Tuesday, January 17, 2012



My tutoring service does not usually work with elementary school students, but there are others who specialize in this age group. Hearing in a Parent-Teacher Conference that your pride and joy is a whole grade below “standards” can be devastating, especially for the involved parent who is truly committed to education. So the question arises: do we send our child to a tutor.

There is no quick answer to this heart-wrenching question. Whether you choose to use the services of a professional or to tackle the problem yourself is a personal one and only you can make the decision. Here are some thought-provoking questions that will help you feel confident in whatever choice you make.

1. What is the level of the difficulty? If your fifth grader is reading at a 4.5 level, the problem is small and may require only greater exposure to harder reading material. For a fifth grader reading at a 2.0 level, the problem is much greater and remediation is essential, probably from someone with special skills in analyzing the situation and providing an extensive battery of solutions.

A child who has difficulty with just one area, like fractions in math, may overcome the hurdle through a few, fun, at-home activities. Some tips on what you can do within the family are presented later in this article.

2. What is your relationship with the student? Some parent-child connections thrive on an educational component; others are complex enough with daily living and social issues. If you want to “pick your battles,” as some would say, perhaps “teaching” your student about the 19th Century “Scramble for Africa” isn’t the best battleground. Be assured that the parent who takes a student to a tutor is no more and no less honorable than the one who researches Leopold II’s influence at the Berlin Conference. If teaching your student at home is likely to cause strife, then outside help is justifiable. If having your child read Call of the Wild aloud to you and a younger sibling each night and discussing the characters would be enjoyable, then take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen a family bond while improving classroom performance.

3. What are the financial obligations? What are you getting for your money? If a service tells you that they can increase your student’s reading level by a full year in just 9 months, remember that the school year is 9 months long and this kind of improvement is expected without intervention.

4. What is your child’s level of outside activity? A student who is already heavily committed to choir, dance class, Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, horseback riding, scouts, religious training, and baseball might have to give up an extracurricular to make room for additional study. Make sure that the outside help will not be viewed as a penalty by your student. Learning should be considered a reward, not a punishment, especially at an early age with 10 or so more years of it ahead.

I’ll leave the topic of choosing a tutor for another blog. Let’s consider right now that you’ve decided to address a situation from your own home. Here are some tips to help parents of elementary students design “kitchen table tutorials.”

1. Do Not “over assign” home work. There are too many division problems on a whole page and it wouldn’t be any fun. Instead, ask the student to correctly work just one problem from each section on a page. If the attempt is not successful, you have several other problems to use as demonstration and retesting. Break other work into small parts, say a chapter in a novel or a subsection in history. Use a few minutes after the “assignment” to discuss what was learned and what else the student would like to know about the subject. Verify accuracy of facts and give your student a chance to discuss, no matter how young he or she might be. This will solidify the learning and enhance the student’s ability to integrate information and synthesize knowledge from other subjects.

2. Ask the student to work only as many math problems or answer as many factual questions as you are willing to correct. The feedback must be immediate but math review problems may come with only answers and no solutions manual. You will have to work out every problem the student misses in order to find the point of error.

The same goes for an independent reading assignment. You’ll have to read the same story, chapter, or article and be prepared to show the student where and how to find answers to related questions which you may have to design yourself.

3. Cover a variety of topics each time. A little of this and a little of that each day will help to strengthen each concept in the student’s repertoire. A common problem with many textbooks and curricula is that a subject is covered, tested, and then ignored for the rest of the year. You want to review often and across the curriculum.

4. Provide appropriate rewards. You know your student better than anyone else does, so dream up clever rewards, ask the student for suggestions, and surprise good work with something your extraordinary student will view as special.

A short afterthought for those willing to try home work. Home schooling is not easy, but working at home can be tremendously rewarding for both student and parent. Use the grocery store (or, even better, a toy store or electronics center) to explore fractions, percents, and social interactions. Play “car games” to improve vocabulary, visual discrimination ability, and deductive reasoning. Use cartoons to discuss “beginning, middle, end” writing strategies, identify themes, and watch for new vocabulary words.

Even if you choose to employ a tutor for specialized learning, the first, best, and perpetual teachers are our parents.


  1. Great article thanks! I agree to everything you’ve said, but unfortunately, there are times wherein my husband and I need to spend long hours at the office. We still get the chance to teach our kid, but not as much as we would want to. We then decided to hire a Vancouver tutor that will teach him at home, after school. Do you have any advice on what we need to look for in a tutor to ensure that he/she is the right fit for our kid?

    1. Hollie, your question opens a very large vault of suggestions, so I wrote a whole blog related to some of the interview questions we use at Tutoring Resources. I'm posting it now with the title "Choosing a Tutor." If you would like specifics about your student, email me at tutoring.resources@yahoo.com.