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The Learning Zone

Ten Tips for Tax Free Weekend: Back to School Shopping

1. Take an Inventory, Reuse, and Recycle

Look to see what’s left over from last year. It is likely that there are many binders, pencils, pens, calculators, and other supplies that can be reused. Let kids use stickers or paper to decorate and add a personal touch to reused binders or notebooks to make them seem new again.

2. Make a list

After you have figured out what you already have. Make a list of what items still need to be purchased. Each school has a list of recommended or required supplies by teacher or grade level. Often this list is posted on the school website. If it is not, contact your child’s school to find out what supplies will be required for your child’s grade level.

3. Avoid Gimmicks

Help your child to sort out wants from needs by sticking to the recommended list. Buy basic supplies instead of fancy or flashy versions. They are more likely to break or cause a distraction. Definitely avoid anything that lights up, makes a noise, or could be distracting to your student or others.

4. Back-to-School Swap

Get together with a group of parents and host a back-to-school swap where kids trade school supplies and clothes that they are tired of or have outgrown for ones that are new to them.

5. Consider Color-Coding by Class

Buy a binder, notebook, book cover, and folder that are the same color for each subject. It will make it easier for your student to grab the correct items quickly from their locker.

6. Shop Smart

Browse the circular before you leave to check out deals at local stores. Many stores offer price matching like: Staples, Office Depot, Office Max, and Walmart, where you can show them a sale price from another store, and they will match that price. No time to plan ahead? Use your smartphone and an app like the ShopSavvy app to compare prices in the store and ensure that you are getting the best deal.

7. Buy Backpacks with a Warranty

Companies like L.L. Bean offer a 100% warranty on backpacks. If it wears out, they will replace it. You can save a lot of money by not having to buy a new backpack for each kid every year.

8. Buy Basic Supplies in Bulk

Basic supplies like loose-leaf paper, pencils, and pens should be bought in bulk when they are on sale. This will make it much cheaper in the long-run than buying small quantities when your kids need them.

9. Shop on Tax Free Weekend

Tax Free Weekend is coming up August 1st-3rd. To see what is and is not tax-free check here: In addition to products being tax-free, many stores also offer additional discounts on school supplies and clothing during this weekend.

10. Help your CommunityDSC_0111.JPG

Many local organizations have school supply drives this time of year. While you are out shopping, pick up a few extra supplies for kids who otherwise would not have any on their first day.

Parrish Learning Zone and Spotsylvania County Public Schools are having a Stuff the Bus School Supply Drive on Friday August 1st from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm at the Southpoint Walmart. Please drop by to shop and donate some school supplies that will go to the Spotsylvania County Treasure House which provides supplies for homeless and needy students in Spotsylvania County.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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3 Reasons to Encourage Your Kids to Read

I just finished a fantastic fiction book. It was the kind of story that is totally engrossing, capturing your interest and imagination in such a way that you want to read slower just to delay the ending and prolong the experience. Shortly afterward, I read an article about the decline in reading among children (and many adults). This is a trend that I have noticed as an educator, and it makes me sad for many reasons. Over the years, I have had parents ask me whether it’s worth it to continue to push their kids to read. My answer remains “yes”, as I suspect that the act of getting “lost in a book” offers something that can not be replaced or duplicated by television, digital media, or video games.

A recent study by Common Sense Media found that fewer than 20 percent of 17-year-olds read for pleasure “almost every day.”stack_of_books.jpg Compare this to 1984 when 31 percent did. Today 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 27 percent of 17-year-olds say that they “hardly ever” or never read for pleasure as compared to 30 years ago when only 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds said this. In case you are thinking that this is a problem only affecting kids or the uneducated, surprisingly, a recent Pew Internet and Life Survey recently found that 42 percent of college graduates will never read a book again after graduating college. In contrast, children under 8 spend an average of an hour and half per day watching television, and children between the ages of 8 and 18 watch an average of 3 hours of television per day, not including computer or other screen time.

So, you may ask, what’s the big deal? Perhaps they are just reading differently or perhaps reading has evolved. Why is traditional fiction reading so important?

1. Reading improves “theory of mind” (or self-awareness and empathy) while television reduces it. Studies conducted at Emory University’s Center for Neuropolicy found that getting outside of themselves or losing themselves in a good story allows kids to empathize with a variety of fictional characters, making them more likely to act with compassion and self-awareness. Whereas, the ability to attribute mental states - beliefs, intents and desires to ourselves and to understand that others may have beliefs, intents and desires that are different from our own - is decreased when children watch television.

2. Reading enhances brain connectivity and neural activity.Reading causes changes in areas of the brain associated with language receptivity and visualization. Reading seems to jog the brain and increase its performance, creating a sort of meditative or focusing effect, while television’s effect is often the opposite.

3. Reading can have a corrective effect on the sensory overload caused by digital media.
According to David Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, reading can demonstrate to kids that there is a payoff in doing something difficult, in delayed gratification.

So, even though it is a bit early to use research to draw any conclusions, it seems like common sense that we should encourage our children to read instead of turning on the television. It may do a great deal to not only increase their compassion and ability to relate to others, but also have an impact on their focus and even their work ethic.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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



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Don't let the tests leave you SOL!

We get a lot of questions and concerns around this time about year about the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that most students are required to take at the end of the school year or the end of a particular course.    Looking for some download.jpgways to get a little extra last minute preparation in before your exam in the next few weeks?  Here are some tips:

1.        Take a practice test.

There are many practice tests for each subject area on the Virginia Department of Education website.  Here are the most recently released tests: and here are some older tests:  As you can see, there is plenty of practice to do!


2.        Check the test .

Using the provided answer key, score the test and determine the score using the provided conversion chart.  Go through each item, looking at the correct answer, and see if you or your student can determine why they missed that question.


3.        Have your student take a list of the questions that they missed and don’t understand to their teacher.

Most teachers are reviewing for SOL tests this time of the year anyway and would like to see that students are doing extra practice.  A lot of schools have a study hall or flex time where students can request extra help from their teachers.   Some schools have time built into the school day, before or after school for students to get help preparing for SOL tests.


4.       Put each missed question and answer on an index card.

Punch a hole in the cards, put them on a ring and attach them to your student’s book bag or binder.  Have them study the cards until they know the information.


5.       Find more questions like the ones you missed and practice them.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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Think you’re the Multi-Tasking Master?

I often have to fight the urge to check my email, send a text message, and/or check Facebook while I am working, playing with my daughter, or spending time with family.   This is not just a problem that adults struggle with.  It is one of the most common topics that I talk with kids about during our study cell.JPGskills sessions.    With email, social media, text messaging, and the internet continually at our fingertips, many of us live in a state of constant distraction. This instantaneous access to technology makes us believe, more than ever, that we can accomplish many tasks at the same time.  If this is true, then why do we end up feeling so stressed, frazzled, and maxed out?  After all, we are accomplishing more by multi-tasking, right?

Turns out the answer is probably, no.   Humans actually aren’t that good at multi-tasking, as we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.  When we try to “multi-task” we actually just switch our attention from one task to the other very quickly.  If two tasks are similar, they compete to use the same part of the brain, and can’t both be accomplished at once.   For example, think how hard it is to write an essay while having a conversation about a different topic.   For this reason, many of us try to divide our time and energy and end up with work that his half done or half as good as we could do.


 You may be surprised to find that giving your full attention to one task at a time is more effective and less frustrating.  Focusing and completely eliminating distractions is the only way to do your best most efficient work.  You can make this happen by focusing on one project or task at a time and blocking out time in your schedule, specifically to complete that task.  To avoid temptation, it helps to leave the phone in another room and close Facebook, Twitter, and email.  Although it is not possible to avoid all distraction, less multi-tasking could mean more quality time devoted to the people and projects that are important to you.



-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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

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Snowy Day Fun - Take Two

With more snow this week, you may be in need of some additional activities to do with the kiddos.  Here are some more fun math and science activities to do during a snow day:

  1. Instead of Snow Angels Make Snow AnglesDSC_0227.JPG

    Have one person lie in the snow and wave their arms like they are making a snow angel.  Then another person needs (how about you, Dad?!)  to help to lift them up without smearing the angel.  Then outline the angle made by the person’s arm, with natural items like sticks or rocks to make it more clear.   Practice making different angles. Discuss the difference between acute, obtuse and right angles using the visuals.

  2. Snow Maze

    Build visual and spatial skills by navigating a homemade maze.  Make a maze by drawing lines in the snow.  Include dead-ends and wrong turns, just like in a maze on paper.  Have kids walk the maze to try to reach the end without making a wrong turn.  Then have older kids make their own maze for parents or siblings to walk through.

    Here’s an example:

  3. Snowflake Investigation

    Put some sheets of black construction paper in the freezer until they are very cold.  Bring them outside while it is snowing.  Catch some flakes on the paper and observe their unique shapes and characteristics using a magnifying glass.
  4. Snow Tracks

    Go outside and take pictures of different animal tracks in the snow.  Discuss or pull up pictures on the computer of different types of animals that may live outdoors in your area.  Have you child try to match the animals to the pictures of the tracks you took outside then provide a reason why they matched the animal to those particular tracks.
  5. Make an Indoor Snowman

    Make an indoor snowman, in a dish, that foams and disappears when you add a magic solution.  Directions and a picture can be found here:

Happy Snow Day!

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

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Snowy Day Science

School is cancelled.  Stuck inside with the kiddos for a few long snow days?  Try these five fun snow day science experiments, inspired by my daughter’s love of Sid the Science Kid.  

1. Do you have dish soap, hot water, and corn syrup?  You can make:

Frozen Bubbles

Mix up this soapy solution and blow bubbles.  You will need weather less than 5 Fahrenheit, and your bubbles will freeze!  Use this science experiment to discuss the differences in the physical properties of regular versus frozen bubbles.  Talk about the surface tension needed to make this cool experiment work.  Get more details here:

2. Do you have a soda, freezer, time, and plenty of floor-cleaner; (for when the soda inevitably explodes into a sticky shower on your tile floor)?

Make a Soda Slushy

Take a 20 ounce bottle of room temperature soda and shake shake shake!  Put the bottle of soda in the freezer for about 3 hours and 15 minutes.  Release the pressure, tighten the cap, turn it upside down and the slushy will form in the bottle.  You can also release the pressure slowly, take the cap off, and pour it in a chilled bowl to form slush.  

3. Do you have a balloon?

Balloon Science

This is a great way to introduce kids to the scientific concepts of contraction and expansion.  Blow up a balloon and tie it somewhere outside.  If it is below freezing, you will notice that it will quickly deflate.  If it is a little warmer, it might take a little longer for it to deflate.  Now, bring the balloon inside and watch it reinflate in the warm air. Explain that as air gets colder, the molecules crowd closer together and the balloon loses volume.  So, the balloon looks deflated, and that is called contraction.  When the air heats, the molecules spread out again, and the balloon reinflates.  This is called expansion.

4. Do you have a coffee can, plastic 12inch ruler, and clear packaging tape?

Snow Gauge

Tape the ruler inside the coffee can so that the bottom of the ruler is touching the bottom of the can.  Place the can upright, outside, in an open area where snow falls.  Measure the amount of snow that fell, using the ruler taped to the coffee can.  Then let the snow melt indoors and measure again.  Discuss if there was a difference in the measured amounts of snow vs. water.

5. Do you have lots of patience, clothes you don’t care about, spray bottles, and food coloring?

Snow Paint

Go far away from the house and anything else that you especially like or enjoy in its original color.  Dress your kids in that ugly sweater grandma got them last Christmas or anything else you genuinely hate and head outside.  Using a marker, mark lines on the spray bottle to divide it into four equal parts.  Fill the bottle ¾ full with water.  Add drops of food coloring to the bottles.  Spray the different colors in the snow, make a rainbow snowman, or color your snow angel.  Use this to discuss fractions such as:  When you start with ¾ of the bottle filled with water and use ¼, how much remains.  You could also mix colors and discuss what happens.

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

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When Should I Take the SAT?

We are entering one of the busiest times for our tutoring business; preparing students for the Spring SAT tests! One of the most frequent questions that I get asked during this time is: "When should my student take the SAT and how often should they take it?"

Here Is the Simple Answer:

Most students want to take the SAT for the first time during the spring of their Junior year.
For this year, those test dates are March 8th, May 3rd, and June 7th.
According to the College Board, (the people that produce the SAT), at least half of students take the SAT twice improving their score the second time around. The second time that most students take the test is in the Fall of their Senior year.

Here is Some Helpful Information:

Schedules detailing what to do each year of high school from the College Board, can be found here:

Here is Some Additional Information:

  • Students who are academically talented or in an advanced math track may want to consider taking the test for the first time, earlier or once they have finished Algebra II. Sometimes this will result in the best math score because nothing beyond Algebra II is tested on the SAT exam. Some students choose to take the SAT as early as 7th grade, as a part of the application process for programs at the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

  • Although there is not a limit on how many times you should take the SAT, it is not a test you would take for fun. Students should thoroughly prepare for the first time they take the test so that hopefully they will only have to take it one time. Some students do choose to take the test a second time, to improve their score.

  • Some colleges take the highest score in each subtest of the SAT but not all colleges do this. Your student should check with the college that they plan to attend.


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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




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Making Learning Fun Again!

My daughter, still in preschool, is too young to know math as a school subject. However, she never tires of playing a game.sugar packets She often asks to play the adding and subtracting game. Here is what that is: we take whatever we have, where we are, and add or subtract it. So for example, if we have five sugar packets and dad eats two, how many do we have left? She counts them up, and says three, with a big smile on her face. Yes, this is subtraction, but she thinks it is a game, and she loves it!

Do you know what she loves even more, games on the computer, TV, or phone. Probably because, at first, we limited her exposure to them. Now, I take a slightly different approach. I try to figure out how to make them more educational. For example, she practices the Spanish she has learned by watching Dora sing about Spanish numbers. She watches Sid the Science Kid, does the same experiment as the kids on the show, and draws a picture of each experiment in her Sid the Science Kid Journal, (just like the kids on the show do). This way she gets more out of watching TV, by participating in the learning, and I feel happy that what she has learned is being reinforced in a memorable way.

1210131118 1As a teacher, I have found that all kids, even those who may be resistant, love to play games and watch TV. As educators and parents we can feel guilty over giving in to this or we can use it to our advantage. Many skills that kids would refuse to practice otherwise can be introduced or reinforced using carefully selected television programs or computer games. Since math is a particularly challenging area for many kids, and the most frequent request we have for tutoring, I have included below a link to an interesting article from the New York Times by Kit Eaton with a list of math games and Apps. Maybe you will find some of these useful with your child over the upcoming break. However, don't feel like games are only helpful to reinforce math skills, the possibilities are endless.


-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.

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


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Parent Teacher Conferences- A Perspective from Both Sides of the Desk and Some Tips from the Experts

I rush to the car, grabbing items as I pass through in a blur: purse (check), paper and pen (check), toddler has presentable clothes on (check), hair brushed sometime today-mine and hers (check and check), and keys and shoes (check). This goes on for what seems like five hours but is most likely five minutes, as I make my way to the car in a rush to get to my first parent-teacher conference. We have reworked the schedules of what feels like our entire week, to fit in the short conference at my daughter's preschool. WE CAN NOT BE LATE, as we always are. We must be on time, presentable, well-behaved and totally normal for like 15 minutes. As I drive, the million questions that I have stream through my mind. I want to know if she is on track academically and socially with her peers. Does she tell the teacher the letters we have been working on so hard since she was able to speak? Does she write her name? Does she talk to the other kids and her teachers, after she finishes hiding behind my legs, and I pry her free and push her into the classroom? Does she share and use her manners, or is she that annoying kid who spills all of their crayons on the floor because they were holding on to them so tight and then screams when asked to pick them up? The mental checklist goes on and on, but of course I can't ask any of these questions, exactly. And I don't want to make the mistake I made at the beginning of the year, and scare the teacher, by asking her questions about differentiation and meeting the needs of diverse learners. My mind races, and this is only preschool people! I am just embarking on my journey with parent teacher conferences. The thought occurs to me that I have years of this ahead of me. Simultaneously, I think, snap out of this, berating myself for worrying so much. I am also supposed to be a professional. This is my field of expertise after all.

I remember sitting on the other side of the desk, as a middle school teacher, waiting for parents to arrive. Feeling the sting of setting aside hours of evening time only to have one or two parents, or even worse, no one show up. Trying to guess what was on their mind, what they expected, and the questions and concerns they might have. Deciding how to be honest but not offensive and truthful but not hurtful. How to express to them what was needed in a way that was constructive and tactful but not so nice that they didn't understand. How to make the little bit of time we had productive and positive so that they would feel comfortable and come back.
Many of you who read this, who are parents and teachers, probably have experiences similar to mine. From being on both sides, I know that parents and teachers alike experience many of the same anxieties around this time. With parent teacher conferences right around the corner, all parties involved are pondering how to pack all that needs to be said into those few precious moments. In case you too are wondering how to get the most out of a ten minute conversation, here are some tips from the education experts at Harvard on how to have successful parent teacher conferences. And remember, the most important thing is to establish an on-going relationship with your child's teacher. Parent teacher conferences are not, and should not, be the only time that you talk. Make a point to check in with your child's teacher regularly and get to know him or her. After all, this partnership between parents and teachers is more important than any single 15 minutes anyway.

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

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We Are Not Robots!

In a survey performed by the Stanford Research Institute and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation of over 500 CEO's, it was found that 75% of long term job success depends on soft skills and only 25% on technical skills. Most parents and teachers would agree that one of the primary purposes of a high quality education is to prepare students for their future. Thus is could be presumed that a great education would teach students the skills that they need to secure a job and hold on to it. This begs the question, by making standards, testing, memorization, and benchmarks the current focus of education, are we mistaking the trees for the forest, focusing on the details instead of the big picture?

Many times, our current system of education seems to be designed to have students memorize huge amounts of information then regurgitate it on an end of the year state test. This sends students the wrong message about the purpose and function of education. As Michigan's teacher of the year, Gary Abud states, "Students often approach the classroom as they might a bank transaction." They look at the teacher as the bank of knowledge and they are there to make a withdrawal that they can then apply towards their standardized test. They collect facts, write them down, and memorize them. The problem is that in the real world, it's not about how many facts you have memorized; it is about whether or not you can use them.
When we do not equip our students with the tools to gather, synthesize, evaluate, and apply the information that we are giving them, then it is useless in the real world. It seems that to truly prepare students for their future, we would have to switch our focus from endless memorization and mastery of certain "important" facts to an emphasis on critical thinking skills, growth, and problem-solving. After all, as educational guru Karl Fisch said, "We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet." Many of the facts that we learn in school may become irrelevant, as a lot of the information that students will need to know for their future occupation does not even exist yet. What will not become irrelevant, you ask, the ability to acquire that information. Students must learn how to learn. This is where soft skills come in.

Soft skills, usually called study skills or emotional intelligence in school are often the programs that are looked at as extra or expendable, and therefore the first to go when budget cuts roll around. They are impossible to measure but immeasurably useful in real life. Skills such as how to work with others, read critically with comprehension, take notes, organize information, manage your time, communicate effectively, and seek out and apply new information are essential to both school and job success. In fact, according to a 2009 study by Ohio State University, students are 600% more likely to graduate from college if they have taken a study skills class. After all, what good are facts if you have no method to store them, do not know how to use them, and cannot learn new ones once the current ones become obsolete? In our current job market, where hundreds of new college graduates may compete and interview for one job opening, everyone will know facts. Companies will be hiring the students that know how to apply them.

-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. 



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