One former teacher, current tutor at a Huntington Learning Center, and mother of two recently told me that the most important factor in a child’s education is self-esteem. “Make kids feel like a success, feel good about themselves and their efforts and they’ll be able to learn.” She continues, “Without support and self-esteem, eventually the kid expects to fail, and then often he does.”
Everyone wants their kid to be and feel capable academically, so why is it sometimes so hard for parents and kids to work together on their education? No one wants to admit there’s a problem, natural parent/child tensions flair and parents aren’t sure how to tackle the role, hoping the school will take care of it. Yet, best intentions aside, the school can’t always be relied upon, and kids fall through the cracks, sometimes for years.
You see your kids every day, and you know them better than anyone; you’re more likely to recognize a learning difficulty than anyone else. So swallow the apprehension and make sure you play your role in your child’s education.
1. Acknowledge and Discuss
The first step, of course, is admitting to yourself that your child is having difficulties academically. The next step is to discuss this with her. “Remember the 3 C’s: Care, Concern and Communication,” says Len Silverman, center director at Huntington Learning Center in Rivergate. “It is important to involve the student in discussions regarding education. Find out what his goals are and work together to define agreeable and legitimate expectations. It’s important to then follow up with the student and get a commitment from her up front, and keep her committed through the process.”
2. Help With Homework
Sure it might be more years than you’d like to count since you divided fractions or read about the fall of the Alamo, but sit down with your child and see if you can help her; sometimes muddling through it together can be just the trick. “Most importantly, however, is to remember that the work assigned to the student is hers and her alone. Reinforce that you are there to help, but not to do homework for her,” says Silverman. When tempers and frustration flare, some simple organization can clear the air; certain constants can ease tension for everyone.
“Set up an appropriate study place with limited distractions and with a regular time. Consistently follow the schedule and this will minimize the nightly debate on when and where to start the homework,” suggests Joe Haworth, co-owner (with wife, Josephine) of Knowledge Points of Middle Tennessee, a supplemental learning facility with locations in Cool Springs and Spring Hill. He adds, “Look for signs of frustration and seek out additional help with the teacher or with a qualified supplemental tutoring organization.”
3. Approach the Teacher and School
Experts agree that parents should get in touch with their child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year. “It is very important to keep the lines of communication open with the school and with your child’s teachers,” explains Silverman. “You will gain valuable insight into their methods and expectations while communicating your own desire for your student’s success.” Also, if you suspect a learning disability, consult with the teacher to get her observations, an idea of what resources the school offers, and her input on a next step, should one be necessary.
This is especially true for kids with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, ADD and other processing disorders. “It is best to cover these issues early with teachers. This gives them the ability to keep an eye out for signs of difficulty and also gives them some time to plan extra assistance for the student. This may be as simple as relocating the student to the front of the classroom or giving extra time during the school day to begin working on homework assignments,” says Silverman. It’s comforting to know that teachers and schools are required by law to meet with parents who want to discuss their child’s learning disorders.
Terry Murray, executive director of Sylvan Learning Centers for the Nashville area explains, “If a child has a learning disability, a parent can ask for a meeting and the school is mandated by state law to meet with the parent and any advocate for their child they want to bring. They can have the child evaluated before the meeting so everyone can discuss the problem and everyone is required, this means the school and the parents, to agree on a course of action to help the student.”
4. Managing Homework
Sometimes it’s hard to gauge how much time your child should be spending on homework, and how to help the process. Silverman offers the following rules of thumb: “K-2 expect 30 minutes, 3-6 expect 1 hour, 7-8 expect 1 1/2 hours and finally, in high school, you should expect 2 hours of homework a night. If your student is taking considerably longer than this then try the following.
First, state your expectations using the 3 C’s. Next, be sure you have an environment in the home conducive to work. That means no television or music in the background. Lastly, work with your student to set reasonable time goals for each homework assignment. Challenge him with a timer and be sure to use plenty of praise when goals are met.”
5. Consider Supplemental Education
Often a child will benefit from an outside tutor. Parents sometimes have little patience when a child doesn’t “get it,” and children tend to give up more easily when working with a parent because they’re afraid to disappoint them. Also, kids are naturally defensive around parents, making it hard to receive direction. If you decide to enroll your kid at a supplemental learning facility, make sure the tutors are certified, and that they have a good plan.
“Be certain that a tutor will go beyond today’s assignment and get at the underlying reasons for the difficulty. Oftentimes a significant skill gap has grown with students over a period of years rather than weeks, so it is important to diagnose the key issues and address them in conjunction with the coursework the student is facing today in class,” says Silverman. And Haworth adds, “A good tutor is passionate about children and has the ability to create an affirming learning environment for them.
This requires a positive attitude, a high energy level and a patient, problem solving type of approach. Good tutors are easy to recognize because they are ‘kid magnets; kids love them and they love kids.”
6. Bring Cohesion and Compassion to the Process
It can be confusing for kids to get directions from teachers, tutors and parents–make sure that everyone is on the same page. Murray explains, “It’s extremely important to stay in tune with teachers. Every parent has a responsibility to form a relationship with their child’s teacher, to figure out where their child should be in the learning process. And good supplemental tutoring will work in concert with the schools, communicating with them about each child they work with.”
And parents should remember to always be wary of their child’s self-esteem. Haworth explains, “Show an interest in the subject material being studied and use positive reinforcement such as celebrating significant accomplishments or an outstanding effort even when the results aren’t the best.” He adds that, “[Tutoring] should be directed at building confidence and self-esteem in the child that will prove valuable in helping him achieve maximum success.”
Murray concludes, “Education is more and more prevalent in the news, and as we’re talking about it more, the schools are reacting to public opinion and striving to be better. The public is also seeing more of a need for supplemental education, and we, as supplemental educators, are striving to fill that need and fill it in concert with the schools.” There are many resources at a parent’s disposal, use them. Be a positive force in your child’s education.
Jennifer Frisvold is a mother and frequent contribuotor to this publication.
Bowie Reading and Learning Center
1907 Acklen Ave., Nashville
In-Home Tutoring Services
Rutherford … 907-6745
Williamson … 371-1772
Dyslexia Centers of Tennessee
9305 Sioux Ct., Brentwood
Expressways to Learning
230 Franklin Road, Franklin
203 C. East Cedar St., Goodlettsville
Hermitage Enrichment and Learning Program (H.E.L.P.)
627 Shute Lane, Old Hickory
Huntington Leaning Center
Franklin … 771-1226
Spring Hill … 302-2269
Bellevue … 646-3243
Brentwood … 661-4337
Franklin … 619-0781
Hendersonville … 479-9631
Oak Hills … 243-8918
Murfreesboro … 893-MATH
The Learning Lab
2 Maryland Way, Ste. 110
Sylvan Learning Centers
Green Hills, Rivergate, Franklin, Lebanon, Hickory Hollow