Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home

This is post #9 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Are you worried that you, as a parent, can’t provide a good quality “tutoring session” with your child at home? While there are times when a professional tutor can offer specialised skills, much of the time parents can do a great job tutoring their own children. As you know your children very well, you can most likely use that knowledge and understanding to provide a learning session that fits your child’s personal needs and learning style. But if you would like a simple “plan” to help you get started on home-tutoring, here you go. This layout can also be useful for new homeschool parents who want a clear “plan” to get started. In either case, try it out, and then make adjustments that fit the needs and learning styles of both parent and child(ren). Have fun!

Before the session: Review the child’s progress in previous sessions, and look over guidelines and assignments from the child’s classroom teacher. Think of other fun and practical ways you could teach the same concept (fractions: slicing up pie or bread; quotation marks: reader’s theatre; skip counting: coins).

At the beginning of the session: Although this list looks long, this is just a “setting the stage” part of the lesson, and normally should take no more than 5 minutes or so! Use whichever suggestions fit your circumstances.

  • Turn off the TV and other distractions. Set your phone to take messages. Chat informally for a few moments with your child about their interests and activities.  This helps the student become more comfortable, develops the parent-child relationship, and provides the parent with a better understanding of the student’s interests and needs.
  • Ask a couple review questions to determine if previously learned material is understood. (If necessary, the parent may decide to adjust the lesson plan to fit the circumstances this opening discussion has indicated).
  • If your child is ready to move on to new material, ask a few questions or give the child a short “pre-quiz” of the new material to find out what the student already knows, and what needs to be covered in detail in this lesson.
  • Involve your child in planning the session by asking questions like: What’s next? What do you want to accomplish today? What are your assignments? What can I help you with? Is there anything you want to review, or something you’re not sure about?  What do you think the teacher will introduce next?
  • Discuss scheduling for long-term projects, review deadlines, check off completed homework assignments and consider goals.

The homework/tutoring session:

  • If your child has brought homework, ask him/her what it is about, and how it is to be done (rather than you, the parent, just explaining–find out what the child knows already).
  • Involve the student as much as possible, listening carefully to the student’s responses, explanations, and questions, and observing the student’s efforts.  Observe carefully as the child works through the assignment; have the child explain each step he/she is doing, and watch to see if there is a step the child doesn’t understand (small bits of missing facts/information can cause big problems down the line).
  • Provide positive feedback for successes, and be upbeat and encourage when the student has difficulty.
  • If there are unexpected problems, adjust the lesson plan to work on those gaps/issues.
  • Demonstrate and teach material the student does not yet understand; then give the child pointers and explanations as you observe the child’s efforts to do the new work.  Guide the child through enough examples that he/she reaches the point of being able to do it personally.
  • Use a variety of learning styles/intelligences.  Examples: visual/spatial (learn by seeing), auditory (learn by hearing), kinesthetic/tactile (hands-on), linguistic (learn by communicating through language), logical/mathematical, musical, art, etc.  Also think about the child’s personality type (social, achievement-oriented, creative). Use a variety of different kinds of activities to help the student learn, practice, and retain their learning.
  • When you think the child understands, have them “teach” you (or teach another person, or even a pet or stuffy!). This is a very effective way to review!
  • If your child seems stressed or very tired, take a breathing break, do some stretches, listen to some relaxing music, play a short table game, or have a glass of water and/or a healthy snack like carrot sticks. Take a 5-minute break in each half-hour, and between difficult assignments.
  • As the parent, you should be enthusiastic, but also calm. If you become stressed, your child will also become stressed. If you are overly enthusiastic, your child may feel badly that she isn’t as excited about the subject as you are.
  • Note: A child also should have an adequate transition time between school and home learning sessions.

The end of the lesson:

  • Know your child’s attention span and back off before he begins to fade or becomes too distracted. If an hour or even a half-hour is too long, break up the lesson into smaller parts of perhaps 15 minutes, then gradually lengthen the sessions–perhaps by 5 minutes at a time, until you reach a reasonable lesson length.
  • If the session has been a struggle, finish by reviewing a slightly easier concept.  You want your child to leave feeling he will master this in the end.  Praise him for his effort.  Encourage him to come to you with any questions.  Reference what you’ll do next time.
  • Discuss with the child ways to review the lesson in a “non-homework” style.  For example:
    • If the lesson has been on fractions, you might plan to do some home baking together, emphasising the measurements.
    • Or if the lesson has been on reading, you might together choose some books that would be appropriate for bedtime reads before the next session.
    • If the lesson is on multiplication, think of fun ways to practice the “facts.”
  • If the child is involved in choosing these activities, they will be more motivated and learn faster.
  • Always try to end the session on a positive, encouraging note, so that the student feels they have had a successful experience and looks forward to future learning.
  • If your child still has some homework to complete that he can do independently, allow a bit of a break time after tutoring,  then make sure he has a quiet, focused place to work without distractions. Peek in on him every few minutes to make sure he is focusing, and that he hasn’t been distracted. Alternatively, have your child do independent work first, and then use the tutoring time to work on things he found difficult, or on new learning.

After the lesson: Repetition, on a regular basis, is important for the short-term learning from the tutoring session to turn into long-term memory.  If possible, the student will actually USE the material he/she has just learned, in some practical ways. Watch for opportunities in daily life in which the child can apply her learning. Also, frequent short doses of repetition are much more effective than one or two long learning periods. Example: If learning spelling/vocabulary, aim to spend about 10 minutes a day for the next week or so to review the list. (And avoid last-minute “cram” sessions). These short review sessions can easily happen at times such as around the dinner table, in the car while travelling, or while waiting for an appointment.

Planning ahead: Jot down a couple notes about the lesson to help you plan for the next one, and anything you want to discuss with the teacher. Note what learning activities were most successful, what was learned, and what needs more work.

I hope this simple plan has been helpful to you. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them in the comments, and/or contact me. Thank you!

  1. Why children need parent-tutors
  2. Important activities parent-tutors can do well
  3. Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
  4. Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
  5. Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
  6. Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
  7. Some Basic Learning Goals
  8. Home Tutoring Resources
  9. Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
  10. Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
  11. Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
  12. When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
  13. Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
  14. All Kinds of Learning Activities
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