This is post #11 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”
Specific considerations for intermediate grades (4 to 8):
Real Life Applications: As in the primary grades, home tutoring should take advantage of as many “real-life applications” as possible. And it should continue to encourage the child’s creativity and curiosity. It should be a positive experience that supports the school learning, but should not always use exactly the same approaches as in the school classroom.
Homework times: Continuing with the “10 minute per grade” homework suggestion, the homework time in the grades 4 to 8 levels would be about 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80 minutes respectively. At these levels, a small amount of weekend homework may also be reasonable. Also, this is a good time to
Start helping the child develop self-led organisational and study skills. It is helpful to develop a “schedule” with set times for homework; this schedule should involve the child in planning it. Discuss together factors such as:
- a child’s possible need for some active, outdoor play time between school and homework;
- times when parents (or other home tutoring helpers) are available;
- other activities the child wants to be involved in such as sports or music lessons, and how many “extracurriculars” are suitable;
- different ways the child can fit homework in (do some at school during lunch break, and/or make better use of classroom time; do reading on the bus on the way home; break up homework into two or three sessions; work together with a classmate who lives nearby, etc.);
- when homework time gets up to an hour or more, there should definitely be a “brain break” part way through–a snack, some play time, or whatever will refresh the child.
- introduce the child to planning ahead for deadlines (for example, if a project or test is due in a week, divide up the work into daily sections of 10 or 15 minutes instead of cramming at the last minute);
- encourage the child to start working more independently; parents should definitely avoid “doing the child’s homework,” but should still be available to guide, support, and encourage.
When several teachers assign large amounts of homework at the same time: At the middle school level (and sometimes even in earlier grades), children may have different teachers for different subjects–and end up bringing home a lot of homework on some days, because the teachers are not coordinating their homework assignments. If a grade 6 child has 3 different teachers, and each teacher assigns 60 minutes of homework the same day, that becomes ridiculous. Parents need to bring such practices to the attention of the school.
Meanwhile, if a child does bring home an unreasonable amount of homework on a particular occasion, all due the next day, the parent should help the child decide what is most important–and send a note or phone the school the next day to explain the decision.
Several large assignments, all due a few days later: If a child receives several large assignments, all due 3 or 4 days later, then again the parent and child can together set up a suitable plan to spread out the work.
When homework seems to be busy work: As in the primary grades, if it seems that a lot of “homework” is really just “busy work,” the parent should definitely discuss it with the teacher, and stand up for the child’s needs.
Find out why a child has more homework than is reasonable: If it seems that the child is bringing home an unreasonable amount of homework, the parent needs to discuss it with the teacher and child (together) and figure out why this is happening, and what can be done about it. For example:
- Is the child not doing the work in class time, and if so, why? Is the child distracted during class and how could that be resolved?
- Does the child have learning differences that need to be addressed?
- Does the child have learning gaps that need to be remedied to be able to do the more advanced work he/she is struggling with?
What about underlying issues (medical, psychological, learning differences, etc.)? When children get to the intermediate grades and they are still struggling with basics so that they are falling behind and becoming frustrated and unhappy with education, it is definitely time to make sure whether or not there are underlying issues. While physical issues (eyesight, hearing, etc.) and obvious medical or psychological issues (autism, apraxia, etc.) should have already been identified in the primary grades, if the child is still struggling in ways that would not be accounted for by those issues, the beginning of the intermediate years is an important time to figure out what else might be going on. Some possibilities are:
- If the child is still overly active, perhaps ADHD is an issue.
- Is the child having emotional problems, and what might be causing them (family issues, relationships with other students or even with a teacher, traumatic situations the child has experienced, hidden abuse, etc.)?
- Don’t forget to consider the child’s unique personality, talents, interests, academic ability, and so on–is the school (and/or parents or significant others) putting unreasonable expectations and pressure on the child?
- Or is the child bored and could use more challenge, or opportunities to help other children?
- Is the child involved in too many activities outside school time (sports, lessons, long bus commutes, an unusual level of home responsibilities, jobs such as paper routes or working in a family business, etc.), and if so, which are priorities and what can be set aside or decreased? Are these activities reflective of the child’s abilities and interests, or have they been pressured into them by parents, friends, or others?
- Intermediate grade children are still children–and they still need a reasonable amount of time to play and explore and relax.
What about electronics? At the intermediate grade level, children often become far more interested in video games, watching TV, and texting their friends. It is far too easy to let use of electronics take over increasing amounts of time that should be dedicated to physical activity, relationships, and learning.
Children’s brains are still very much developing at this stage, and as they get to pre- and early teens, children’s brains should be moving beyond “concrete thinking” into more analytical thinking–but too much passive entertainment or repetitive video game type activities can interfere with this important development.
Parent-child relationships: Parents who want to support their child’s learning need to make sure they continue to be regularly involved in activities with their child, and thus to nurture that relationship. It won’t be long before the child starts to assert independence; the grade 4 to 8 level is an important time to build a strong foundational relationship that allows the child to become increasingly independent while still being comfortable with family activities including learning activities.
Parent-school relationships: Many parents seem to think that once a child is finished with the primary years, the parents no longer need to be involved with the school. Wrong! In some ways, parent-school relationships are more important than ever. While you may no longer volunteer time to prepare classroom crafts or bake cookies for class events or accompany the children on field trips to the fire station, your involvement is still crucial (and will continue to be so, right to the end of high school). School work is becoming more complex, and it is important you stay very aware of your child’s progress, and work with the school to ensure your child does not fall behind. Field trips and sports and other trips are often longer and a farther distance and parent supervisors are needed. And your parent-school relationship is an important part of the foundational parent-child relationship already discussed. Be sure to attend parent-teacher conferences, cheer your child on at sports events, attend your child’s concerts, and so on.
What if you feel you are not qualified enough to help your children as they grow older? As in the primary years, each child is a unique individual, and parents have the opportunity to know the child better than anyone else, as they observe and interact with them in the family situation. While many parents feel comfortable being involved in the child’s learning both at home and at school during the primary years, it seems that as the child gets older, the parents may give more and more educational responsibility to the school, feeling that “educational experts” are now needed.
But truly, children in the intermediate years can still be tutored and encouraged and mentored successfully by their parents if the parents make a serious effort to continue the parent tutor/child relationship. Sometimes it will require the parent to take the initiative to brush up (or relearn, or even learn for the first time) on subjects and skills the child is being introduced to at school. In fact, in some cases the child can actually “teach the parent”–which builds the child’s self-confidence in his/her abilities and strengthens new skills and knowledge.
Parents can still have a strong influence on a child’s attitude to learning, as the child sees the parent continuing to learn and develop. Parents still need to keep in close contact with the school and be a proactive member of the child’s “learning team.” It is important for your child to see you as part of his or her educational experience; soon enough, children tend to get “embarrassed” by having their parents around, so now is the time to make it seem a natural part of their school and other learning, and to continue to build a relationship that will encourage them to trust you and comfortably include you to some degree in their ongoing learning in the years to come.
“What I want to do when I grow up”: The intermediate level is also a time when many children start to think about “what I want to do when I grow up.” This is a great opportunity for the parent to observe the child’s interests and abilities, and provide opportunities and experiences for the child to explore different possibilities. Lots of learning exploration can still be done at home. For example:
- A child who shows interest in the basic physics and chemistry being taught in the classroom science lesson can be encouraged to try creating backyard “rockets” with pop bottles and vinegar-and-baking-soda “fuel.”
- If a child shows enthusiasm for home baking, a parent’s involvement and encouragement can guide the child into exploring a wide variety of related subjects–Social Studies (geography and history of ethnic foods); science (biology of ingredients, chemistry of ingredient interactions, etc.); math (increasing or decreasing amounts in recipes); Language Arts (exploring cookbooks, reading about foods and other customs, reading novels that involve food, creating and writing personal baking recipes).
- A parent might also find opportunities for a child to job-shadow a friend who works in a bakery, or to volunteer to help bake at a soup-kitchen or a community event, or to start a small home-based business baking and decorating birthday cakes for children’s parties, and of course encourage the child to bake at home.
There are so many ways a parent can continue to support and encourage a child’s life-long learning–as well as providing guidance and encouragement with homework assignments, and helping the child find extra help when needed, either from the parents themselves, or from acquaintances who have particular skills, or a qualified tutor, or online learning programs.
Questions and responses: What have you done to support your intermediate-grade children in their learning? Or what new things are you going to try? Do you have other ideas to share with other parents reading this post? We’d love to have your share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. Thank you!
- Why children need parent-tutors
- Important activities parent-tutors can do well
- Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
- Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
- Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
- Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
- Some Basic Learning Goals
- Home Tutoring Resources
- Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
- Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
- Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
- When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
- Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
- All Kinds of Learning Activities