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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Find the Best Tutor for Your Child

By Jan Pierce

There are many reasons for a child to fall a bit behind in school. Maybe your family moved and the new school does things in its own way, or maybe your child is operating on a different developmental clock.

Whatever the reason, falling behind other learners is never a happy situation for a child. Extra study at home may help, but often working with a tutor is the best way for a student to make great strides.

Hiring a tutor is a serious venture. You don’t want to risk adding more stress to your child’s life. And the additional expense can be a strain on your budget; you want your dollars to bring positive results. So consider these qualities when looking for academic help.

Safety and Convenience Your primary concern is for your child’s well-being. You’ll be entrusting another adult with your little learner, so get and check references. Make sure lessons are in a place they can be supervised, such as in your home or a school or library.

Skills and Experience The best tutors are teachers who are either retired or currently not employed. They are certified and have lots of experience with children who need additional support. Tutoring services are able to provide encouraging lessons in basic subjects; find out if their teachers are certified and able to tailor lessons for various learning styles. 

Occasionally a family member may be able to step in and help your child in a certain subject. In that case, work with the teacher to get proper lesson materials. It’s important that the tutoring lessons don’t conflict with classroom expectations. 

Be sure that you work with teachers and the tutor to set specific academic goals. One way to build learning confidence is to meet objectives.

Patience, Empathy, and Kindness Children who have fallen behind are often very discouraged. They may feel they can’t learn and this hurts their self-esteem. Anything additional in their schedule can feel like punishment. So hire someone who offers nothing but positivity, and lessons in bite-size pieces—then failure won’t be an option. Good tutors will have games and activities that are both instructional and fun. They may use some sort of reward system that encourages a bit of risk-taking, but also makes your child feel hopeful and accomplished. 

An effective tutor is on-task but also upbeat and friendly; they are patient but expect the best. Often charts and stickers work very well for a child who has not been able to earn them in class.

Enthusiasm and Positivity Typically children who have experienced a degree of failure are sure that they’re “bad at math” or “bad at reading.” A skilled tutor can present material in such a way that your child can shine. The tutor’s enthusiasm for reading a good book or solving a math problem can change your child’s mind about learning. 

Reliability Your family’s schedule is important and adding a tutoring session may be a stretch for you. So if your tutor is not on time, or fails to measure up in any way, feel free to find another one. 

It’s also a good idea to schedule tutoring sessions for a month or two at a time and then re-evaluate the need for the support. You may decide that the extra boost was all that your child needed to get back on track. Or you may decide that certain times of the year are just too busy to add another timeslot. If so, plan sessions during a better season or semester. 

It’s important that your child never feel that working with a tutor is an embarrassment or a punishment. It may be wise to explain that throughout history, children have worked with tutors and that classroom instruction is a relatively new way to learn.

Hiring the best tutor for your child will take research, time, and money. But a strong, capable tutor may be just the boost your child needs to become a confident, successful learner. ϖ

Jan Pierce, MEd, is a retired teacher and writer specializing in education, parenting, and family life. She is the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find her at