Parent-Tutors: Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades

This is post #10 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

How can parents be involved in tutoring their children in primary grades K to 3 (and in some cases, pre-Kindergarten)? And note: While some of these tips are aimed to parents who are helping their children with “school work,” many of these tips are great for homeschoolers and also for those who simply want to create a great home-learning environment!

  • Follow guidelines given to you by your child’s school and/or teacher. When you register your child for Kindergarten (or pre-Kindergarten), you will be given a list of suggestions for “readiness” activities you can do at home. These will always include reading daily to your child, and will also encourage you to provide a “learning rich environment” (books, educational games, perhaps attending daycares run by qualified ECE educators, involvement in extra-curricular lessons and activities, and so on). For children whose parents feel they may not be able to provide these kinds of activities, there are early start programsbut parents are often more “qualified” than they think they are!
  • The key educational thing parents can do for their young children is to instil a love of learning. When children see their parents learning–reading; watching documentary programs; using facilities like libraries and signing out materials to learn new skills like gardening or carpentry or whatever; taking any kind of courses; learning new skills on the job; being involved in study groups or book clubs or hobby groups; going for walks with the children and exploring and pointing out birds, animals, plants; reading signs to their children; involving their children in family activities where the children can observe and participate–all these kinds of things demonstrate the value of life-long learning. Even if parents feel they have inadequate literacy skills (math, reading, writing), or inadequate English language skills, their positive attitudes and values about learning can make a huge difference in preparing their children for schooling.
  • Pre-school drilling or play and exploration? There are those who think that children should have their alphabet and numbers memorised, and be able to read before they even start school. Some parents spend many hours drilling their young children with flashcards and other learning materials, and pressuring them to “be at the top of the class”–even before they are school age. But many studies–and some of the world’s most successful educational systems (such as those in Finland and Denmark)–show that child-centered play, exploration, curiosity and opportunities in the arts and other creative outlets are far more important in the early years. Children are born with great natural curiosity and creativity, and when those natural talents are encouraged, the child will become a much more motivated and self-directed life-long learner.
  • Children develop at different rates and learn in different ways. While some children are eager to learn to read at 3 or 4 years of age, other children are not developmentally ready until age 9 or 10. Generally, girls are ready for “academic learning” about a year earlier than boys. Also, different children learn in different ways. Some children are very active, physical learners; others soak up information by listening; while still others love to talk and discuss–and still others are happy to work quietly at a desk. Some children have unusually strong talents in music or fine arts and learn especially well with learning approaches that involve those talents. Parents, who spend so much time with their children, have the opportunity to observe each child’s personality and learning styles and provide life experiences that suit each child’s uniqueness.
  • What if my child is “not yet meeting expectations?” Generally, parents should not panic if their child’s learning doesn’t match up exactly with the “requirements” schools ask for when registering young children. If your child is an eager learner, curious and interested and participating actively in a variety of daily life activities, that child has a good chance of succeeding academically when they are ready and interested. In countries like Finland, in educational systems like Montessori, and in many homeschool families, children are encouraged to do lots of play and exploration, and are not formally taught “reading, writing, and arithmetic” until at least 8 years of age, or even older. And over and over again, it has been proven that when children are able to start formal academics when they are developmentally ready and are personally interested, they often learn the same literacy skills in a period of 3 or 4 months that many children in traditional primary programs take 3 or 4 years to develop. Parents should not feel pressured to force their young child to “meet or exceed” academic requirements that the child is not yet ready for; too much pressure takes away a child’s joy of learning and destroys natural curiosity and creativity.
  • Whole life learning: As a parent tutor, in the primary years you will want to focus on activities that support the school learning to some degree, but ideally in a more “whole life” way of learning. When a child is exhausted from the “academic life” at school, home should be a place of comfort and fun and creative learning.
  • Drilling “the basics:” Parents often feel under pressure to drill their young children in their ABCs, numbers, arithmetic facts, spelling, and reading and writing practice. And “basics” are important: they lay the foundation upon which more advanced concepts and skills are built. Unfortunately, for many children, repetitious drills can lead to family wars instead of to positive learning. But there are so many different and fun ways to help your child learn these basics. For example, for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division “math facts” you might try some of the following varied approaches. (You can also do similar activities for the alphabet, spelling and other “basics.”)
    • Use real items (“manipulatives”) such as interlocking blocks, dry beans or macaroni, coins, etc. to demonstrate the facts.
    • Play “store” and have your child figure out which coins to use to pay for the “prices” of objects.
    • Look on the internet for good sites with lots of arithmetic games.
    • Get flash cards from the dollar store, or games like “Multiplication Bingo.”
    • Play dice games like “Snakes and Ladders” or “Dominoes” to practice addition. (You can often get fun table games at second-hand stores very inexpensively, or share games among a group of families).
    • Sing arithmetic facts (eg. sing “9 times 5 is 45” to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”)
    • Use movement as you practice facts–bounce a ball, clap, jump up steps, jump on a trampoline, etc.
    • Create your own entertaining or family-relevant word problems or stories for your facts.
    • Take your child shopping, banking, out for walks and drives, and watch out for all kinds of chances to use math facts.
    • Use rhyme and rhythm while repeating facts aloud: “5 times 5 is 25, 7 times 5 is 35, 9 times 5 is 45…”
    • “Write” the answer to a fact with your finger in the air (or on a wall, or on a sidewalk–use sidewalk chalk) as you say the equation aloud and give the answer.
    • Use colourful felt pens or crayons to write the facts.
    • Draw a funny picture to go with a fact you’re having trouble remembering.
    • “Write” facts in a tray of sand or salt or shaving cream; “erase” and do them again and again.
    • Type facts on your computer, using large, fun fonts; read aloud as you type.
    • Use different materials to write facts (paint brush, coloured pencils, chalk, markers, etc.).
    • Get a partner to practice the facts with you each day for 10 minutes or so (much better than once or twice a week for longer periods).
    • Have a “math facts bee” (like a “spelling bee”) with friends or family.
    • Play “Hangman” with math facts and see how many you get right before you get “hanged.”
    • Carry an index card with math facts on it in your pocket, and practice them while riding in the bus or car, waiting for appointments, during commercial breaks on TV, etc.
    • Download free, fun “riddle code” math facts worksheets from the internet, do the facts, and figure out the answers to the riddles.
    • If going on a road trip, have the child use a map and add up the distance to the location.
    • Use temperature fluctuations on a thermometer to practice subtraction.
    • Design and build projects, or do science experiments that require arithmetic.
    • Keep score in sports.
    • And much more! Challenge your child to notice how many life activities use arithmetic, and use those activities to memorise those facts!
  • Electronics use: Be very aware how much time your child is spending watching TV, playing video games, and otherwise using electronics. Your young child’s brain is very malleable at this stage, and excessive use of electronics can affect the child’s development of ability to focus and learn. Their young bodies are also rapidly developing, and they need plenty of exercise, ideally much of it outdoors, and healthy eating. These are life aspects that parents have a lot of control over, and are an important part of a child’s education and life-long learning. Of course, parents will also want to be very aware of the “content” of what their children are consuming in their use of technology. Ideally, set a daily time limit (at the primary level, 1/2 hour to 1 hour daily is plenty) for your child to use these devices, and the parent should spend part of the time with the child, discussing what is being watched, or playing games with the child. Also, remember that technology often tends to encourage “entertainment” rather than developing the child’s ability to learn and be actively involved in life.
  • What about “homework” at the primary level? There is an often accepted “rule” that a child should have 10 minutes of daily “homework” assigned for every grade of school. Well, since kindergarten doesn’t have a grade number, that suggests that formal “homework” probably shouldn’t be assigned. However, it’s always a good idea to read aloud to/with your child daily for a few minutes (bedtime reading is a great time to do it); some kindergarten teachers will provide reading materials that are related to the concepts being taught in the classroom, but if at all possible, try not to make kindergarten “homework” seem like more classroom time. Rather than making your kindergarten child “practice writing her letters,” have paper and a variety of writing and other craft tools and materials handy, so your child can voluntarily draw and write as she wishes. Take your child to the library and let him choose books and magazines he is interested in; don’t worry about “suitable reading level” as you will be doing most of the reading at this point anyway. Developing a love of reading, and an interest in a wide variety of materials, both fiction and non-fiction, is the key at this stage. If you feel your child’s kindergarten teacher is pushing too much “homework,” explain that you are doing lots of real-life learning activities at home.
  • At the grade 1, 2, and 3 levels, there will likely be a gradual increase in “homework”–the “10 minute per grade” rule would suggest 10, 20, and 30 minutes in the respective grades (weekends should ideally be homework-free at this level). Homework should be supportive of classroom learning, providing the child with extra practice in applying new concepts, ideally in “real-life” applications. It should NOT simply be “busy-work.” If your child is bringing home a lot of miscellaneous worksheets, you have the right to question whether this kind of homework is really helpful; why not instead suggest “real-life learning” activities that you want to do with your child, that are related to school learning.
  • What about big “projects?” If the child is being required to do complicated, time-consuming “projects” that require expensive materials, and/or assignments that are unduly difficult, you should definitely discuss it with the school–again, be pro-active for your child. Homework “for the sake of homework” should also not be happening; there is no reason a child should have to do homework every single day if he/she is already succeeding in class time. Building good self-discipline and learning habits in preparation for the more difficult years ahead is fine, but it should be reasonable.
  • If your child seems to constantly be bringing home half-completed classroom work, you definitely should discuss it with the teacher, and find out what is happening: Is the child finding the work too difficult? Is the classroom atmosphere too rowdy or distracting for your child? Is your child spending most of class time running around, chatting with other students, drawing pictures, or day-dreaming (and if so, does this suggest the child might need learning methods more suited to his/her personality and learning styles, or do you need to spend some time helping your child learn to settle down and focus)? Is your child not developmentally ready for this level of work? Is the child missing some “basics” you could help with at home instead of struggling with the incomplete assignments that are caused by learning gaps? Does the child perhaps have health or physical or emotional or learning differences that need to be addressed?
  • What about “special needs”? Since parents often spend lots of time with their young children, they may sense when that child might have “special needs” that need to be taken care of–physical needs such as hearing or sight difficulties; emotional difficulties; or special needs or developmental issues such as autism or apraxia of speech. If a parent suspects a young child has these kinds of issues, certainly it is wise to have them diagnosed.
  • But when it comes to “learning differences,” it is often wise to take a “wait and see” attitude in the primary years. For example, a child who is very active, and has difficulty “sitting still and learning” and therefore might be seen as “disturbing the class” might be diagnosed as ADHD, and be prescribed medications that “calm him down” but at the same time dull his curiosity and creativity … and ability to learn. A “wait and see” attitude could instead provide lots of opportunity for active, physical learning and exploration, and often the child will reach a stage where more traditional learning methods will succeed.
  • What about when a child seems to be “failing” or “isn’t ready”? In fact, there is nothing wrong with having a child repeat a year of kindergarten–or even wait a year before starting school (legally, a child must enroll–or register as a homeschooler–in BC by the year in which the child turns 5—but parents are also allowed to keep their child home for an extra year), even though schools may try to insist parents keep the child with his age peers. If your 5- to 7-year-old child seems to be struggling with reading and writing, focus instead on reading aloud, outdoor exploration and activities, watching videos and playing learning games together, and encouraging your child’s interests. Your child will be gaining a strong foundation of knowledge and understanding about the world, and when he or she is ready to read and write, it will most likely be a quick and easy process.
  • Fine motor skills: Also, many young children do not yet have the “fine motor skills” required for printing and drawing; providing activities that will develop those motor skills will make the printing and drawing much easier and more enjoyable when the child is physically ready, rather than applying pressure before the child is ready, and turning him or her against learning.
  • What about “diagnoses”? If your child’s primary school–or other people, like friends or family–are pressuring you to have your child “diagnosed,” but you feel that your child just isn’t ready for traditional academic learning styles, you as the parent have the right to stand up for your child, and insist on a “wait and see” approach until at least grade 3 or so.
  • Parents should be as pro-active as possible in their child’s education. If you have any questions about what is going on, make sure you ask the teacher–and your child, on a regular basis. If your child is unhappy about school, you need to find out why. As you do all kinds of life activities, and specific learning activities, with your child at home, observe the child’s interests, learning styles, and any difficulties, and discuss them with your child’s teacher. The new BC curriculum specifies individualised learning experiences based on children’s unique learning styles and personalities, and with the recent Supreme Court ruling on class size and composition, there will hopefully soon be more speciality teachers and learning assistants to help the classroom teachers do more personalization. But it is still a huge job for a classroom teacher to individualise learning, and if you really want special considerations for your child, you need to be prepared to be part of the solution. The teacher may be much more willing–and able–to meet some of your requests if you will do your share at home.
  • Be part of your child’s learning team: Find out how you can work together as a learning team. If you choose to homeschool, whether as a registered homeschool family (in which you design your child’s learning) or as an enrolled homeschool family (in which you work under the guidance of a Distributed Learning school program, using the BC curriculum), you’ll want to use a team approach as well–researching different learning methods and resources, and getting involved with homeschool support groups. Make your child’s education an integral part of life-long learning with the family and the community!

Questions and comments: I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, or if you have suggestions to share, please post your thoughts in the comments! 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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Posted in family learning, home learning, homeschooling, homework tips, learning styles, learning tips, life-long learning, math, math facts, parent-tutoring | Leave a comment

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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Posted in family learning, home learning, homeschooling, homework tips, parent-tutoring | Leave a comment

Home Tutoring Resources

This is post #8 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

What do you need to make your home a successful learning environment? Probably less than you think! Your focus should always be on helping your children–and your whole family–have a successful learning experience, in the moment and life-long. And that, as it turns out, doesn’t require a huge investment, and you may just discover you already have most or all of the most important resources. Search out less expensive ways of learning, more creative and adventuresome ways of learning, ways of learning that broaden horizons and encourage innate originality and wonder!

Learning spaces: Learning can successfully take place in a myriad of locations–around the kitchen table, in a corner of the public library, or even under a tree, as is common in many parts of the world.

Creativity, questioning, enthusiasm, desire to learn: What is really necessary is eagerness to learn, modeled by the parent, and shared by the child–things like creativity and questioning, which all children are born with, and enthusiasm and personal desire to keep on learning for all of life on the part of both the child and the learning facilitator (parents should see themselves as fellow-learners and partners, rather than traditional teachers).

Basic resources to learn and experiment with: It can be handy to have some basic resources to learn and experiment with (ever hear of kitchen science? or spending time at the local pond? paper and pencils and other simple supplies?). And research access to learning resources (many of which are free, like libraries, and others available very inexpensively–have you recently checked out your local thrift store? or waited to buy school supplies until a day or two after school starts and the school supply sales are suddenly truly sales? Asked the local school what you can borrow? Checked out local organisations that offer free or low-cost literacy programs?

What about technology? Don’t worry about the expense of fancy technology: computers, tablets, smart phones, etc. Purchase a basic computer if you can, or use publicly-available ones at schools or libraries.

Needs, wants, wishes, demands: Determine what you truly NEED, as opposed to what you want or wish for, or what someone else demands you need.

A list of simple items to consider:

  • some loose-leaf paper (plain and lined) and a dollar-store binder, or a couple notebooks (cheap ones)
  • a couple pencils and a sharpener and eraser, possibly a pen or two, and some crayons or pencil crayons or felt pens (bought at school supply sales a couple days after school starts and marked down 75% or more!)
  • reasonable lighting (natural light is lovely; a small desk lamp with focused light is helpful)
  • maybe a simple dictionary and thesaurus (paperback, purchased from a thrift store or a bookstore clearance rack or school supply sale … or use online dictionaries if you have a computer, tablet or smartphone)
  • a relatively quiet and peaceful space to sit for reading and writing, perhaps the kitchen table or a couple cushions in a corner with a clipboard (for when your student isn’t up and about, exploring and learning hands-on).
  • set aside a “learning hour” for the whole family, in which you turn off the TV, video games, cell phones, etc., and everyone, including parents and guests, engage in learning activities.

Purchase other items over time as you find great deals or really need certain things: That’s it? Well, certainly the items above are the basics (though there are plenty of students world-wide who would consider many of these items to be luxuries). As your child’s studies proceed, you can purchase or borrow other items as they are truly needed (advertise your needs on Freecycle or on community or homeschool swap and shop groups). Over time, you’ll collect a good variety of resources, and build your home learning space very inexpensively.

Model life-long learning with your children. Have everyone spend some learning time together. Read, draw, do homework, go outside and explore nature, bake (math, chemistry, etc.!), check out the library. Go on free field trips. If you absolutely can’t do it at home, check out the many free or very low-cost community resources.

Joy and adventure vs bling: You don’t need all the fancy posters and other “bling” found in many school classrooms in order to encourage your child: well-chosen words of approval for truly deserving effort, and sharing the joy and adventure of learning for its own sake are the best ways we can prepare children to love learning and make it a life-long adventure.

Creating a focused, distraction-free environment: You do need to provide a quiet, focused, distraction-free environment if possible. What are potential distractions?

  • Technology (phone calls, text messaging, TV/radio, social media, internet, email);
  • Academic (learning disabilities, not knowing what to do, inadequate notes from school, disorganised backpack, cluttered workplace, not understanding directions);
  • Physical well-being (hunger, thirst, fatigue, discomfort, too much comfort);
  • Auditory (street noise, nearby conversations, TV or radio or video games the child can hear, loud music, phone ringing);
  • Social (siblings playing nearby or bothering the child, friends waiting in the house for the child to finish the homework, pets);
  • Emotional (rewards, punishments, competition with siblings or classmates, parents arguing or other unstable home life, bullying or other abuse, anxiety or depression).

Some of these distractions are relatively easy to overcome. You can turn off the TV and cell phone. You can ask friends to come back at a certain time. You can make sure the child has had a healthy snack or a nap if needed. Ear plugs, a cardboard privacy screen (made from a used packing box) around the study area, a desk spotlight, the TV or video games turned off for the whole family during the child’s study time, are all easy things to do. Having a consistent schedule is also important (for example, a learning hour before or after supper each day). And make sure your child is getting enough quality sleep time, at regular times. Children of 5 to 12 years of age usually need 10 to 11 hours of sleep; teens generally need 8.5 to 9.5 hours. Note that school performance is shown to drop by up to two full grade levels when a child is sleep-deprived. If sports, lessons and other activities are cutting into sleep time, choose sleep! Also note that evening exposure to light from computer screens, e-readers, and even TVs can disrupt a child’s (and adult’s) sleep cycle!

But some other distractions are harder to solve, like learning disabilities, family issues, or bullying at school or in the neighbourhood. If you notice that certain distractions are really causing a problem, it may be wise to deal with them first. Having learning disabilities diagnosed, and receiving training on how to deal with them, will result in a much better learning environment. If you force a child to try and learn in a way that doesn’t work for him, you will destroy his love of learning, and cause damage to your relationship with him. It may be better to sort out these kinds of distractions first, and then use the best methods you can to help the individual child. Use professional help when you can, but there is loads of free information on the internet and in books, and many teachers and tutors will be happy to make suggestions and work with you. A little waiting time up front, dealing with issues before getting into academic learning, will be more than made up for in the long run by removing those kinds of distractions. The same goes for family issues: family counseling for even several months, rather than forced tutoring in an unhappy environment, will lead to much better learning in the long-term (get a referral from your family doctor). And so on.

Questions and comments: Have these tips been helpful? Do you have specific questions about any of them? Do you have other tips to share that have worked for your family? Be sure to share your questions and ideas in the comments! 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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Some Basic Learning Goals

This is post #7 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Some basic learning goals:

When you are deciding if you’ll tutor your own child, or hire a tutor, one of the best things you can do is make a list of goals, keeping in mind the particular needs of the learner(s), and your own beliefs about learning. Here are some possible goals to consider (your goals should reflect your own situation):

  • Basic literacy skills: bring basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills up to at least minimum average grade level (or a level suited to the individual child)
  • Develop a love of learning, enthusiasm, and good work ethic.
  • Real-life activities: Help the children see how “school learning” is useful in real life by doing as much home teaching as possible in the context of real life situations; “Whenever possible, literacy activities should be real-life activities.”
  • Develop research and study skills to the point that each child can become a self-motivated, self-directed, independent life-long learner.
  • Understand that learning lists of “facts” have little value if those facts are not clearly related to important ideas.
  • Develop parental awareness of community and educational personnel and resources available, and how to access and profitably use those resources (For older children, make this a goal for them to develop for themselves). Look widely – mentors, clubs, non-school courses, jobs, etc., in the community and even beyond.
  • Understand that all of life involves active, on-going learning that involves our whole lives in an integrated way.
  • “Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information.” – Charlotte Mason
  • Help the children learn to pursue their interests until they become passions which will call forth their creativity and ingenuity. “Advance from taking a subject to being taken up in it.” – Northrup Frye
  • Understand that anything worth doing is worth doing well, to the best of one’s abilities, and to honour the Creator. “Aim for quickness of apprehension and expectation – expect good work.” – Charlotte Mason
  • Help the children develop positive character qualities (list those you want each child to develop).
  • Help the children develop a wide base of information about the world they live in, as must as possible in real-life learning situations (immersion in nature, involvement in work and service in the home and in the community, interaction with people of all ages, races, occupations, etc.).
  • Aim that your children will not only “remember” what they have learned, but will “understand” – development of higher level, critical thinking abilities.
  • Help your children develop powers of attention, discrimination, patient pursuit, and classification – the skills of a naturalist – through the use of hands-on, outdoors observation and study.  “Allow quiet growing time, out-of-doors, with space to wonder and grow.” – C. Mason
  • Help children come to love good writing through exposure to classic literature.  “Use real books, written with literary power, rather than textbooks.” – C. Mason
  • Help your child develop an appreciation for the wonder and beauty of creativity through exposure to the arts (from real artists, drama, band, etc.).
  • Develop strong and healthy bodies, so that health and fitness will become a life-long habit.
  • Avoid unhealthy competition over letter grades, marks, etc.
  • Remember: “Tell me and I may forget; Show me and I will remember; Let me do and I will understand.”
  • Find home-learning tasks for the children that provide practice of “educational skills” while at the same time sustaining their personal interest.
  • Be patient; find something each child is really interested in, then help them explore their interest from every angle possible.  “. . . immersion is required in a discipline before you produce anything of great novelty.” — R.W. Weisberg
  • “The gift that is in your power to give them is an awareness that whatever they need to know can be learned, and a sense that life only becomes more enjoyable as we learn more and more about the world around us.”
  • Keep in mind: “Because of their very broadly-based nature, schools are largely products of compromise.” – Wendy Priesnitz.  So it is up to ourselves as parents to understand our children and their characters, personalities, learning styles, learning differences, etc., and to come up with specific learning goals and methods that can be used outside of school (and suggested to their school learning team, if applicable) to best help them as individual learners and persons.
  • Remember: “And so it must always be the first and central task of any teacher [or parent!] to help the student become independent of him [and of “educational systems”], to learn to be his own teacher.”  — John Holt

Questions and Responses: Which of these learning goals would work well with your children and your family? Do you have other goals that you use to encourage life-long learning and educational skills in your family? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Here is a list of the other topics in this series:

  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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Monitoring Your Child’s Progress

This is post #6 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Parents may be scared off tutoring their child because they think they’ll have to test and report the child’s progress. Don’t worry. Even if you are a home-school parent, you should not be expected to create the kinds of records and reports a school teacher is required to do. What should you do, then?

  • You can jot down simple point form notes in a notebook after each tutoring session (which is handy to refer to before the next lesson, and also handy to take along to the next parent-teacher conference).
  • If you like, you can take snapshots of the projects your child creates, or you can save examples of your child’s work in a folder or scrapbook (or have your child take the snapshots and create the scrapbook/portfolio; many children enjoy this).
  • You can use these simple records as you and your child look through them together, talk about the child’s learning problems and successes (always ask the child’s opinion), and together set new goals. Don’t worry about percentages, letter grades, and formal reports!
  • Some Distributed Learning (DL) school-at-home programs (run by public or private schools) have stricter requirements about how much they expect you to “report.” If you want to (or have to, due to provincial or state laws) use one of these programs, try to find one that fits with your home learning philosophy, and allows you to spend more time learning together with your children and less time “reporting.”

How can I tell if my child is learning well enough? If you’re not sure your child has mastered a concept, you can invent some simple evaluations–preferably practical, hands-on, enjoyable activities that the child does not see as “tests” but that will show the child’s understanding and progress and provide you with ideas for future planning.  These activities might include reading aloud, discussions on a topic, artwork, creation of a video, role play, use of a computer or table game, practical use of the concept in real-life activities, and so on.  As a parent tutor, you do not need to give traditional quizzes, assign short essay questions (unless it is time to learn that skill), or have the child take tests similar to the tests faced in the classroom.  After you’re finished these simple evaluations, just go over them with the student, praise the student for successful responses, and help with continuing problem areas.

  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

Questions and Responses: Which of these reporting and evaluation methods would work well with your child/children? Do you have other tips on how to keep track of your family’s learning? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

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Developing Individualized Tutoring–Tips for Parents

This is post #5 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Individualised learning, tailored to the needs of a particular child, with one-to-one attention from the parent, is one of the real advantages of parent-tutoring.  Here are some examples of how you can individualise your child’s learning:

  • Some children learn better in a quiet, one-on-one or small group situation. Use this understanding to provide your child with an optimal learning environment in your home.
  • Others have learning styles that are less frequently available in the classroom situation.  At home, a very active child can practice saying times tables while jumping on the trampoline; a musical child can sing her times tables; an artistic child can draw pictures to help her remember them. A classroom teacher, on the other hand, can’t easily have each child “doing her own thing” at the same time.
  • Some children have medical or emotional issues, or are facing other difficult situations.  You can take time out from the tutoring time to have personal talks, or take a break, or have a snack, or stretch, or whatever will help the child at that moment.
  • A parent-tutor can ensure that mastery occurs at each step of learning a subject. But in a busy classroom with many students, a teacher may not realize that a particular student has missed an important basic concept along the way.
  • A parent-tutor can take part with the child’s learning team, preparing a individualized learning plan (IEP), based on input from the child, the teacher, parents, and any assessments done by specialists.  You can study and follow this plan, and you can also refer to the learning outcomes in the educational system the child is enrolled in.  You are a valuable member of the team as you know so well the special life needs and situations of your child.
  • Helping one-to-one, a parent-tutor can take the time to fine-tune learning goals, and can adjust lesson plans as the exact needs of the individual student become apparent. It is quite amazing how one simple concept that has been missed earlier in a child’s learning can have a huge cascading effect on future learning.
  • Thus, several sessions can be taken to focus on, and achieve mastery of, a particular concept that is difficult for the student; and yet another concept that is well understood can be very quickly reviewed and the student can move on instead of having to wait for the rest of the class to “get it.”
  • A parent tutor can take the time to insert lessons on study skills and techniques exactly when they are needed by the student, and in conjunction with the topic at hand.
  • And a parent has much more opportunity to do practical, real-life learning activities with the child than a teacher in a classroom does.
  • If you aren’t sure what exactly the child knows, start with “easy level” questions, and work through to more difficult ones. Carefully observe to discover where there may be gaps in learning. If doing a homework assignment from school, have the child explain each step to you; often you will notice where a problem exists along the way. Stop and work out that problem before continuing.
  • Listen to your child‘s responses, watch the child’s body language, listen for stress in the child’s voice, and so on. Pay close attention and you can often pick up on exactly at what point the child is having difficulty.
  • Engage the child in discussions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer. If the child gets too stressed, take a break, or try a different approach.
  • Use “hands-on” and “real-life” activities to help the child understand the purpose of a new concept. Learning is not just a bunch of facts to memorize; it involves many underlying skills, and participation in practical activities is a great way to bring the learning together.
  • Avoid yelling at the child, or punishing: the goal is to develop a love of learning, and a good parent-child relationship. If you, the parent tutor, are getting stressed, this is also a good time to take a break.
  • Start sessions at a level at which the child is comfortable and successful. Then work up through more difficult levels, helping the child build self-confidence and motivation.
  • If you as the parent are not sure how to do something, admit it, and find a way to learn how to do itself so you can help the child. The child will see your love of learning. Sometimes, the child can teach you something you’ve forgotten or haven’t learned–children love this! Encourage your child to share their knowledge and skills with you and others.
  • Good tutoring sessions involve the child as much as possible in planning and the learning and application.  True education is learning – and learning is behavior, that is, ACTION, on the part of the learner.  The more the student is involved in the learning activity, with the parent/tutor there as more of a guide or facilitator or mentor (rather than a teacher/lecturer), the more likely the student’s motivation and interest in the subject will increase, and the more he/she will learn, and be able to apply that learning.
  • Use creative and imaginative methods, motivating and involving the student.  Encourage the student to use his or her own personal interests and passions, creativity, imagination, reasoning, and other intellectual powers, to become a life-long self-learner, and teacher of others.  This is always the ultimate goal of true education.
  • The tutoring sessions should almost always involve a variety of learning activities.  A lesson on arithmetic, for example, will not just include the parent/tutor “teaching” a concept from a textbook, and the child practicing it on a worksheet.  In addition, the child might use “hands-on” learning tools, like counting real objects, using numbers on a ruler to add or subtract, finger-count, or create a lego item using geometry.  The lesson might also include a card game or a game like snakes-and-ladders that involves using numbers; and finish up with real activities in the child’s life that involve arithmetic (shopping, baking, and so on).
  • If the child is becoming fidgety or stressed out, the parent/tutor may call a time-out, in which the student can get a drink, take a short walk, play an active game, chat about any topic of the student’s choice, or simply sit back and relax.  Five minutes of “brain break” and “body activity” will ensure that the child will learn twice as much in the next portion of learning time!
  • Other aspects of individualized tutoring sessions include giving supportive and constructive feedback, encouraging a deeper understanding of the subject, correcting misunderstandings from previous learning, practice of weaker skills, and lighter moments of laughter and fun.
  • At the end of a session, ask children what they learned in this lesson, if and why they think it is important to them, any questions they still have or things they still don’t understand, and anything they’d like to focus on in upcoming sessions. Make children feel that this is “their” personal learning. Give the child as much “ownership” of the learning as possible.
  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

Questions and Responses: Which of these tips would work well with your child/children? Do you have other tips on how to “individualise” tutor time with children? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

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Learning Styles Intelligences Behaviours

This is post #4 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Learning styles and/or intelligences are ways we take in, process, and organise information.  Each of us does these things in very individual ways.  Some learn more easily by looking (visual: reading, looking at charts or pictures), some by listening and speaking (auditory), and some in hands-on ways (tactual/kinesthetic).  Some learn better in a group, while others learn better alone.  Some learn especially well in very particular ways, such as through music or art.

Learning behaviours are our habits and actions in relation to learning.  Some people have developed good self-motivation, while others are very dependent on having someone tell them what to do next.  Some are very self-organized and can plan well, while others have not developed these skills.

Here are some tips on how to apply learning styles, intelligences, and behaviours:

  • As you observe your child’s learning styles and behaviours, you can tutor with learning methods that best match the child’s strongest learning styles.  At the same time, you will also want to use a variety of methods, so your child can learn successfully in a variety of situations. The more ways a student learns a particular lesson and puts it into practice, the more likely the student will retain the information and be able to apply it in practical ways.
  • As a parent, you are already modelling through your own life such behaviours as how to plan and monitor your own learning and other daily activities, use of time and materials, and sticking with your learning and activities until your goals are reached. So you are already your child’s tutor. Now you will want to think about even more ways you can mentor that will help your child.
  • As your child’s tutor, don’t forget to seek to understand his perspective.  Use examples related to the child’s own life and experiences, so the topic is easier to understand.  And encourage your child to be involved in his own goal-setting and learning.
  • Don’t forget to encourage your child to back-teach: that is, to put to use the learning styles and learning behaviours she has been developing, by teaching them to others–to yourself, a younger sibling, a fellow student, friends and relatives.  Also, provide real-life situations in which the child can practice these learning behaviours.
  • Practical examples of how to apply these tips will be presented in an upcoming post.

Comments and responses: Have these tips been helpful? Do you have any specific questions? What tips can you add? Please share with us in the comments! Thank you.

Other posts in this series, “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor”:

  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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