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How to Get the Most Out of Your Child's Tutor

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Updated on Oct 21, 2010

Tutors can make a world of difference for kids who are struggling with homework or preparing for college entrance exams. But your child's tutor can't be there all the time to keep her on track. Fortunately, you and your child can take action to make the most of your tutor's time, building the foundations for your child to succeed on her own.

"The goal of tutoring is to allow the student to go on their own eventually," says Kim Hartley, executive director of Buddy System, a tutoring service with offices in California and Arizona. Since most tutors are paid by the hour, effective tutoring is not only easier on your bank account but on your child's report card as well. Tutoring works only if your child regularly practices what the tutor reviews with her. "It's a lot of practice and repetition," says Wendy Kunz, center director at Sylvan Learning in Sycamore, Ill. But the practice pays off. And there are things you and your child can do together get the best bang for your tutoring buck.

Here are some expert tips:

Before the Tutor Arrives

  • Buy a large wall calendar where your child can keep track of homework assignments and due dates. It helps to color-code short-term assignments, long-term projects and ongoing commitments. "A visual display is very helpful for students because kids often try to keep it all in their head," Hartley says. Lay it all out, so your child has all the information she needs at her fingertips.
  • Set up a spot that's conducive to a productive tutoring session. This doesn't’t take much, Hartley says: Just find a place that's quiet and free of interruptions from pets and siblings.
  • Arrange for tutoring to take place when your child is focused. Some kids work best after school, but others benefit from after-dinner tutoring. Leave a glass of water on the table so your child doesn't have to get up for a drink every few minutes. If your child needs a snack after school, schedule the tutoring after snack time. "When you're thinking about your stomach growling, you're not focused on what you're supposed to be learning," Kunz says.
  • Organize the tests or assignments that your child is struggling with and wants to review with the tutor. This will help the tutor identify the problem areas where your child could use more help. It's similar to how doctors need to know your symptoms before telling you why you're sick. For example, if every wrong answer on your child's algebra homework is on the questions about functions, that tells the tutor to focus on functions.
  • Don't plan for your child to do his homework while the tutor is there. That's not an effective use of the tutor's time, and it makes it harder for your child to learn how to do his schoolwork without help, says Jamie Puntumkhul of Miami-based JLP Education Services.

After the Tutor Leaves

  • Ask the tutor to leave notes for your child to review later. During tutoring sessions, tutors with JLP Education Services make notes on yellow paper when a child is having trouble with a particular concept, and the tutors leave the notes behind afterward. Whenever kids see the yellow paper, Puntumkhul says, they know it's from the tutor. Ideally, students review those notes every day. This gives them great practice working on trouble concepts on their own.
  • If your child lacks organization skills, ask the tutor to put together a checklist of daily homework tasks. Review the checklist every day to ensure that your child is staying on track. This will not only help your child stay organized, but it will also get her in the habit of making and reviewing checklists.
  • File homework by subject as soon as possible. The binder or backpack your child takes to school should be her temporary storage spot for her assignments only until everything is filed, Hartley says.
  • Find a workbook or worksheets for your child to review what she is working on, and have her practice it once a week, Puntumkhul says. Flash cards can also be helpful. These and similar resources are often available online by subject. For children having trouble reading, Kunz recommends Book Adventure, a free website where kids take quizzes about books they've read and earn points and prizes.
  • Review concepts in short bursts, especially if your child is young and has a short attention span. Practice fractions in the car while running errands or when you're cooking in the kitchen together. If your child struggles with reading, encourage her to find something she likes to read and stick with it. "The more you read, the easier it's going to get," Kunz says.
  • Teach your child to proofread and review homework before turning it in.
  • Send your child to school well-rested and with breakfast in her stomach!

Kids who take tennis lessons or piano classes need to practice those skills at home in order to learn and improve their skills. Tutoring in academics is no different. Students have to practice the concepts they're not familiar with until they master the them and continue to build up their skills. If it's done right, Kunz says, tutoring is a temporary measure to boost your child's confidence, improve grades and instill a love of learning.  

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