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The Learning Zone

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

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.

Canal Path/Heritage Trail


In Fredericksburg the Canal Path/Heritage Trail is a great place to take the kids for some exercise.  The Canal Path is 1.8 miles and the Heritage Trail is 1.6 miles.  They connect together to make a 3.1 mile loop.  The loop is paved and has a bike path.  Not only is this path scenic, with most of the path running along the water, it is also a great place to learn more about the history of Fredericksburg.  Along the path, there are many markers and signs that tell about landmarks and explain historical events.  In addition, it is easy to make a stop at the playground at Old Mill Park for a break or Carl’s for a sweet treat!  Here is a link to a video tour of the Canal Path/Heritage Trail:



Bowling is a great way to get kids out of the house to do something active, but did you know it can be a good way to practice math as well?  Try to let your kids score their bowling game the old fashioned way and then check their math on the screen.  Directions and a worksheet can be found here:  You can try this out at a local bowling alley.  Liberty Lanes has a $2 bowling special over the summer for kids and parents if you sign up with an email:  You can also bowl for $2 on Thursdays without signing up.  Need to stick around the house?  You can also give this a try at home if you have a kids bowling set or some empty soda bottles and a ball.


Central Rappahannock Regional Library


If it’s rainy or exceptionally hot, then it’s a good day to stop by your local branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  Browse for books or participate in one of the many programs or events offered over the summer.  The library has a summer reading program for children of all ages and grade-levels:  When children sign up for this program, they can log their reading minutes to win prizes.  Just for signing up, which can be done online, your child gets to choose a prize from the treasure chest at the library.  Then, with your help, they track their reading minutes online to win additional prizes and recognition.  Here is a link to a video tour of the England Run Library:

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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What's So Different About the New SAT?

Students taking the SAT on March 5th will see a new and completely redesigned SAT test.  Many parents have contacted us regarding their concerns about this new test, and there is a lot of misinformation floating around!  Here is a quick comparison of the new and old SAT test so that you can know what to expect on test day!



The general format of the SAT has changed making it more streamlined with fewer sections.

Old Reading

  • Three reading sections:  

    • two 25 minute sections with 24 sentence completion and passage questions

    • one 20 minute section with 19 sentence completion and passage questions

New Reading

  • One reading section:

    • 65 minutes with 52 questions related to a passage, table or graph

Old Math

  • Three math sections:

    • a 25 minute section with 20 multiple choice questions

    • a 25 minute section with 18 multiple choice and grid-in questions

    • a 20 minute section with 16 multiple choice questions

New Math

  • Two math sections:

    • 25 minute no calculator math section with 20 multiple choice and grid-in questions

    • 55 minute calculator math section with 38 multiple choice and grid-in questions

Old Writing

  • Three required writing sections:

    • 25 minute writing with 35 multiple choice questions on correctness of expression, grammar, usage, and essay corrections

    • 10 minute writing with 14 multiple choice questions on correctness of expression

    • 25 minute essay asking you to develop a point of view on a topic or quote

New Writing

  • One required section:

    • 35 minute writing and language test with 44 multiple choice questions on making corrections

  • One optional essay:

    • 50 minute optional essay that requires you to read and analyze a passage



  • The biggest change to the reading content is that there are no longer any sentence completion questions and vocabulary is embedded.  There are now charts and graphs within the reading section that students have to interpret and analyze in order to answer questions.


  • The biggest change to the math portion of the test is that there is now a calculator and a non-calculator section.  The non-calculator section tests more basic math concepts, fluency with math procedures, and number sense.


  • The biggest change to the writing section is that the essay now contains a passage, students have 50 minutes, and it is optional.


Old Test

  • Scored 200-800 for the math, reading, and writing tests for a total of 600-2400

  • Guessing penalty on most questions (not grid-in) of ¼ point.  One point for each correct answer and zero points for skipped.

New Test

  • Math scored 200-800

  • Reading and Writing combined in a 200-800 score for a total of 400-1600; (Yes, just like the old SAT you took!)  

  • Optional Essay scored 2-8.

The Good News

  • No more obscure vocabulary in isolation, only “high utility words”.  Goodbye to words like “licentiousness”.  Hello “best” and “rule”.

  • Fewer sections to go through.

  • Four answer choices instead of 5 = Better odds.

  • No guessing penalty for wrong answers.  Less strategy; more straightforward.

  • Grammar is counted with reading.  (In case you don’t realize why this is good, it is a lot easier to improve your grammar score than your overall reading comprehension.  This gives kids a fast way to improve their reading score.)

  • Optional essay.

  • Less obscure Geometry questions.  More Algebra. (Wait is that good?  Depends on how much you like Algebra).

The Bad News

  • If you don’t read well, this test has many more words.  This means more math word problems too.

  • More advanced math concepts such as trigonometry and statistics mean that the SAT now covers math from more high school courses.

  • No calculator for some math problems.  As in,  if you use one in class, practice not using one!

  • Essay looks more like an AP test.  Students can no longer get by on writing skills alone as they must cite evidence.


Bottom Line:  It is still the SAT, a test designed to have a wide distribution of scores.  It is still looooong and the best way to do your best is to prepare!


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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Resolve to Look at Learning in a New Way in 2016

Frequently, I get a phone call from a concerned parent that sounds something like this:  My child did so well in elementary/middle school.  At that time, the work was easy.  They rarely had homework and always made good grades.  Now that they are in middle/high school/college, the work has gotten harder; they have stopped trying; and their grades are really suffering!  They used to love school but now they seem to have lost all interest!  What is going on here?

The short answer is that often these students believe that their performance is a reflection of their intelligence and that intelligence is a fixed trait.  So therefore they assume, if they are making bad grades, then they must be stupid, and as the expression goes: you can’t fix stupid!  As adults, we know this is not true!   

Interestingly, students who continue to thrive during times of challenge often have a different way of thinking about and approaching learning.  They have what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset.  They believe that anything can be accomplished through hard work and increased effort.  I know, it sounds like the premise of every motivational poster, in every classroom, everywhere.  But it’s true; success in school primarily comes from hard work, motivation and resilience, not just innate ability.


Here are five things you can do to help your child become a better student in 2016:

1. Teach them that sustained effort over time is the key to achievement.

The single most important contributing factor for achievement, according to psychologists who study creative geniuses, is the willingness to put in huge amounts of effort, to be able to maintain this effort in the face of obstacles, and to bounce back from failure by continuing to try new things.


2. Teach them to seek out and pursue new challenges.

Emphasize that easy tasks are not fun and encourage them to challenge themselves to do work and learn material that will be new and interesting.


3. Teach them that intelligence is not simply a fixed thing you are born with but something that can also be developed through effort.

Anyone can learn new things, thus changing their level of intelligence.  Challenge your children to expand their intelligence by confronting challenges, working hard, reading, studying, and examining times that they did not do well to figure out what they need to learn in order to do better next time.


4. Teach them to value learning over grades or test scores.

Help your children understand that their current performance, grade, or test score reflects their current level of skill and effort, not  their worth or level of intelligence.  If they are disappointed in their performance or not satisfied with their grades, tell them that they need to: work harder, find new learning opportunities, study more or more efficiently, or seek out help.  Obviously grades are important, but this should be a balance.  Set goals that are learning-oriented as well as setting performance-oriented goals, and make sure that students are not sacrificing learning opportunities or playing it safe in order to guarantee good grades!  

Athletes often understand this well. You should be performance-oriented during a test or graded assignment, much like you would be in a game.  Then you should use the feedback from that performance, like athletes use game tapes, to learn from mistakes and improve.  The teacher, much like a coach, is there to help you improve by showing you what to focus on, giving feedback, and helping to learn new skills.


5. Teach them study skills that will put them in charge of their own learning.

Students who have had an easy time in school often have not developed the tools that they need to confront and deal with learning challenges in order to improve.  Study skills like setting goals, time-management, allocating study time, reading a textbook, and note-taking are often not taught in schools but are very necessary to becoming a successful learner as a student and in the workplace.

When a student who has had an easy time in school confronts a new learning challenge, they often do not know how to handle that challenge.  By emphasizing a growth mindset, hard work, and study skills, parents can equip their child to take control of their own learning and face challenges with confidence and determination.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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Best Educational Toys Under $50 Part II

Here is a follow up to my last post and five more educational toys for you to pick up during your last minute shopping.


The Learning Journey Match It!  Spelling


Recommended for ages 4+

This game teaches basic spelling and vocabulary.  It comes with picture tiles that have colorful illustrations.  Each tile has a letter on it, and when the child puts together the picture, they also form the word.  Versions of this game are available for various other activities such as: ABCs, math, rhyme, opposites, and upper and lowercase letters.


Brain Quest Smart Game


Recommended for ages 6-12

This game gives players a chance to answer questions at their own grade level in science, reading math, art, and the world.  In this fun and challenging game, kids race to get the correct answers to questions.  Since the questions are sorted by grade level, different ages of kids can play together without older kids having an advantage.

Snap Circuits Jr.


Recommended for ages 8-12

With this toy, children learn to make working electronic circuits.  Children can build models of a photo sensor, flashing light, voice-controlled lamp, flying saucer and an adjustable-volume siren.  The kit includes more than 100 projects that can be made from 30 snap together parts.

The Scrambled States of America Game


Recommended for ages 8+

An exciting card game that helps kids enrich basic knowledge of U.S. geography.  Players learn about state capitals, shape and location of each state, and state trivia.

Melissa and Doug Shape Sorting Clock


Recommended for ages 3+

Kids can use the toy to match the colors, sort the shapes, solve the puzzle, and learn to tell time.  The box includes extension activities to guide the parent in helping their child begin to master early-learning and preschool concepts.

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Best Educational Toys Under $50 Part 1

If you are a parent, grandparent, or doting aunt/uncle, December is all about shopping for the perfect holiday gifts for the little ones in your life.  As an educator, I like to think about how I can sneak a little learning in whenever possible.  So, in the spirit of the season, here are the first five fun and educational gifts that your kids will love, all under $50.  Next five, coming soon!


Big Bag of Science


Recommended for ages 7-12

My daughter loves science.  Before she started school this year, she would spend hours conducting science experiments with household items inspired by episodes of Sid the Science Kid or her own curiosity.  So, if you have your own budding scientist at home this kit could be a great gift.  The kit covers Physical, Earth, and Life science with over 70 hands-on activities including: setting up your own science lab, growing fake snow, and making water disappear.


Automobile Engineer Pack


Recommended for ages 4-8

Got a kid who loves cars or building things?  This kit comes with a story that takes kids through a journey where they build ten vehicles, as they go to solve problems and complete tasks.  Models built include a minivan, crane truck, forklift, and motorcycle.

IlluStory Make Your Own Book Kit


Recommended for ages 5-10

Is your child a great story-teller?  If your child is practicing their newfound writing skills, like mine is, this is a great gift!  You get a kit where your child can write and illustrate up to a 20 page story that is then turned into a professionally typeset, hardcover book!

Melissa and Doug K’s Kids Fish and Count Learning Game


Recommended for ages 1-3

Kids fish for multi-colored sea creatures that they can match, sort, and sequence.  This toy helps to develop sensory, fine and gross motor skills, logic, number sense and reconition, and sequencing skills.  

Mighty Mind


Recommended for Ages 3-8

If your child is interested in puzzles, this one is for you!  MightyMind is a set of 32 tile shapes that children use to solve tangram-like puzzles.  There are 30 puzzle cards that get harder as you progress through them helping to build logic and spatial skills. And I said "you" on purpose, because you might just want to join in the fun of this one (or some of the others!).


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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6 Ways to Prepare Your Preschooler for Kindergarten

As many of you know from my previous blog posts, my oldest daughter just started kindergarten.  If you are about my age, and were in elementary school in the 80’s and early 90’s, you probably think of kindergarten as very similar to preschool.  Maybe you remember days spent finger-painting, learning to use paste for gluing instead of eating, playing with blocks, and reading a story.  There was a lot of time for imaginative play and a nap after lunchtime.  If this sounds familiar to you, I am here to tell you, kindergarten is not what it used to be.  Want to know whether your preschooler will be prepared while you still have time to do something about it?  Ask yourself the following questions:


1. How is their letter recognition?

Kindergarten is much more academic than you remember.  Much of the day is spent on reading and math skills. To prepare your preschooler for kindergarten, make sure that they recognize the letters and are able to tell you the sound each letter makes.  Start to introduce them to the idea that words are made up of letters and that each make their own sound.  Have them practice tracing and writing upper and then lowercase letters.  Make sure that they are able to write and spell their name.  Read together daily and talk about what is happening in the story.  



2. How is their number recognition?

Practice basic number recognition by learning to count to twenty or even higher if they are able.  Practice tracing and writing the numbers one through ten and also by counting objects.  Play games with the objects for example by saying, “ If I have five sugar packets and I take two away, how many do I have?”  This will get them prepared to understand the concepts of adding and subtracting.


3. Can they sit quietly and pay attention?

Focus and behavior are arguably just as important to kindergarten success as academic skills.  For k, your child should be able to sit still and sustain attention to a task for ten minutes without redirection.  Take your children to events where they will have to sit and listen to someone read a story or do a presentation.  Practice sitting quietly and what it means to be a good listener.  Give your child a task or a craft to do on their own that requires them them to sit quietly.  First start with a small task and then increase the time working independently up to about ten minutes.


4. Can they follow directions given to a group?

Practice giving your child short directions.  See if they are able to follow these directions when they are given once.  Gradually make the directions more complex so that they are able to follow one and two-step directions.   This can be directions to do tasks around the house or for an art project but the expectation needs to be that they listen the first time.


5. Do they get along with others?

Make sure that your child has plenty of exposure to other children and is able to interact with children and adults without hitting, kicking, or biting.  Your child should be able to cooperate, share  and work together with other children without constant adult intervention or supervision.


6. Can they function independently from you?

Make sure that your child can separate from you for long periods of time without distress.  To do this, they must be capable of completing some personal care tasks on their own such as zipping their coat, buttoning their pants, using the bathroom on their own and washing their hands.  They also should be able to use crayons, a pencil, glue, and scissors independently.


Practicing these skills with your preschool child now will make them well prepared for a successful and enjoyable start to kindergarten.  


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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



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Teachers and Parents Give Their Best Back to School Advice

As many of you know, my oldest daughter started kindergarten this year!  I can’t believe that I have a child old enough to be in school when it feels like just yesterday that she was a baby, we were first starting our tutoring business, and I began writing a blog!  So, I decided to ask teachers and experienced parents (i.e., grandparents), “What advice would you give to parents at the start of a new school year?”  Here is what they had to say:


Set the Tone

DSC_0932.JPGAs Ellen, one of our more experienced parents, put it, “parents must communicate excitement and model a love of learning for [their] child.”

As the popular adage goes, “A great education starts at home.”  As a parent, your attitude towards school and the way you speak about teachers, principals and school in general has an enormous impact on your child.  Excitement is contagious, but so is anxiety.  Make sure that your attitude about school reflects the attitude that you are hoping to see in your child.

Encourage Teamwork

Susan, an elementary teacher said, “Please understand that teachers are people too.  We aren’t perfect, but we strive to be.”  Steven, a high school teacher added, “Work with the teachers, not against them.  We are all on the same side of trying to help the students.”  

An attitude of teamwork and collaboration makes any endeavor more successful!  Teachers want your child to be successful, just like you want your child to be successful.  How can you work together to accomplish this?


Megan, a pre-K teacher suggests that you, “Share any concerns that you may have.”  Emily, a high school teacher adds, “Don’t wait until the end of the year to contact/meet a teacher.  Even high school teachers like parent involvement.”

Almost every parent and teacher mentioned communication as one of the most important factors.  Parents need to communicate with teachers.  Teachers need to be able to contact and communicate with parents.  Some mentioned the need to set aside time to really listen to your child because their perspective is also very important!

Don’t Hover

Jamie, an elementary teacher advises that, “Your child can do more than you think they can.  If you do everything for them at home, they will struggle with being independent and responsible at school.”  Alison, a middle school teacher adds, “Let them make some mistakes so they can learn from them.  If they forget something, let them take the consequences.  We learn from our mistakes.  We don’t learn when someone is constantly bailing us out.”

As a parent it can be heart-wrenching to see your child struggle.  However, both struggle and failure are necessary to teach resilience.  They allow a child to grow and also to understand and appreciate success and achievement when these are eventually earned.  Kids need to know they are capable of producing the outcomes they want.

You Can Do It!

Tanya, a middle school teacher says, “Realize that the beginning of the school year can be hectic, emotional, and exhausting, but things will smooth out once routines are established.”  Jen, a high school teacher adds, “Breathe!!!”

Inhale. Exhale. These first few weeks are a lot of work and an adjustment for everyone, but it’s going to be a great year!


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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Capture It

I watched my oldest daughter “A” scurry around her room, smiling and singing, gathering up her school supplies. It was May.  We had just gotten home from visiting the elementary school that my daughter would attend as a kindergartener in the fall.  We stopped by to drop off her registration paperwork which involved a trip to the office.  We spoke with the secretary who mentioned a Back to School and Orientation night where “A” could bring in her supplies.  She handed ”A” a pencil topper to go on one of her pencils, which would go in her pencil box, in her brand new kindergarten desk!  Then we proceeded to take a picture of her smiling face at the front door,  next to the sign, and in the parking lot.    


As we got home, my daughter raced into the house gathering up all of her pencils, pens, and crayons and herding them into her brand new Frozen backpack.  We tried to explain to her that it was only May, that school did not start until September, and that the orientation was not until August.  But really, I wanted to take that enthusiasm and wrap it up in a little package, hold onto it, and keep it forever. To to make sure that she still had it in 3rd grade after her first standardized test or in middle school if she received her first failing grade.   I wish that I could ensure her excitement about learning forever.  Capture it like lightening bugs in a jar.  For high school when things are more complicated, and she might have a boring class where you won’t need crayons, or even worse a boyfriend to deal with outside of class.   


“A” yells to me from the other room about needing new glue, a supply list, and how we really must be ready.  I tell her that we will shop for all of her supplies on tax free weekend. We will be at Walmart anyway for the Stuff the Bus School Supply drive and supplies will be cheap.   I know that is a long way off.  I still have preschool graduations, summer camps, and swimming lessons. Then I blink and it’s August.  We have her school supplies list and Tax Free Weekend is upon us.  As we walk into the store, I wish that I could capture this moment and hold time standing still, but I can’t.  So, I buy her a shiny new pencil box filled with crayons and gluesticks, a book bag filled with new folders, and a bright new back to school outfit for the first day picture that I will take before she gets on the bus and waves goodbye.


Want to help economically disadvantaged children in our area experience the joy of new school supplies?  Find out how here:


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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


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Local Summer Program Options

As promised in the May issue of FredParent Magazine, here is some more detailed information on summer school programs in the area.  A variety of enrichment, credit recovery and instructional intervention and remediation programs are offered by our local school systems.  This information is for Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties as well as Fredericksburg City.  I have included the link to more information on their website when applicable.

Spotsylvania County offers a variety of elementary, middle and high school enrichment programs for all students.  These programs are offered in a variety of interest areas including photography, STEM and robotics, foreign language immersion, and the arts.  Spotsylvania also offers credit and e-credit recovery programs for high school students and remedial summer school programs for all levels.  Students must meet specific criteria to attend these programs.  For more information please click here to see the Summer School Programs Brochure or contact your child’s school.


Over the summer, Stafford County offers academic classes and virtual courses for new and repeat credit, driver’s education, SOL remediation and test review, and a Jump Start Program.  Academic support and enrichment, athletic, performing arts, and STEM camps are also offered.  For more detailed information, please see the summer program information on the Stafford County Schools website:


Fredericksburg City is offering a variety of summer camps and academic summer school programs.  A calendar of these events can be found here:

For more specific information, please contact your child’s school.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC  
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
(540) 999-8759
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Is School Causing Stress?

I have been working this year with Riverbend High School Senior Abigail Williams on her Commonwealth Governor’s School Culminating Project. The focus of this project is working through procrastination. I am going to present Abby’s research in a two blog series. This is part two of two.

Is School Causing Stress?

By Nina Parrish with tips and research by Abigail Williams

sad_student_bad_grades_1.jpgThis is a stressful time of year for many students. SOL testing is beginning, the nine weeks grading period is coming to an end, and many high school students are preparing to take SAT and ACT testing. We all experience stress at one time or another due to how we perceive or respond to certain events or stressors in our lives that we identify as challenging or threatening. However, learning to manage stress can be a critical skill for students because chronic stress is linked to ailments such as: 

  • Fatigue
  • Back and neck tension
  • Poor concentration
  • Decreased ability to learn
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Increased procrastination

Students can be taught to manage stress through a variety of lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques. If your child is feeling stressed, encouraging them to adopt a healthier lifestyle, may help them to feel better both physically and mentally. This includes:

  • Making sure to eat a balanced diet which includes lots of fruits and vegetables and less caffeine and junk food.
  • Sleeping at least 8 hours a night.
  • Doing moderate exercise at least three times per week.

Relaxation techniques can also be very beneficial to students who are feeling stressed. You can encourage your child to find relaxation through participation in activities that they enjoy such as a sport, music or art. They may also benefit from meditation techniques or even relaxation websites like The important part is to teach your child to reward themselves after a period of hard work with something that they enjoy, plan out their time so that they are not creating stress with procrastination and make sure that they are taking care of themselves by eating right and getting enough sleep.

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


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Cooking Autism

Cooking Autism, Inc. is driven to help children with neurological disorders (including autism) learn how to cook. Participants are encouraged to pick up critical communication skills, learn how to work as a team and be more independent. They can build skills in math, reading, and science, and learn about cooking-related topics such as health and nutrition. 



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.