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From Poor to Soar: Finding the Help Your Child Needs

By: Lisamarie Sanders

Deciding to get a tutor for your child is an important step. But even more important is finding the one who will best fit your child's needs. Because there are many different types of tutoring and lots of tutors to choose from, parents should research their options fully to find their child's perfect match.

"Don't just rush into a relationship," advises John J. Prelich, Jr., of Corn Associates educational consulting firm in New Jersey. "Shop around and really look into it."

To find the best tutor, you should first talk with your child's teacher and find out what he needs. Many kids require only a little extra attention and homework support. Some students will benefit from learning effective organization and study skills. Sometimes children need re-teaching to fill in the things they missed in previous years. And occasionally, a student requires intensive instruction to build an educational foundation on which future learning can take place. Knowing what your child needs will help guide you toward the right tutor.

After learning what your child needs, it's time to consider your options. Tutoring is no longer limited to a one hour session in the home of a retired teacher. Here are a few of the most popular choices available:

Private Tutors

Hiring an individual to work with your child is still the most common type of tutoring. A private tutor works one-on-one with your child, usually in your home or hers. Sometimes a tutor will meet your child in a mutually convenient place, such as the school or a library.

One of the biggest benefits of hiring a private tutor is the individualized attention your child will receive. Working face-to-face, the tutor and student develop a strong personal relationship. This relationship helps the tutor understand the child's strengths and weaknesses so he can adapt his lessons accordingly. It gives the child someone to discuss academic difficulties with, without the fear of rejection.

Unfortunately, finding a good tutor can be a challenge. Although many schools keep a list of available tutors, most names on the list are placed there at the tutor's request, not based on their qualifications. You might find a gem on this list, but it will take some digging.

A better way to find a private tutor is by asking your child's teacher if he could recommend someone. There may be another teacher at the school who tutors in the evenings. Or he may know of a parent with expertise in the areas your child needs help. He may also know of tutors who have helped children with similar difficulties in the past.

You can also ask friends or coworkers if they've had any experience with tutors. References from other parents are a good way to narrow your search. But keep in mind that just because a tutor was right for their child doesn't mean he will be right for yours.

Prices for private tutoring are set by the tutors themselves. There is a broad range, depending on the tutor's education, experience and availability, but most families can expect to pay between $10 and $50 per hour. Usually, payment is expected the day of the session. Few private tutors accept credit cards.

Tutoring Centers

An alternative to private tutoring is center-based tutoring. Programs like Sylvan Learning Centers and Kumon Math and Reading Centers offer individualized help to students in a small group setting.

Unlike many private tutors, centers use objective tests to find out each student's strengths and weaknesses. "We accurately identify the skills a student may have missed and design an individualized program specifically for that child," says Victor Peirce, executive director of the Sylvan

Learning Centers in mid-Michigan. This program, Peirce adds, can be taught by any of the center's employees, so your child won't miss a session because his tutor is sick.

There are two main concerns with this type of tutoring. One is that families can't choose a specific tutor to work with; the other is that tutors generally work with three to five students at the same time, so their attention will be divided.

A family can expect to pay up to $150 per week for services at a tutoring center, with payments being made weekly or monthly. Most centers accept credit cards for payment, and some offer financing or scholarship programs.

Online Tutors

The internet now offers yet another tutoring option for parents. Online tutoring services offer the benefits of private tutoring without the scheduling constraints. It also makes tutoring seem more like a game, which helps motivate students and encouragesthem to continue their sessions.

Although online tutoring is growing in popularity, many educators believe the technology leaves much to be desired. "Tutoring is a private relationship," says Prelich. "Personal contact is important." Opponents also cite the fact that communicating through the computer can be difficult, especially for younger children. Additionally, online tutors rarely have contact with the student's classroom teacher, so you miss an important piece of the educational puzzle.

Online tutoring holds many concerns for parents as well. Primarily, there is no way to know who, exactly, is interacting with your child. If you choose this method of tutoring, be sure to get as much information as possible about the person on the other end of the wire. Online tutoring charges generally range from $20 to $50 per session, usually paid with a credit card.

How do tutoring programs differ?

Any of these programs can be worthwhile, but it's important to know what you want, then find a program that matches your child's need.


Programs can have many purposes

  • Homework help or out-of-school teaching for teenagers in a specific subject.
  • Extra attention or practice time, for one child or an entire classroom, usually by volunteers.
  • Improvement of general academic levels, usually in reading, writing or math.
  • Help for people to read, write and speak English as a second language.
  • Enrichment programs that extend classroom learning or help good students review and master what they've learned at school.

Programs can be more or less effective

Research on reading improvement finds that tutors are most effective when they:

  • Are professionally trained, receive feedback and help, and are supervised.
  • Meet with students one on one, for two hours a week.
  • Keep sessions structured, intensive and consistent.
  • Use high-quality materials and books.
  • Use methods that match your child's development.
  • Teach reading using research-based concepts.
  • Provide children with books to take home and keep.
  • Get to know your child's interests, abilities and other basic skills, then plan lessons to match.
  • Give children some comfortable lessons to build confidence, along with more challenging ones to help them grow.
  • Stay on task during tutoring sessions.
  • Use pre-and post-tests to measure growth.

The Choice Is Yours

Sandy Fleming, a tutor and educational consultant at UniversalClass.com, urges parents to consider all of their options. "No one program fits every child," she says. Do your homework to find the one that will best fit yours.

Parents as Partners

Parental involvement in a child's education is key, and that's true for all education — including tutoring. Unfortunately, many parents only see the tutor when they drop off their child and their payment. To get the best results from a tutoring relationship, parents need to get more involved.

  1. Be respectful and responsible in the relationship. Arrive on time. Be sure your child is prepared for the session. Give adequate notice if your child is unable to attend. Come a few minutes early to pick up your child so that you can talk with the tutor on your time, not hers. Treat your tutor as you would any other professional. And make tutoring a priority; it is one of the most important things you can do for your struggling child.
  2. Get more involved by spending time with your child and tutor after each session to discuss what happened during the session. Don't be afraid to ask questions: What skills did you focus on? What were the child's strong areas? What does she still need to work on? Ask for specific activities you can do at home to reinforce the lesson or provide extra help for your child. "I love it when parents ask how they can be involved and supportive," says Sandy Fleming, a professional tutor and educational consultant in Michigan. "I give them homework — games to play or other enjoyable activities that reinforce what we're studying." She says it's important for the learning to be fun, not forced.
  3. Communicate regularly with your child's teachers. Ask about how the child is progressing, and what problems exist. Share this information with the tutor who may not be able to get the same information.
  4. Listen and observe your child. Be aware of your child's feelings and the rapport he has with his tutor. If there is a personality conflict or any other sort of problem, discuss it with the tutor. If you fear that something is dangerous or "just not right," follow your instincts. You are your child's first teacher and best advocate. By staying involved in her total education, you give her the very best chance for academic success.
Under copyright by Partnership For Learning, a national award-winning nonprofit at www.PartnershipForLearning.org. Reprinted with permission.

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