Maybe your child's teacher notices him struggling in a certain subject area, or perhaps you want to prep him for high school or college entrance exams. Whatever the reason, parents often turn to tutoring services to give their children the help they need outside of the classroom. From in-home to online sessions, various types of tutoring are available, whether your child needs an extra boost in English or wants to get ahead in geometry. Depending on the service, a tutor can be costly or absolutely free. Matching an individual with your child is an important process, since each student has a distinct learning style. So where to start when it comes to finding the right tutor for your child?
Before you search for someone to help your child, you should figure out specifically what you expect this person to help your child accomplish, and what your child's strengths and challenges are, suggests Linda Broatch, a writer at the research nonprofit WestEd. Your child may work best immediately after school, for instance, so if you hire an evening tutor, your child may have already “shut down” for the night. Or, perhaps your home environment is distracting due to siblings – or simply too familiar – and she may concentrate better at the library, which likely offers free drop-in tutoring, such as the services of Project READ in Northern California or the Homework Assistance Program at the Boston Public Library.
Research your choices before you commit to a tutoring service. The primary options to consider are the frequency, length, and type of session. Is your child mentally prepared for daily one-hour meetings after school, or would a single four-session each weekend be more effective? Generally, tutoring programs work with your child for a semester, with hour-long sessions two or three times a week. “Less than twice a week is often a waste of time because it's not enough assistance," writes Edward Gordon, an education consultant and author of Tutor Quest.
Each student, however, works differently, so test the waters and alter your child’s schedule if necessary. Also determine: Would she prefer the same tutor each session, face to face, or would she work better online with a different person each time? Should you choose a private tutor, or would your child be more open and productive alongside a few classmates?
To jump start your search, here’s a sampling of tutoring programs, and a summary of what type of student benefits from each:
Private in-home sessions
Working individually with a tutor may be fitting for a timid, less vocal student, or one who is easily distracted around other children. If you are hesitant to find an independent tutor on your own via Craigslist or a community bulletin board at your local coffee shop – but don’t need the structure of a large tutoring organization like Sylvan Learning or Kaplan – try tutoring services such as Buddy System, WyzAnt, or Tutor Circle, which allow you to handpick a tutor whose personality and approach match your child’s learning style. (When you meet or contact a tutor for the first time, don’t be afraid to ask what his or her non-academic interests are, too – it’s beneficial if you match your child with someone with like-minded hobbies, such as sports, animals, or music.)
At WyzAnt, for instance, you peruse profiles of tutors in specific subjects, from business to language, and at Tutor Circle, parents communicate freely with tutors to negotiate price, location, and even the size of the tutor group.
Free “drop-in” tutoring
Tutorpedia, a San Francisco Bay Area service that works with local school districts, is a service for low-income middle school students. Inquire at your neighborhood library or child’s school to learn about after-school options, as more kids are eligible for government-sponsored programs as a result of NCLB. Libraries usually have tutors available for drop-in hours on weekdays between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. This option works for students who need a quiet location to concentrate, as well as parents who don’t mind browsing a library while waiting for a session to end.
A nonprofit like 826 National, with writing centers on both coasts, Chicago, and Ann Arbor, also offers free afternoon and weekend tutoring. Generally, these drop-in options are fitting for students who need occasional help with homework or a particular essay, and don’t require long-term tutoring assistance.
Paid sessions at established organizations
National programs like Sylvan Learning schedule one-hour sessions around your child’s schedule. These organizations conduct an initial assessment test to determine your child’s skill level and learning style – a step that’s skipped if you hire an independent tutor on your own through a website such as Craigslist. Kaplan, another established tutoring service, offers sessions in both centers and at home – particularly for SAT and test preparation – as well as small group tutoring (up to five students) for those who thrive when learning with classmates. This is a fitting option for a student who may benefit from a supportive network that boosts confidence and improves communication and social skills, as well as a parent who seeks a more structured program or detailed progress assessments.
Intensive specialized sessions
With highly specific sessions focused on symbol imagery and reading comprehension, and for students with disabilities or unique learning styles, programs such as Lindamood Bell require more time and effort from you and your child. In lieu of school, most participants enroll in a daily program of four one-hour sessions for several months, which may be appropriate for your child if her reading or skill levels prevent her from contributing at school.
If your child finds it difficult to work one-on-one with a tutor in your home or other location – or prefers to work independently – online chats may be effective, especially if she is comfortable communicating via computer. (It’s also a surefire bet for an older teen, who may be reluctant to visit a tutoring center, or for you, who may not be able to drive to a tutoring location 15 minutes away.)
If your teen needs help with an algebra problem, but it’s 10:00 at night, she can reach a live tutor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with such services as TutorVista and Tutor.com. TutorVista offers unlimited tutoring per month for $99.99, so if your child anticipates a difficult month of biology homework, for instance, this option may be suitable.
At Tutor.com, the tutee pays by the minute – 60 minutes for $35, for example – so it’s a quick way to seek help on a specific assignment without having to drive to a tutoring center. Online tutoring doesn't replace face-to-face tutoring, in the same way phones and email do not replace face-to-face contact, says George Cigale, CEO of Tutor.com. But for students doing their homework at night, he says, it may be the only way to get help when they need it. Online tutoring allows them to get quick help in productive 20-25 minute chunks, he says.
Read more about the services and programs on this list, and you and your child will have a head start in your search for the right tutor.