As parents, we all want to see our children excel in school. Some children are great at motivating themselves, while others need a push to catch up or even a little help to accelerate beyond their current curriculum. When it comes to building math skills, there is no reason to postpone giving your child that push.
Signs Your Child May Need a Math Tutor
If your child is old enough to receive report cards, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not he might need help when you see his grades. “Always look at grades,” says Richard Bavaria, Senior Vice President for Sylvan Learning, who offers helpful tips and advice on DrRickblog.com. “Grades can indicate anything from a straight-A student getting her first B to a kid showing signs that he needs extra help.”
Beyond slipping grades, look out for a lack of enthusiasm for math. “Elementary school kids love to learn about new subjects, especially math. They like to learn about counting, money, telling time, all math-related subjects,” Bavaria says. “When you see enthusiasm slip, that definitely signals something.”
That loss in interest could signal that your child needs help, but it also may mean that he or she is bored. That’s where a tutor can come in. “Tutoring is good for children who are highly able, not just for children who need academic help,” Bavaria says. “If the math course is not challenging enough, that might mean that your child is pretty smart in math and in need of extra challenges.”
One of the best ways to get more insight on how your child is handling math is to talk to his or her teacher. It is important for the teacher to know your child’s relationship with math, especially if it has changed. If your child used to love math in second grade but suddenly dislikes it in third, let the teacher know. Since you cannot be in the classroom, starting a dialogue with the teacher will help you identify how best to help your child.
Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later
Whether you choose to hire a tutor or provide more games and learning opportunities at home, it’s important to identify your child’s signs of needing extra help early on, particularly in math, due to its linear nature.
“No subject is more important than math when it comes to vigilance,” Bavaria says. “Each new year, each new course builds on the previous lesson and course. Once you miss a lesson, once you don’t master a particular skill, it’s difficult to build something on top of it without it all falling down.”
By delaying the process of getting your child the help he needs, you risk letting him slip further behind as well as lose confidence, which is essential to continuing learning, Bavaria cautions.
Hiring a Tutor
By the time your child has reached second grade, it will be pretty clear whether a tutor would be helpful. Once you decide to find a tutor, take your search seriously. You want someone who is properly trained, will assess your child correctly, has a good reputation, and will provide lessons that are age appropriate. Stay away from tutors who rely mostly on technology, because the time spent tutoring should be focused on the child and tutor working together, Bavaria says. That being said, the tutor should attempt to make learning fun.
Above all, you want a tutor who will be a partner in your child’s education. This means that communication is key on many levels: between student and tutor, parent and tutor, and especially between tutor and teacher.
“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,” says Shannon Keeny, a private tutor in reading and math in Baltimore. “The tutor should support the learning in the classroom by reteaching or accelerating. The tutor becomes an advocate for the student’s learning for the school and a support for the parents.”
When you select a tutor, make sure you explain to him or her what you (and your child) expect from the experience. To determine this, first sit down with your child and identify two to three goals you want the tutor to focus on, Bavaria suggests. Consider whether your child wants to catch up, keep up or get ahead. Does she want a higher grade? Does she want to study for tests better? Does she need help organizing? A good tutor should ask you some of these questions to help set goals.
When you establish the objectives, also determine how the tutor likes to work, so you can provide the best learning setting. “I like to have a quiet workspace. I don’t like the parent to be hovering, but it could be important for the parent to be in earshot to hear the language that is being used,” says Keeny, who tutors children in their homes. She also recommends parents explain to their children that tutoring is not a punishment, but rather is designed to help them succeed in the classroom.
“Half of my clients are tutoring for enrichment, not for remedial support,” Keeny says. “Tutoring is not looked at as something only for the kids who are behind and need a tutor; often they are at grade level, but parents want them to be challenged.”
Helping at Home
Math may not have been your best subject in school, but you can help your child by dusting off your math skills and knowing the lingo. If your child asks you to look at her geometry assignment, you want to be ready to relate as best you can.
“When you suspect that your child is having a little trouble in math, or any other subject, that may be a time to start boning up on stuff that you’ve forgotten since you were in a math class,” Bavaria says. “That doesn’t mean you have to be in expert in quadratic equations, but you should at least have the vocabulary to know what your child is talking about.”
You can ask your child’s teacher or tutor for ways to provide support. Another great way to keep in touch with your child’s schoolwork is by checking out the teacher’s web page, which many teachers maintain on the school’s site. Don’t let your child’s latest math challenge be a surprise to you.
Keep in mind, though, that you’re not required to be the teacher. If your child is struggling, let his teacher know that he needs more help and has been having a hard time with certain assignments. “Parents can encourage kids by giving them time to do their homework and by giving them a place to do their homework,” says Linda Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). “It’s not their job to be the teacher.”
Tutoring, especially if you do it on a weekly basis, can be expensive. With sessions running $35 to $75 an hour in many places, you may be interested in other options. Luckily, there are numerous free math websites that offer lessons, games, or a combination of both. These include funbrain.com, which has tons of math games, and sylvanmathprep.com, which offers free instructor-led videos. Gojak recommends the Illuminations section of the NCTM website, which provides activities for different grade levels as well as a collection of more than 700 links to online math resources.
You can also work math into the regular day. Keeny recommends normalizing math language in the home and conjuring up real-life math problems throughout the day. On the way to the store, talk about how long it takes to get there, then ask your child what time you will arrive. When you set the dinner table, ask your child how many forks you need, including how many to take away if Dad won’t be home for dinner.
“Math is everywhere,” Keeny says. Use that to your advantage and give your child the best chance for math success.
Laura Lewis Brown caught the writing bug as soon as she could hold a pen. For several years, she wrote a national online column on relationships, and she now teaches writing as an adjunct professor. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and three young children, who give her a lot of material for her blog, EarlyMorningMom.com.