Geeky Parent Guide: Insight into Learning from Parrish Learning Zone

It’s quite often I think about my kids’ future. Do they want to play soccer or start ballet? What kind of music or movies will they love? Will they continue to love learning, as much as they seem to now? And occasionally, I wonder, what should I do if they struggle with anything in school?

As a geeky parent, my first thought to tutoring would be to surround them in a space filled with all of the things they love, and in my case, a TV playing Star Trek: The Next Generation or Foo Fighters playing on the radio, plenty of cool movie posters to gaze upon, such as Lord of the Rings or The Fifth Element, perhaps some colorful lights, or maybe even a lava lamp. Despite never having a lava lamp, my own study habits are a good reason to learn that they are not the right approach when it comes to tutoring. It’s important to have a comfortable space, but some of these elements might not be the best approach to finding the right studying technique.

Yes, my children are only three and four at the moment, and my wife is a teacher, but it still crosses my mind that I don’t necessarily know how I’d respond.

Today on the Geeky Parent Guide, we’re happy to share an interview with the Parrish Learning Zone, an organization aimed at “challenge students to think critically and rationally about the subject matter and to ask their own questions, by creating lessons that are relevant, interesting, and that teach students the content as well as the skills and problem-solving strategies they will need for life.”

To help share their experiences, let’s turn over the conversation to our interview with co-founders Nina and Jay Parrish of the Parrish Learning Zone in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Geeky Parent Guide: Will you please explain some of the benefits of attending Parrish Learning Zone, and how tutoring as a whole helps to enhance youth’s development?

Parrish Learning Zone: First of all, each student takes an assessment that allows us to create a customized tutoring plan to address their academic weaknesses. Then, we set them up with one of our licensed teachers who are certified in the child’s specific area of need. They consistently meet with the same tutor to create a level of trust that will allow the student to excel. This creates a mentoring relationship where the student feels comfortable enough to work on their weaknesses. Ultimately, gaining the confidence they need to be successful in school or the test they are preparing for.

GPG: Each child is different, and how they learn and take tests varies, what type of atmosphere does PLZ provide to help determine the intricacies for each person to succeed during their sessions?

PLZ: One thing we like to do before the tutoring begins is talk to the parents at length to get background information about the student, including their hobbies and interests. When possible, we also talk to their teachers at school to get a complete picture of the student as an individual. This allows our tutors to adapt their lesson to the student’s particular learning style and needs. By learning about the student’s interests, the tutors are able to take the content the student needs to learn and relate it to topics that they are interested in.

GPG: How do parents become involved in the tutoring process? Are parents active during appointments, or do they leave and give them space?

PLZ: Having the parents, teachers, and students all work together is extremely important. We have the parents involved from the beginning. After the assessment, we meet with the parent to construct the tutoring plan as a team. We discuss the goals that the parents and student hope to accomplish. Our tutors send out a progress report after each tutoring session explaining what took place and how the student is doing.   

GPG: Are there specific techniques learned that can be used at home? What ways can parents help transition the skills learned from tutoring to the home environment?

PLZ: In our tutors’ weekly progress reports, they give the parents suggestions on how to continue to work on the skills that were learned in the tutoring session at home. It is important that the parents set aside a specific amount of time for the student to practice what they have learned. We find that consistency is a key factor in a student’s success.

GPG: Are there key elements that you find help make learning easier for each child or specific age groups?

PLZ: The key factor to learning is to meet the student where they are. For example, if a 6th grade student is reading and comprehending at a 3rd grade level, then we would start working with them on a 3rd grade level and work up. Once they have mastered that level, then we work our way up. (Level up!)

GPG: Should the home space be transformed for each student and include pop culture elements to make their study space more comfortable - like movie posters, colorful artwork, or stationary, or even something as simple as the right chair or lighting?

PLZ: It is very important that the student is in a space that they feel comfortable, but not so comfortable they are going to fall asleep! The most important thing about the home environment is that distractions are removed while studying (i.e., cell phones, TV, video games, etc.).

GPG: How can parents help to prepare their children for the start of a new year?

PLZ: There are five great tips in this blog: set the tone; establish a routine so that your kid comes to school prepared; don’t hover or bail them out; stay involved and communicate; and support teachers and work as a team.

GPG: As a parent yourself, how has that enhanced your outlook to provide care for young students in an ever-changing world?

PLZ: As a parent, you want to do whatever you can to make sure that your child has everything they need to be successful. Just like our own children, it is really important to us that students gain the skills and confidence to achieve their goals. Being a parent makes me more understanding of how difficult it can be for parents to watch their child struggle in school, knowing all they want is for them to be successful.

GPG: What would be or are key takeaways from Parrish Learning Zone that have translated to your own children or family life?

PLZ: With our oldest daughter seeing us run a small business her whole life, it has really instilled in her an interest in entrepreneurship and a knowledge of the value of hard work.

A lot of students that come to us for tutoring have trouble connecting what they are learning in school to real life. We try to give our children experiences that connect what they are learning in school to the real world.

It isn’t always easy as a parent to understand what your child will need when it comes to education; however, it’s encouraging to know there are people who are equally passionate about seeing kids succeed.

If you want to learn more about the Parrish Learning Zone, check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

If you’re looking for an interesting book about learning, check out Pete the Cat’s Got Class (ages 4-8). In this story, Pete helps a friend learn math by finding something that interests his friend, like race cars, and turns it into a math lesson.

For more geeky goodness, make sure to follow the GPG on Twitter and Facebook.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.

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