notes during a PowerPoint presentation and also during a lecture. The key to good note-taking is becoming a good listener instead of worrying about writing everything down. Imagine that the speaker is reading from an outline. Listen to recreate that outline. Try the Cornell Method for note-taking. It creates a study guide. When you are taking notes, remember to handwrite your notes for better retention. This method works well for reading too, or you can add reading notes to lecture notes if you leave extra space.

6. How to Study When You are Not Provided with a Study Guide

The key to successful studying is not to treat it like a task to be completed right before the test. It is much more effective to study for 15 minutes per day, reviewing the material that was learned in class in a new way. Turn concepts from notes into questions and create a study guide, make flash cards or a game using a site like Quizlet, or teach the information to someone else.

7. Research Skills and How to Learn on Your Own

As adults, we must be capable of finding new information on our own. In order to do this, we must have research skills. Much of the research that we do in our day-to-day life is now online. Thus the ability to determine a credible source has become especially important. There are so many articles with false information because anyone can publish something on the internet. It is important to teach kids how to tell a credible source from a non-credible source by asking questions such as: Who is the author and what are his or her credentials; Was the article published in a peer-reviewed journal or reputable news source; Is there bias or is the author trying to sell something; and Do they cite their sources so the information is verifiable as accurate?

8. Communication and Self-Advocacy Skills

Successful people surround themselves with a network of people who help them learn and grow into the person that they want to be. They seek out relationships or find the “tribe” of supporters who will best facilitate their personal and professional growth. In order to do this, one must be aware of their needs and able to speak up in order to have those needs met. This type of self-advocacy fosters independence and self-confidence as it allows kids to find and implement their own solutions to problems. When a problem arises, give your child a chance to solve it before stepping in. Be supportive by helping them to think of ways that they could work through the issue themselves. Teach them social skills and give them the opportunity to interact with a variety of people. Expect them to talk to adults and the people that surround them instead of distracting themselves with a phone or tablet during meals or other potentially social situations. And encourage them to surround themselves with friends who reflect the qualities they value in themselves.

So there you have it, eight life and study skills to teach your kids what they may not learn in school. Parents, what do you wish your kids learned more of in school? Students, tell us what you think about what you are learning in school. Are you learning the skills you will need most to succeed in life and your career?



-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
(540) 999-8759

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How to Use Your PSAT Score to Prepare for the SAT

Most students take the PSAT, but I have found through talking to students and parents that many do not fully understand how to use the PSAT to prepare for the SAT. The PSAT score report can be one of your most useful tools when preparing for the SAT. You spent the time taking the test, now use those results!  PSAT score reports were available starting December 12th.  Make sure to go online and login at the College Board site to check out your online score report.  This report contains tons of useful information!  Here are five simple ways that you can use your PSAT feedback to prepare for your upcoming SAT:

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  1. Look at the Scores and Percentiles

The SAT is scored on a scale from 400-1600 but the PSAT is scored from 320 to 1520.  This is confusing to people sometimes, but the scores are like this because the PSAT is a little less challenging than the SAT. So, a perfect score on the PSAT is not quite the same as a perfect score on the SAT.

Your Total Score on both the PSAT and the SAT is the sum of your two section scores: (1) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and (2) Math, and you can use that to roughly predict how you will do on the SAT. So, for example, if you get a 500 on the PSAT Math section, you would probably make around a 500 on the SAT Math section with no additional practice. If you then take the SAT and make a 550 on the Math section, that means that you improved your score by 50 points. Your total PSAT score shows how you would have done on the SAT if you took it on that same day.  

The percentiles below the scores contain useful information as well. You can use the percentile to see how you measure up against other test-takers.The Nationally Representative Score Percentile compares your score to a national sample of test-takers. The User Score Percentile compares your score to SAT test-takers in a certain grade. For example, if you are in the 90th percentile, then you scored higher than 89 percent of people who took the test. You can use your raw score to see how many questions you got correct.  Also look at the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math score; these are scored between 160 and 760. Look at each subtest score. These range from 1-15.  

Ask yourself these questions: How do the three main section scores compare to each other?  Which do I need to work on? From the subtest scores, which questions am I struggling with? Looking at the cross-test scores, am I having more trouble analyzing history/social science passages/questions or science passages/questions?


  1. Look at Color-Coded Information

Each section score, subtest score, and cross-test score is color-coded.The section scores are color-coded red, yellow, or green based on how you did. Red means below grade level by at least one year; yellow means below grade-level by one year or less; and green means at or above grade level. However, being on grade-level isn’t the only consideration.  Look up the colleges that you would like to attend. Find out what the average scores looked like for freshmen who were admitted last year.  Use this information to set specific goals for your SAT preparation.

Ask yourself these questions: Are there any areas that I am below grade level? How do my scores compare to the average freshman who was admitted to my colleges of choice?


  1. Review the “Your Scores: Next Steps” and “Skills Insight” Sections

These parts of the report tell what you are likely able to do and what you probably need to work on based on your score range in each section of the test.  Make a checklist of the skills that you need to work on.

Ask yourself this question: What are they suggesting that I work on based on my current scores?


  1. Carefully Examine the Question-Level Feedback

This section shows which questions you missed along with some important information about those questions. Look at the level of difficulty of each question that you missed or skipped in each section. Look at the column labeled “subscore”, that shows the question type. The cross-test score column shows whether the passage was asking about a history/social science passage or a science passage.  Below this information is an access code and a link to view the questions and answer explanations online. Review each question that you missed. This is the only way to learn from the mistakes you made on the PSAT so that you don’t make them again on the SAT. Unfortunately, the majority of students don’t use this free resource!  

Ask yourself these questions: What was the question asking? Since you missed this question, what skill do you need to practice? Is there a certain question type you are struggling with?  Are you struggling more with history/social science passages or science passages?


  1. Link Your Scores to Khan Academy

The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free practice for the SAT. You can link your PSAT scores and any SAT you take to Khan Academy.  This will provide you with customized practice based on the items that you missed on your test.  Here is a video that shows you how.  

Ask yourself these questions: How much practice do I need to do to make the score improvements that I want? How much time do I have before I need to take the SAT? What is a realistic plan that I can make?


I hope that these five simple steps help you to make a realistic plan for how you can use your PSAT score information to prepare for your SAT.



-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
(540) 999-8759

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Five Ways to Teach Your Kids Kindness Today

A concern I have heard from many parents during the election season that just passed is, “What will we tell our children?” Many times the behavior I see promoted in popular culture, Hollywood, and on television is not what I would want for my children. Since my kids are little, up until this point, I have been able to shelter them from much of this by monitoring the programs they watch on TV. I still can but this election season has made my job as a parent and a teacher much more difficult.  

We tell them to treat others the way that they want to be treated, to use kind words, to share, to be generous to those who are suffering, to seek out the lonely and stand up for the oppressed. This has become even more challenging as they see the opposite exemplified. Even though I try to shelter them from it, I know my children and my students hear these things too. They also see adults shrug their shoulders, joke about, laugh off or even condone this bullying and meanness.  I know because I listen daily to their kids' questions.

My main reassurance in all of this is that for the most part, my husband and I, as well as my children’s teachers, are still the main influences in their lives. And we are campaigning for kindness.  

Kindness is more important to me than most political issues. In fact, I think it is the only way to combat the hate that we are surrounded by right now. And, as with many things, the responsibility for instilling the value of kindness in our children lies on the shoulders of parents and teachers. So how do we teach our children to be kind at a time when bullying and bad behavior are being glorified? Here are five ideas that I will be trying with my kids:

  1. Teach your children that we are more alike than we are different.

We all have the same basic needs for food, shelter, safety, love, knowledge and respect. However, we often have very different opinions on how these things  should be achieved. Although we may look different, sound different, have different opinions, cultures, or languages, we often have a lot in common too. Teach children to look for these similarities and to treat others how they would like to be treated. Because even though we may seem very different at first, we all have feelings.The ability to live and work together and to be kind and respectful of each other will come from refocusing on this common ground.

  1. Teach your children that differences should be celebrated.

Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone were the same? Our differences are what make us unique and special. Teach your children to approach differences with joy, curiosity, and an open-mind rather than fear or skepticism. After all, differences present a chance to learn something new. You may wonder how this can be accomplished. I think the first step is to surround your kids with people from a variety of different cultures, ethnic groups and religions, not just people that are exactly like yourself. Take your kids to cultural fairs or let them try food from other countries. Teach them that not everyone is the same but that it is this variety is what makes life interesting.

  1. Teach your children to seek first to understand.

We do not always agree. This should not prevent us from listening, which can be our most effective communication skill if we use it wisely. Often we seek to be understood before we seek to understand. We listen while mentally forming the perfect reply. Even though listening can be the much harder choice, it is often the only way forward. Teach your children to listen and respectfully ask clarifying questions when someone says something that they disagree with or makes a decision that is different from the decision they would make. You might remind them “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”    

  1. Teach your children to confront hatred and bullying.

Teach your children that it is never okay to stand by silently while someone is being called names, bullied, or harassed. The silence of “good people” is often misinterpreted as support.  Depending on the situation, teach your child that it is important to speak up for the person who is being mistreated or to seek out help from a teacher or caring adult. Teach children empathy, and ask them to put themselves in the other kid’s shoes. If your child says or does something unkind to a sibling, friend, or classmate ask them how they think their words or actions made that person feel.

  1. Teach your children to take action.

Although it is important to listen and to focus on commonality, sometimes action is more appropriate. Encourage your kids to lend a hand to causes that they believe in and volunteer with your children to show them how they can help people who are struggling or less fortunate.  This will take them out of their personal bubble and help them to see the perspective of others.  Show them that they can be a part of the change that they wish to see in the world.

I am hopeful that together with our children we can help to make American kind again. If you are as lucky as I am to be surrounded by children on a daily basis, I am sure you are also amazed at their capacity to help others, understand and celebrate differences, and lend a hand. Our children serve as a beacon of hope. Their bright lights shine in an often dark and difficult world. As adults, we have a responsibility to cultivate this light.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  

@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook

(540) 999-8759

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Is it Unfair to ask Children to Do Chores?

There is a video that is creating quite a buzz on Facebook recently. It is about the benefits to kids of doing household chores. The video contains pictures, information, and statistics about children in the United States doing chores. (See below for full video from attn: Video.)


The video cites research from a 2014 national study by Braun Research that found that 82 percent of 1,001 parents said they had chores as children but only 28 percent of them required their own children to do chores. The video also contains pictures of younger children doing chores, which apparently went viral because the idea of children doing chores was so controversial. People made comments like, “You don’t have kids to be your slave or to do the chores that you yourself don’t want to do.”

To this I say, “What?” “How can this be?” Doesn’t everyone agree that children should do chores?

A quick read through the comments on the video reveals that most people do agree that children should have chores. Interestingly, the same Braun study found that 75 percent of parents who participated in the study also agreed that regular chores make children “more responsible” and 63 percent responded that chores teach kids “important life lessons.”

So what gives? Why aren’t people actually having their kids do chores if they think that chores are so valuable?

It turns out that nowadays, children often have busy schedules full of sports practices and games, dance or music lessons, foreign language classes, academic enrichment, and afterschool activities. Many parents feel guilty asking kids to add another thing to their schedule that may take away from these valuable academic and extracurricular pursuits. They feel that these activities will add to a college application or help to bring their children success in the future whereas chores will not. Afterall, chores can’t go on your college application.

But does not being able to list chores as something you have accomplished or participated in make them less valuable?

To get some insight, I asked child psychologist, Dr. Genevieve Nehrt. Dr. Nehrt explains, “Age appropriate chores are an important part in the development of young children.They allow our kids to learn responsibility for themselves as individuals. It is also a way to help kids know that they are part of a family in which everyone helps out. Chores can also be a great way for kids to feel a sense of accomplishment and be a contributing member of the family.”

Research also highlights the value of chores for kids. One of the longest longitudinal studies of humans ever conducted, the Harvard Grant Study, found that professional success comes from having done chores as a child. The earlier a kid starts doing age-appropriate chores, the better. Sure, activities like dance and sports are great for exploring interests and helping your child to receive a more well-rounded education, but parents should not be so quick to discount the value of chores and shared responsibility in favor of these other activities. Absolving kids of all personal responsibility for household tasks will affect their future.

How will not doing chores affect my child’s future?

As a teacher, I can usually tell the students whose parents expect them to help out around the house. They clean up after themselves, offer to help, have an awareness of others, and pick up quickly on classroom routines. A classroom is a group in which students must figure out how to play their part. Kids who have never had to pitch in feel confused about how to keep up. It is like there is an unwritten set of expectations that they are missing. This carries over into college and the workforce.

We have done such a good job preparing our kids for college that more kids are going to college than ever before, but what about the world after college? What about when they have to be an adult capable of having relationships with others, getting a job, and functioning on their own separate from their parents? Many of our kids will face a job market where 4 out of 5 graduates will not have a job lined up. This is where life skills like work ethic and responsibility will make a difference.

A great employee shows initiative. They look to see how they can be helpful, solve their own problems, are innovative in finding solutions, anticipate what the boss might need next, and pitch in without being asked. They know how to work as a team. For many kids, the first place that they learn the foundation of how to contribute to a team is at home through chores.

The Harvard Grant Study also found that happiness in life stems from love and successful relationships. A key to successful healthy relationships, as an adult, is an understanding that everyone has to pitch in and do their part of the tasks that make a household run. Dr. Nehrt explains that, “In the long run, chores teach kids how to take care of themselves after they leave home. A lot of young adults feel they are missing basic “adulting” skills like cooking, cleaning, or other fundamentals to maintain a home.” And there is a lot of work to be done! The typical American spends 14 hours per week on household chores and only 4 hours doing recreational or relaxing activities. Won’t this be a depressing reality-check for kids who haven’t participated in chores until adulthood!

So how should you approach giving your kids chores if they have not had chores previously?

Dr. Nehrt says, “Starting with younger kids, give them age appropriate tasks that they can complete easily that increase in difficulty as they increase in age (e.g. don’t have your five year old cutting the grass), and do chores with your child and along side them to demonstrate that in a family, everyone contributes.”

What do you think about children and teenagers helping around the house? Do you require your children to do chores? I would love to hear from you below.


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  

@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook

(540) 999-8759

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Trick or Treat Should Not be the Way You Get Your Kids to Do Their Homework


We all know parents who try to coerce their kids into doing their school work with tricks and mind games. I am sure you also know at least a few parents who bribe their kids with money or rewards for doing their assignments or earning good grades. Maybe you are one of those parents. As a parent, it has crossed my mind at some point to do one or both of these things. They seem like a logical solution when your kid isn’t that motivated. Perhaps they are just burned out on school work, having already been at school for seven hours, and you think, “Maybe offering money or a reward will incentivise them,” or “If I can just get him to complete this one assignment well, he will see how great it feels to be successful and will want to continue.” You might also think, “I get paid for work, so why shouldn’t my child?”. I think that moms and dads who try these strategies usually have good intentions. However, they quickly find that they don’t work. Manipulating or bribing your kid into doing their work usually just intensifies the problem, causing more conflict down the road.

Is There Some Way I Can Trick My Kids Into Completing Their Assignments Without the Nightly Drama?

One issue is that tricking your kid sends the message that it is okay to manipulate others or maybe even lie to get what we want.This is not behavior that we want our kids to imitate. It is also a short-term fix that does not solve the problem at hand- your kid still doesn’t want to do their work.

So What about Offering Money or Incentives?

The problem is that money or bribes can’t buy motivation or school success. In fact, numerous studies have shown that rewards DECREASE excitement about a task. So, bribing kids to get work done actually just makes them even less motivated in the future. If we treat school like work and reward children with external incentives or money for work completion or grades, we rob our kids of the opportunity to develop their own internal motivation. We are fixing a temporary frustration but we risk removing the joy from learning entirely.

You may be thinking, “Well, there is no joy in homework for my kid; They hate it!”. Paying for grades presents another problem, once a reward is offered, parents often have to continue to up the ante in order for the bribe to be effective. Because of this, financial incentives or constant rewards can cause a kid to develop a “What’s in it for me?” attitude towards completing all tasks. This can get out of hand and may leave the parent questioning where the bribery should end. Do you bribe your kid to get out of bed? To complete community service or participate in activities that will make them look like a more well-rounded applicant on their college application? To prepare for their SAT or ACT? To go to their college classes? When you have set the precedent that you will pay for performance, a kid has a hard time understanding why they should feel motivated to perform even the simplest tasks without an external reward.

So What Should I Do if Homework or Work Completion is a Struggle?

1. Praise Your Children for Their Effort

When you praise effort, your kids will view their own intelligence as something that can be developed through hard work. If they are struggling, they will recognize that they can fix it by applying themselves. This is what Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck calls a “Growth Mindset”. Having such a mindset increases a kid’s ability to bounce back when faced with academic challenges and helps them to develop the important academic and life skills of resilience and internal motivation or work ethic.

2. Don’t Hover over Homework Completion; Instead, Reward Kids with Praise and Time Together

Homework should be completed mostly independently, but kids can be rewarded with attention and time spent together once homework is done. Avoid getting too involved or taking over. Sit nearby but complete another task, something you need to get done. When your kid is having a hard time with homework, don’t give them the answers. Instead, prompt them to think through the problem on their own by asking questions. When homework is completed quickly without a fuss, celebrate their accomplishment and hard work by spending time with them doing something they like to do.

3. Make Sure You Are Modeling the Behavior You Want to See

If you want to see your kids reading, read with them or make sure they see you reading something you enjoy. If you want to see your kids set goals and follow through on them, share your goals with them and make sure that they see you working on them. If you would like to see your kid’s time-management improve, show them what good time-management looks like.

4. Set Limits and Don’t Negotiate

You many want to set a certain amount of time that should be spent on homework each night and require that homework is completed in a public area of the house away from potential distractions like cell phones. It also helps to have a routine for when and how homework is done that is predictable and the same each day. If your kid makes excuses or says that they don’t have to complete an assignment, make it the expectation that it will be completed anyway so that they can get ahead. If they don’t have homework to do during the set homework time, have them organize their backpack or binders, read, or study.

5. Let Your Kid Make Their Own Choices

It is possible for a parent to intervene too much in the homework completion process. Your kid’s choices should have natural consequences. If they work hard, complete their assignments, and turn them in, they will experience positive outcomes. If they decide not to turn in assignments on time, they may receive a bad grade. Resist the urge to save your child from negative outcomes. They need to experience the natural consequences of their actions in order to be able to adjust their actions and decision-making process next time. If you swoop in and save your child, you are also removing all opportunity for learning from their mistakes.

Homework at the end of a long day can cause stress on the entire family. Approaching it honestly and armed with smart strategies instead of bribes or tricks will reduce the struggle and drama that wears everyone down, making for a much happier evening. Good luck!

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  

@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook

(540) 999-8759

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Five Simple Student Routines for School Success


We all want our children to grow into happy, successful, and independently functioning (as in not living on our couch) adults one day. As a teacher, study skills tutor, and parent, I have come to the conclusion that if you want to know what to teach your child so that they can thrive in school, you should think about the skills that successful working adults possess.

As they progress through school, your student should be acquiring skills that will help them to become independent in a way that is appropriate for their age. The tricky part is that many of these time management and study skills are never directly taught. Setting a predictable weekly routine at home that incorporates and models these skills is one of the best ways to ensure school success. Routines have saved me a lot of stress as a parent and as a teacher over the years. Here are some simple routines to try with your kid this school year:

1. Plan as a Family

Sit down once a week, when you have time, perhaps on Sunday, and plan out the week. This gives your kids the message that successful people plan ahead. It also models executive functioning (planning) skills that they can use to become more successful in school and in life.

At this family meeting, discuss what appointments have been made and write down lessons, activities, and practices. Let your child share with you what they have planned for their time after school that week. Older students can share their work schedule and after school activities. This can be written on a family or parent calendar. However, students beyond elementary school should record their own activities and appointments in their planner because it gives them some personal responsibility for their schedule. Having their commitments recorded in their own planners will allow older students to become capable of organizing their time and being responsible.

You can also use this meeting as a time to reflect on goals and what went well and did not go well the previous week. In my family, we like to share something we are proud of from the week and something we would like to improve for next week (and how we plan to make that happen).

2. Encourage Your Child to Write Down School Assignments Daily

As an adult, when something is important to us, we write it down and make time for it. Kids should learn to do the same. Upper elementary to college students should make it a habit to write down their assignments and the due date for each assignment. Something should be recorded during the last few minutes of each class, even if it is the word “none”. This will help students to get into the habit of writing everything down.

For younger students this can be done in a planner. Older students can use an app, such as the Google Calendar, that allows you to record a list and then also block off time for each assigned item on a daily schedule. In addition to writing assignments down, high school (and college) students need to estimate how long the assignment will take, break it up into pieces if necessary, decide when they can complete it, and block off this time on their schedule.

3. Set Aside Time to Do Homework

Developing self-discipline will allow kids to grow into successful adults. Kids need to understand that practice is a part of becoming good at something. If you want to succeed at school, or anything really, you have to devote time to it.

Elementary and middle school children should have a set time to do homework each day. The amount of time should be different depending on the age of the child, but if possible, it should be at approximately the same time each day, in order to develop a routine. A 2nd grader might have twenty minutes set aside, a 7th grader one hour, and a high school student, two hours.

If your child does not have enough assignments to work on during this time, they could read over notes from the day, do additional practice problems for their math class, play educational games, or read a book they are interested in. Older students can do additional tasks, such as study for a test a little bit at a time or begin to work on practice problems for the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. Many school systems also have websites for teachers or online systems where students can check their grades. Students should make a habit of checking teacher websites and their grades regularly to stay updated on how they are doing in each class.

4. Set a Time Each Week to Clean and Organize

Adults do not carry every paper they have completed during an entire year with them and neither should kids! In order to stay organized, kids need to develop a habit of going through school binders and organizing their at-home work space at least weekly to ensure that papers are in the right place. Kids should sort through their book bags and file papers away in the appropriate binder. Older papers should be taken out of their binder and stored in a safe place at home. A file folder in a file cabinet or in a box, for each subject, works well for this purpose.

5. Pack Up At Night, Not in the Morning

After your child completes their homework, have them put it in the appropriate folder and pack everything into their book bag. You don’t want to have to search around for papers in the morning before you have had your coffee, or end up running around like a crazy person only to have them miss the bus anyway because they have misplaced something. For this reason, it is a good idea to have everything prepared at night, including lunches packed in the refrigerator. For younger kids, this takes some parental effort each evening but older kids should be doing these things for themselves.

How Will This All Work?

Most of these routines have to do with study skills and time management, but don’t forget, one of the most important things that a parent can do to ensure school success is pretty basic: make sure that your kid is getting enough sleep and eating balanced meals. This will help them to stay focused and improve their ability to retain the material they have learned. If this doesn’t happen, all of the work on these other routines will be a waste of time.

Another important factor to consider when you are setting up new routines, is to remember to err on the side of kids doing things themselves. When kids do something independently, they can take ownership of it. They also learn how to do it. None of this happens when the parent does it for them.

And be patient if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first day or even the first week. It usually takes about 21 days, or more, to form a new habit. If you have been doing things a certain way in your house for years and then decide to make a change, remember that change will not happen overnight. Stick with it!

I hope that by implementing some of these , eve you are able to make the rest of the school year a smooth one! Hang in there — it will all feel a lot easier in about 21 days!

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  

@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook

(540) 999-8759

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Fun, Cheap, and Easy Things to Do With Your Kids This Week Part 3

The endless free time of summer seems fun at first, but often after several weeks of sitting around the house, kids get restless.   Parents get tired of kids constantly watching TV or playing video games.  We want to help them avoid the summer backslide that often occurs between June and September, but there are only so many answers to the question, “What can I do?”.    As a parent, it can be challenging to come up with new ideas each day.  So to help you get through the rest of the summer, I will be posting three activities each week that you can do with your kids around the 'burg.  They will be fun and educational but will not break the bank.  I hope they help you to make it through the rest of the summer with your sanity intact.

Children’s Museum of Richmond- Fredericksburg- Monday August 15th is the $.15 kids day



Monday August 15th was the $.15 kids day at the Children’s Museum of Richmond- Fredericksburg. This was a great opportunity to see what CMOR Fredericksburg has to offer at a reduced price...and if you missed it, no worries, bookmark the 15th for next July and August, or take your younger kids any month that the bigs are in school! On the 15th day of each month, children can attend for $.15, but the accompanying parent or guardian still needs to pay admission at the regular price of $9 per adult. The Children’s Museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm and has a variety of educational exhibits designed for kids 8 and under  Activities are designed to help facilitate learning through play and to foster children’s creativity and problem solving skills. Exhibits at the Fredericksburg Children’s Museum include: air tubes, an automotive area, a diner, the dentist’s office, a construction house, a bank, future me, the star bright stage, the book nook, the grocery store, the art studio, and a tot spot.


Motts Run Reservoir


The Motts Run Reservoir Recreation Area is an 860-acre natural area serving residents of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania.  In the summer, the reservoir is open Thursdays-Mondays. At the reservoir, there is canoe and kayak rental, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. Bring lunch or dinner and eat at one of the picnic tables or use one of the grills. Young children can look for frogs or dip net fish to explore the wildlife that lives in a pond using the following activity.  They can participate in a nature scavenger hunt to explore what types of things they can find in the park or the woods. The nature center is open April through October, on the weekend, and features hands-on nature displays including a snake! Motts Run also has orienteering courses where older kids/teenagers and adults can learn to use a map and compass together to navigate their way through a specific course.

Kenmore Park

0426161734aKenmore Park is a great place to take the kids on a sunny day. It is located on the corner of Kenmore Avenue and Mary Ball Street in Fredericksburg.  The park has a basketball court, lighted and unlighted tennis courts, children’s playground equipment, a toddler play area, and a field. The playground has swings and musical instruments that children can play. Kenmore park is also called Monument Park because visitors to the park can view the Mary Washington Monument constructed for Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington. It looks like a smaller version of the Washington Monument.  Mary Washington was buried here in 1789 near her daughter, Betty Washington Lewis’s house, Kenmore, which is across the street from the monument. The burial site and memorial are near “Meditation Rock” where Mary Washington prayed for the country and the safety of George Washington during the American Revolution. Read more about Mary Washington and the history of the monument here.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  

@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook

(540) 999-8759


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Fun, Cheap, and Easy Things to Do With Your Kids This Week Part 2

The endless free time of summer seems fun at first, but often after several weeks of sitting around the house, kids get restless.   Parents get tired of kids constantly watching TV or playing video games.  We want to help them avoid the summer backslide that often occurs between June and September, but there are only so many answers to the question, “What can I do?”.    As a parent, it can be challenging to come up with new ideas each day.  So to help you get through the rest of the summer, I will be posting three activities each week that you can do with your kids around the 'burg.  They will be fun and educational but will not break the bank.  I hope they help you to make it through the rest of the summer with your sanity intact.

crafts, kids, fun, summer

Michaels Craft Classes

Did you know that Michaels has a craft class for kids 3 and up on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00 am?   They offer a variety of crafts that appear to be mostly geared toward the elementary age group and each week has a theme.    It is five dollars to register for the class and you can register in-store or online.  Quite a good value, if you ask me, as it included two crafts, all necessary supplies, instruction by a teacher, a backpack and face painting (only on Friday).  Michaels has a separate room in the back of the store that is set up for these craft workshops.  Eight other kids attended our workshop with their parents.  Kids got to complete two full, very detailed crafts.  The theme of the week was “Castles and Princesses”.  For the first craft,the kids made a finger puppet (either a queen, king, dragon, or knight) out of felt, and for the second craft they made a puff ball dragon.  These two activities took about an hour and a half.  Following the lesson, the kids got a backpack to take home and an opportunity to have their face painted.  A really fun time and a great value for any kid that loves crafts, but do check out the craft of the day before registering to make sure it is a good fit for your child’s age and skill-level!



Barnes and Noble

My daughter brought home a small green pamphlet from her school for the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Triathlon.  This is a summer reading program for elementary students in grades 1-5.  Forms can be found at your local Barnes and Noble store, in the kids section.  The only requirement is that the student fill out the answers to three out of four reading-related questions.  Then they get to select a FREE new book from a list of titles arranged by grade level.  

I sat with my daughter for about fifteen minutes before we headed out to Barnes and Noble.  She read the questions loud, filling in her own answers.  Then we went to Barnes and Noble to pick out her brand new book.  She chose a chapter book about dogs.  Beaming with excitement, she brought it to the register and “paid” with her log full of answered questions, excited to go home and start reading!


Wilderness Presidential Resort Mini Golf

Occasionally, we enjoy going to Wilderness Presidential Resort to play a round of mini golf.  A value at only $2 per guest, it is an affordable excursion even for larger families and groups  and a fun way to practice hand-eye coordination, patience, colors, and counting for younger kids.  It is also a good activity, because of the score-keeping, to practice number formation and addition skills for slightly older children.  Affordable and rarely crowded, a round of  mini golf at Wilderness Presidential Resorts is sure to be great family fun!

I would love to hear any ideas that you have.  What educational activities do you like to do with your kids around the 'burg?  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.



-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.


Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
(540) 999-8759

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Community Partnerships in Education: It Takes a Village to Raise A Child

Many teachers are overwhelmed.  With an increase in state and federal demands for accountability in student achievement, there seems to also be a failure to recognize a very important piece of the puzzle. Although teachers are primarily held responsible for student achievement, most barriers to school success have little to do with what actually happens in the classroom.  Students enter the classroom with a variety of challenges that they bring with them from home, the greatest among these being family stress and poverty.   


In 2015, for the first time in U.S. history, a majority of U.S. public school students came from low-income families, according to alarming new research. Luckily, this is not the case in Spotsylvania County. However, we do have many students and families that are struggling. During the previous school year, in Spotsylvania County, there were  291 students that were designated as homeless. This just takes into account those students whose parents filled out the proper paperwork, which many choose not to do.


American psychologist, Abraham Maslow stated that people have certain basic needs such as food, safety, and belonging that must be met before more lofty goals like achievement, self-esteem, and critical thinking are even possible. Because how can a student who is hungry, preoccupied, or who does not have the necessary supplies succeed in school? They can’t. Students must have their essential needs met before school success is within reach.


One of the greatest challenges that I faced as a teacher and that most teachers face is trying to fill, on their own, the many roles of counselor, social worker, community organizer, instructor, morale-booster, etc. that are needed to push students up the hierarchy towards achievement. This is probably why the popular adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. It does in fact take the contributions of an entire community working together to raise healthy, safe, and well-educated children. But what does this really mean in our modern education system, and what would it look like to have the “village” actually participate in public education?


In the past, community involvement in education mostly meant parental involvement, and I still think that the best way to improve your student’s school experience and academic performance is to get involved in their school. However, community involvement may hold the key to solving even larger issues such as high dropout rates, low student motivation, and scarce resources. This is because community involvement helps to address a variety of student needs including those that go beyond the classroom, by connecting students with social services and community resources. For this reason, community partnerships, in conjunction with parental participation, may just hold the key to building more high-performing schools and improving student achievement. And these partnerships are a win-win as they are usually mutually beneficial to the school system and business or community group.   


You might be wondering, who can become a community partner in education? The answer is that local government agencies, non-profit organizations, private agencies serving youth and families, local businesses, community organizations, faith-based groups, colleges/universities, and civic groups can all contact their local school division to find out how they can help.  Usually schools partner with parents and members of the community to fill various roles such as:


  • Volunteering to work with students

  • Speaking during assemblies and career days

  • Participating in or helping to organize recognition programs for students or staff

  • Improving the physical environment and structure of schools

  • Assisting with fundraising

  • Working on initiatives to improve staff morale.


Really, the possibilities are endless and the way to determine the best fit for you is to think about what your company, group, or you as an individual can specialize in. What do you do best? Five years ago we, at Parrish Leaning Zone, were asking ourselves the same question. With my previous experience as a special education teacher in several Title 1 schools, I knew how heartbreaking it is to see students show up day after day without the basic supplies necessary for school success.  So, at Parrish Learning Zone, we decided to partner with Spotsylvania County Schools to start the Stuff the Bus School Supplies Drive.  



This drive collects basic school supplies for needy and homeless children who attend Spotsylvania County Public Schools.  These supplies are housed at the Treasure House located behind Massaponax High School and then distributed through school social workers to students who need them. This year is our fourth year working with Spotsylvania County Schools to organize and hold this event. Last year we had over 70 student and community volunteers who helped with this effort. The event collected over $1000 in cash donations as well as a box truck full of school supplies. Each year it has been a great way for school staff, community members, churches, students, and local business people to come together to support children in our local schools and show them that the whole community is behind their success.  


We hope that you will join us this year at the Southpoint Walmart on Saturday, August 6th, (Tax-Free Weekend), for this year’s drive. Please click here to sign up, and join our student volunteers, teachers, bus drivers, school board members, the Lion’s Club, Sentara-Pratt Medical Center, Fredericksburg Sport and Health, Walmart, and of course us at Parrish Learning Zone in collecting more supplies than ever this year to help local students start the school year prepared!

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About Nina

nina parrish

Nina Parrish graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. Following graduation from the University of Mary Washington, she received the Project PISCES scholarship to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University where she completed her certification in Special Education for K-12 students with learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbance. After obtaining her license, Nina earned a Master's Degree in Education for School Counseling in grades Pre K-12 from Virginia Commonwealth University. Nina taught in the public schools in North Carolina and Virginia for 7 years. Nina currently owns, Parrish Learning Zone, a K-12 local tutoring service with her husband Jay, who is also a teacher. They live in Spotsylvania with their daughter.


Pouches' Community Corner

The Table at St. George’s

The Table at St. George’s is a market-style food pantry serving the extended local community. Visitors are invited to select their own items from a variety of fresh food, including locally grown produce. The Table’s mission is to encourage healthy eating, build relationships with those in need, and blur the lines between those serving and those being served.



The opinions and/or views expressed on this blog represent the thoughts of individual blogger and not necessarily those of Fredericksburg Parent & Family Magazine or any of its employees or staff.