When it comes to early education, gaps in understanding can occur quickly – and they can persist, even as a student ages. That’s why early intervention, including extra tutoring or one-on-one homework help, is so important for young learners who struggle with reading or math.
As a parent, you want to make sure your kids are prepared for success. But how do you find the right tutor for your elementary-age student? And how do you ensure your student is making progress?
At TutorUp, we connect you with certified, experienced teachers who specialize in working with students who are still “learning to learn.” Not only have our tutors gone through extensive background checks, but they also understand how to break down big concepts, make learning fun, and encourage students who struggle with motivation.
Here are five qualities you should look for in tutors who work with elementary students – and the questions you should ask your tutor right from the start.
1. Does your tutor have experience teaching or tutoring concepts in your student’s age range?
In elementary school math and reading, teachers tackle big concepts in manageable chunks, and each lesson builds on the last. There’s a big variation in content mastery between each year, too. For example, the way a kindergarten teacher tackles math concepts will look pretty different from the math concepts at work in a second-grade teacher’s classroom – but all the concepts in K-3 build on and reinforce one another.
Young learners who struggle with elementary school math and reading often get stuck on mastering the basic concepts they’ll need to build on later. Look for a tutor who understands how to teach the concepts for your student’s particular age group – and who can potentially look backward to help your student master a concept they might have struggled with in an earlier year.
Questions to ask your tutor:
What kind of experience do you have teaching addition, subtraction, or multiples to students who struggle with these concepts?
Tell me about a time you helped a student who struggled with learning to read. What did you do to help?
2. How does your tutor break down concepts for young learners?
If your elementary-age student needs more help tackling basic concepts in reading and math, it’s likely your teacher has already alerted you. Your teacher can be a great resource for your tutor, too, and can help your tutor understand which concepts need more practice and reinforcement.
“For tutoring to be effective, the tutor needs to have contact with the classroom teacher in order to discuss the current curriculum and classroom goals, teaching styles and practices, and gaps the teacher is seeing in the school,”
Shannon Keeny, a Baltimore-based private tutor, explained to PBS.org.
“The tutor should support the learning in the classroom by reteaching or accelerating,” she added. “The tutor becomes an advocate for the student’s learning for the school and a support for the parents.”
At TutorUp, we make it easy to put your tutor in contact with your student’s teacher to make tutoring sessions even more effective. This is especially important for elementary-age students who need more practice with basic concepts before they can tackle related or advanced concepts in reading and math.
Questions to ask your tutor:
Tell me about a time you realized a student needed to back up and practice a concept from earlier in the curriculum, or the prior year’s instruction. How did you shift your tutoring plan?
How would you work with a student’s teacher to determine which concepts need more practice or reinforcement?
3. What does your tutor do to help students who are tired, frustrated, or stuck?
Tutoring elementary school students requires a special kind of patience. Remember: your student just spent eight hours in a classroom, working hard or perhaps even feeling frustrated by not understanding some of the tasks in front of them. They’re ready to run around, be social, play, or just plain rest with Mom and Dad.
Your tutor will have to be patient enough to break down concepts for an elementary-age student and to deal with a waning attention span. While you want to encourage both your tutor and your student to set goals and get work done, understand that working in shorter bursts, taking breaks, and making it fun can all help make tutoring more effective in the long run.
Questions to ask your tutor:
What do you do when you sense that your student might be struggling with a concept or hitting a wall?
Tell me about a time you changed your teaching style to make sure a student understood the concept you were trying to teach.
4. How does your tutor make learning fun and engaging?
Elementary students are often curious and engaged in the learning process, especially when teachers incorporate song, physical objects, art, or movement. While your tutor might not feel comfortable breaking out a guitar and singing about multiples, they should have a plan for making tutoring time fun and engaging.
Look for tutors who have experience with project-based learning, learning games and technology, or creating math and reading-related art projects as a way to break up sessions solely focused on practice or drilling. Ideally, your tutor will find a balance between reinforcing concept mastery and encouraging playfulness that works best for you and your student.
Questions to ask your tutor:
What experience do you have with project-based learning?
How would you make one-on-one reading time or math practice more engaging?
How do you engage physical, auditory, and/or visual learners?
5. What does your tutor do to encourage students who struggle?
Every student needs encouragement, especially if they’re spending extra time with a tutor or need one-on-one homework help. Look for tutors who understand what will feel like a big “win” for your student, especially as they begin to master concepts that will help them catch up with the rest of their classmates.
Just as you would ideally sit down with your tutor to establish tutoring goals, consider using learning-centered rewards, too. Maybe a 30-minute one-on-one reading session with a tutor earns your student a 20-minute break. Or maybe a positive tutoring report means your student gets to pick the next book for reading time based on their own interests and passions, rather than reading level.
Whatever form your tutor’s encouragement takes, make sure you’ve found someone who is sensitive to positive reinforcement, and who will work with you and your student to create the best possible environment for learning.
Questions to ask your tutor:
How do you encourage students to keep trying even if they feel frustrated?
What kinds of positive reinforcement do you use most often in your tutoring sessions?
Get the kids to school on time. Ace your presentation at work. Run errands. Manage after-school activities. Cook dinner. Spend time together as a family.
The to-do list never ends. It’s no wonder you’re having trouble figuring out how to balance at-home tutoring with everything else. Tutoring is yet another time and financial commitment, as well as a decision that’s crucial to your child’s academic success.
Here’s how to make more time in your home life for tutoring – even if you’re already juggling too many commitments:
1. Simplify the Hiring Process
One of the biggest barriers to finding the right tutor for your family is the hiring process. Not only is this process time-consuming and stressful, it can be expensive, too.
After all, you’re looking for a tutor who understands your child’s curriculum, and one who can help them succeed in the areas where they need more support. That level of expertise doesn’t always come with an affordable price tag.
At TutorUp, we simplify the hiring process for you by connecting you with the very best tutors at even better rates. We’ll help you identify the teachers with the right experience at an affordable rate.
Once you’re connected with your new tutor, it’s up to you both to find the right time during the week to put your student on the path to academic success.
2. Make a Consistent Schedule
When your weekly schedule is packed to the brim, finding time for tutoring can be a challenge. But establishing a routine with your tutor is important for your family – and for your student.
Pick a consistent day and time, so you can manage your to-do list around your student’s tutoring sessions. Consistency gives your student the structure and stability they need to learn successfully over time, too.
Planning doesn’t come naturally to everyone, though. If you struggle to keep all of your after-school and work commitments organized, it’s time to change your approach:
Invest in a family calendar and keep it in a prominent place.
Or, if your family is tech-savvy, use a scheduling app like Google Calendar or Cozi to keep everyone’s commitments straight.
Make notes about who is responsible for which commitment.
Commit to planning ahead. When you plan one or two weeks out, you can limit the number of surprises that disrupt your day-to-day routine.
3. Drop a Commitment
Sometimes we just can’t do it all. And our tendency to over-schedule could actually be hurting young students, distracting them from the kinds of activities that make a difference in their education over time.
“In our desire to fully engage with our children’s education, many of us gravitate to time-intensive activities that may not actually have much impact on their success in school,” Ariela Rozman, an expert in K-12 education, explained to Harvard Business Review.
Rozman suggests that paring back on school events to focus on homework help or reading as a family might make all the difference in your student’s overall academic success.
The same could be said for prioritizing tutoring over other activities – if only for a short time. Make joining after-school clubs and sports a goal for the following semester, or help your student choose one activity they really enjoy, instead of juggling three or four.
Still, this process can be tricky for students who may already feel down about needing a tutor in the first place. However you and your family decide to fit tutoring into your after-school schedule, make sure your student understands that it’s not a punishment – and that it can be an exciting, challenging way to keep improving their skills.
4. Use “Flex” Work Time
Office jobs are more flexible than ever, and your company likely has a policy about “flex” work time or flexible schedules. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these policies – especially if you don’t have additional money for childcare, or nothing else in your schedule will give.
Communicate openly with your partner or your family members, so you can determine who has the most wiggle room in their schedule and which workplace is most supportive when it comes to childcare. Maybe it’s possible for you or your partner to work at home in the afternoons during after-school tutoring. Or maybe one of you can head to work an hour earlier, in order to leave the office at 4 PM and accommodate your tutor.
Be open with your boss about your afternoon schedule on tutoring days, so you can prioritize tutoring without shirking your duties at work. Have a plan you can discuss with your supervisor about how flex time might work, how long you think you’ll need to maintain your alternate schedule, and how you might avoid future scheduling conflicts or make up for “lost” time and productivity.
The more prepared you are to address potential problems or pitfalls, the easier it will be to negotiate your schedule with your supervisor – and stay on top of your work projects without missing a beat.
5. Trade Responsibilities With Your Partner
Balancing the needs and schedule of an entire family can be tough – but it’s even tougher if one person is pulling more of the weight.
If you know you or your partner struggle with delegating tasks, take the time to sit down with your family calendar and hash out the commitments, errands, and to-dos that take up everyone’s time during the week. Which tasks can be delegated, outsourced, or traded off? What can you take turns doing for one another?
Don’t be afraid to shake things up, either. Even if you’re the one who usually does the grocery shopping, that doesn’t mean your partner can’t pick up dinner a night or two a week, or stop at the store on the way home from work. Divvy up responsibilities equally, and consider when it makes the most sense to delegate or share tasks you tend to take on yourself.
While it might take some planning and negotiation, you’ve ultimately created more time and space in your life to accommodate your child’s education – and that’s worth the balancing act.
6. Ask for Help
No one expects you to do it all. In fact, it’s impossible – which means it’s ok to ask for help from friends, neighbors, or relatives as you figure out the best way to manage your family’s to-do list. Can your other children get a ride home from soccer practice with a friend? Can you trade off after-school pick-up with another parent in your neighborhood?
Look to your school, friend, and family networks for connections across all your activities to help make scheduling easier. Consider how sharing tasks like after-school pick-up might ease the time crunch on tutoring days – and which days you have wiggle room to help out other parents or family members in return.
Using your networks will help free up your time during the rest of the week, and make it easier to find a reliable emergency backup contact for those days when life takes you by surprise. All parents need a dependable friend, neighbor, relative, or babysitter they can call in a pinch. Do you have a backup contact for the days you’re running 20 to 30 minutes behind, or when your other kid’s ride bailed and you have to arrange an emergency pick-up?
If you don’t have an emergency backup for your tutoring sessions, it’s time to designate someone to be the adult in the room if you or your partner are suddenly unavailable on tutoring day. Remember, tutors aren’t necessarily caregivers, and it’s important to respect their time and their role in helping your student improve academically.
This may require that you ask an additional adult who can play the role of caregiver to be present, even if they’re not actively watching or monitoring the tutoring session. Remember to introduce tutors to your emergency contacts or babysitters, so everyone feels comfortable working together in your home.
If you’re interested in hiring a tutor who also has experience with caregiving, you’ll likely shell out a higher hourly rate. Be sensitive to the idea that pairing childcare with tutoring is a different kind of expectation and plan accordingly. Highly trained tutors consider themselves educators first, and you should be clear about what the tutor’s responsibilities in your home are throughout the hiring process.
Finally, be sure to exchange cell phone numbers so you can reschedule if life truly gets the better of your family calendar. As every parent knows: it happens!
Enrolling your student in a well-ranked primary or secondary school has never been harder. So it’s no wonder that parents have responded by hiring tutors for their children at younger and younger ages.
Suein Hwang, an education reporter for The Wall Street Journal, discovered that competitive tutoring programs for preschool-age children were attracting more students between the ages of 2 and 4 than ever.
Despite reservations from early childhood development experts, this trend isn’t going anywhere, says Hwang. “Industrywide, Boston education-consulting firm Eduventures forecasts that the estimated $4 billion market will grow an average 12% to 15% a year,” Hwang reports.
But how young is too young when it comes to hiring a tutor for your child? At TutorUp, we believe hiring a tutor is a deeply personal decision. But there are developmental guidelines you can use as you consider whether or not it’s appropriate to work with a certified teacher.
Here are three questions you can ask if you’re unsure whether your child is ready to work one-on-one with a tutor:
1. What are my child’s needs as an early learner?
Addressing a developmental delay or learning disability: Ages 0 to 5
Each state has early childhood intervention (ECI) programs that evaluate the needs of young children who may have a learning disability or developmental delay. These programs are meant to assess whether a child has a demonstrated learning disability in an area like reading or math, or a developmental delay in an area like speech or movement.
While the process of evaluating your child for a learning intervention program can be a stressful and uncertain time for parents, it doesn’t mean you should panic. Health providers can point you in the direction of state services for young children with developmental delays. Free services, like speech therapy or physical therapy, can help your child address their developmental needs, even from a very young age.
One-on-one tutoring may be appropriate for children in preschool or kindergarten if they have a specific learning disability. TutorUp tutors are certified, experienced teachers who understand what early learners with disabilities need to be successful in the classroom.
A tutor with expertise in Early Childhood Education or Special Needs can give your child the extra support they need to develop foundational learning skills crucial for future success.
Accelerating a child’s academic development: Ages 0 to 5
Few studies show that traditional one-on-one tutoring helps accelerate a child’s academic development from a very young age. In fact, an overemphasis on rote forms of learning, like drills or worksheets, might even prevent young children from developing important skills only acquired through free associated play.
“Instead of focusing solely on academic skills, such as reciting the alphabet, early literacy, using flash cards, engaging with computer toys, and teaching to tests (which has been overemphasized to promote improved test results), cultivating the joy of learning through play is likely to better encourage long-term academic success,” finds a recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Play helps young children in preschool and kindergarten learn everything from fine motor skills to negotiation, collaboration, and problem-solving – all skills that are important for academic learning down the road.
According to Joan Almon, the executive director of the Alliance for Childhood, attempts to accelerate learning and academic development in young learners can backfire in other ways, too.
“There is absolutely no research showing that children who read at age 4 or 5 do better at age 10 or 12 than children who start reading in first grade,” Almon told NBC. “But there is research showing if you push 4- and 5-year-olds too hard, it backfires.”
As academic tasks in kindergarten become more difficult, for example, student retention often decreases and incidences of bad behavior or absence increase.
If you decide your young child needs additional academic support in the form of one-on-one tutoring, work with your tutor to make developmentally-appropriate goals that tap into your child’s sense of play, imagination, and love of learning.
Preventing achievement gaps: Ages 5 to 10
Working with young children to develop and maintain fundamental reading and math skills is crucial, especially for students from at-risk populations who experience more inequality throughout their educational careers.
These gaps often worsen during after-school and summer vacations, when at-risk children have less access to learning support. Research shows that achievement gaps in children as young as 5 years old can persist well into adulthood if left unaddressed.
One-on-one tutoring, whether through private tutoring or after-school programs, can prevent learning gaps. On its own, however, tutoring isn’t enough to address the social and economic conditions of the achievement gap.
According to one study from the Economic Policy Institute, parents play a big role in preparing their child for academic success. Parental expectations and participation in pre-K learning activities can begin to address learning gaps at home.
The study found, however, that additional support from the community, including teachers, school administrators, and policy makers, is what makes the biggest difference in closing learning gaps caused by inequality.
2. Is my child suffering from a lack of confidence?
Identifying learning disabilities and developmental delays in very young children often ensures students get the help that they need. But even young students with normal academic abilities might benefit from additional emotional support and confidence-building, which an experienced tutor can provide.
Watch for signs of low confidence or low self-esteem in your child, like negative self-talk or giving up when a task is difficult or frustrating. Even if your child is academically capable, a lack of confidence in their own abilities could be a roadblock to future success.
According to Dr. Ken Shore, a school psychologist and the author of Special Kids Problem Solver, students with low self-confidence have difficulty concentrating and taking the creative risks that lead to greater learning.
“Although you cannot teach a student to feel good about herself, you can nurture her self-esteem through a continual process of encouragement and support,” Shore writes at EducationWorld.com.
In addition to strong support in the classroom, one-on-one tutoring can be a great way to address the emotional needs of children as early as kindergarten and first grade. Young students who work with tutors can be coached to develop better problem-solving skills, receive more positive reinforcement, and see visible signs of their progress, all of which improve confidence in the classroom.
Personalized learning also helps students with low confidence by giving them the learning strategies they need to reach their own “ah-ha” moments with difficult material. At TutorUp, our tutors are certified teachers with expertise in Early Childhood Education who know how to identify your child’s most effective learning style, adapt their teaching methods, and provide the positive reinforcement your child needs to achieve success.
3. Is “homework drama” getting in the way of learning at home or in the classroom?
Even though students in primary and middle school don’t face the same set of rigorous academic expectations as high school students, hiring a tutor might help parents work around a sore spot for many families: homework.
According to the Toronto Star, the pressures of completing homework after school can cause perfectly capable students to rebel, struggle, and even fall behind in the classroom – even from a young age.
One-on-one tutoring support from an experienced educator – crucially, a non-family member – can alleviate this pressure on parents, says Diane Montgomery, a Toronto-based tutor and teacher whose son happens to have a learning disability.
“[When] a student is accountable to a third party, they feel they have to produce the results because of that,” Montgomery told the newspaper.
Not only do students who work one-on-one with tutors receive tailored academic support, but they also get more experience working toward goals set by educators who aren’t their parents. This helps frustrated students stay on top of homework, develop confidence in their abilities, and even discover interest in subjects they thought they didn’t like.
Vanessa Vakharia, the founder of Toronto-based tutoring agency The Math Guru, has found that even kindergarten-age children develop early aversions to subjects like math. As young as age 5, students may feel they simply aren’t good at subjects and decide they’ll never develop the skills they need to succeed.
For Vakharia, one-on-one tutoring can change this self-perception. “If you have a kid who’s super sporty and really doesn’t care about school, I like to match him with a tutor who loves sports, but also loves math so they can see, ‘Oh, there’s this type of person that I can be. I can actually like both things,’” Vakharia explained to the Star.
By working with a tutor who has multiple interests, even young children see that it’s possible to develop competency – and joy – in subjects that might frustrate them in school. With increased confidence, these young students not only overcome their dislike of specific subjects, but learn how to persevere in – and out – of the classroom.