Sorry, I don’t tutor kindergartners – Here’s why

When I used to do test prep tutoring for high school students through some of the big tutoring companies, I pretty much only talked to parents who were looking for that specific product. I’ve been tutoring privately for two and a half years and now that I talk to a wider cross-section of parents, I am surprised by how often parents are looking for tutoring for their kindergartners! Sometimes, they feel their four- and five-year-olds have fallen behind kids their age and want them tutored in basic academic skills like letter names, shapes, and counting. Other times, they want their preschooler to “get ahead” so they can do well in kindergarten.

I’m sympathetic to these requests because I know starting school can be incredibly stressful for parents. I have a four-year-old myself and I find myself wondering all the time if he’ll do well when he starts school or if we have some hard work ahead of us.

As a reading and writing tutor, I don’t take on students that young. Especially working online, I don’t think I can meet the needs of the youngest learners. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I don’t think “tutoring,” in the traditional definition, is appropriate for students before around first grade.

I think that four- and five-year-old preschoolers and kindergartners, frankly, have way more important things to do than to sit with a tutor. I would rather see them on their feet, playing, creating, following directions, problem-solving, and learning about the world around them. Children this age have a short attention span for things that aren’t their own ideas and that’s not a problem! That’s the way they are supposed to learn.

That’s not to say they don’t have a lot to learn before they start school. There is a huge range of starting points for kids entering kindergarten. But kindergarten teachers expect that wide range to enter their classrooms at the end of every summer.

In any public school classroom in the U.S., kids are likely to have birthdays at least a year apart. That’s just the nature of the public school system, due to enrollment cutoffs. Teachers expect that and use a variety of techniques to meet kids where they are and bring them through the year. By high school, you wouldn’t be able to guess the age of many of the students.

In kindergarten, though, the differences can be dramatic. But in my experience as a public school teacher, some gaps are much more concerning than others. I would much rather see a student come in to the classroom who can converse with peers and adults, manage her behavior, navigate the classroom space, and solve problems. If she doesn’t know all the letters in the alphabet when she starts school, I can work with that!

Parents are constantly getting the message that they need to get their kids “ready” for kindergarten. There are workbooks and intensive preschool programs. There are family members pressuring parents to do more, comparing these preschoolers to other people’s children who were reading earlier or doing remarkable things before kindergarten! And because parents want the best for their children, they’re not sure where to turn.

Stay tuned for the next few weeks where I will be sharing some ideas for how to know whether your child is ready for kindergarten success and what kind of activities and lessons you can teach to help them be ready or when school starts this fall!

As a special education teacher, I have worked with students coming in for kindergarten screening for years. I will share some of the things that make us wonder or worry about an incoming student as well as some of the best ideas I’ve learned for promoting of the things that really matter for your child going into kindergarten.

Sorry, I don't tutor kindergartners - Here's Why

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Kindergartners need lots of play and real-life experiences, not a tutor.

Coming soon: 4 Big Things to Teach Your Child Before Kindergarten. Join the mailing list for updates about the book and tips and tools to get your child ready for school!



The secret to helping students write better

The problem with a lot of the so-called writing instruction students encounter at school is that it doesn’t actually teach writing. Teachers say things like “Write an outline that shows the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Write one like this story you just read.”

But the problem is poor writers aren’t able to evaluate their own writing the way a good writer, like a teacher, could do. So a poor writer might think she has a topic sentence or a concluding paragraph in her writing. But when the teacher reads it, it’s clear that there isn’t enough information.

So even though teachers might show models of good writing and encourage students to used transition sentences like this author or use dialogue like that author, poor writers don’t have the ability to evaluate what they read or what they’ve written and decide if they’ve met the requirements. Poor writers don’t need more practice with their current skills. Teachers need to teach students to write better!

It just makes sense that what poor writers need is explicit instruction on how to write. A little league coach doesn’t say go out there and hit the ball like Manny Ramirez. A coach says, “Stand with your feet together. Hold the bat over your shoulder. Watch for the pitch. When you see the pitch come over the plate, swing your bat. Make sure you take a big step forward as you swing.” That level of explicit detail is missing from a lot of writing instruction, but it’s just what students need.

Poor writers need clear, predictable structures that they can use to complete writing assignments. It might seem boring to have them follow that formula for paragraph after paragraph but it’s just what a poor writer needs to write a decent essay. For a lot of us, it comes naturally to have a topic sentence that introduces what we’re going to write about in a paragraph. A poor writer may not intuitively include a sentence like that at the beginning of their paragraph. Therefore teaching them that a good paragraph starts with a topic sentence and that a topic sentence goes something like… helps them to organize their writing in a way other people can understand it.

Just like there are steps for solving a math equation, there are steps for putting together a paragraph in many different genres of writing. There are formulas for writing a persuasive paragraph. I like to use the POW+TREE structure. For elementary students learning expository writing, I use POW+TIDE. Most of these structures focus on organizing at the paragraph level, because once a student knows how to write a good paragraph, it’s easier for them to string those paragraphs together to write an essay or even a longer research paper.

Besides paragraph level structure, students also need to learn to write good sentences. For many students, controlling the grammatical structures in a long sentence and making sure the subjects and the verbs agree with each other can be and a very abstract topic. Some schools still give formal grammar instruction that teaches the names of all the parts of speech but even then students may not be able to put them together in a grammatical way in their own writing.

One way I help students learn to write more complex sentences is by teaching them the strategy of sentence combining and sentence decombining. By having students start with simple sentences like “Bob has a red shirt. Jim has a red shirt.” and combining them to make “Bob and Jim have red shirts,” students learn how to combine the building blocks of simple sentences to make more complex ones. On the flip side, I teach them how to take complex sentences and separate them out into their component parts. Like a mechanic taking apart an engine, students understand better how a sentence is assembled once they have taken it apart. 

Editing is another frequently challenging area of writing for students. Although many of them can tell me that a sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period, they have difficulty seeing these things in the middle of a paragraph and correcting them. It’s the same for run-on sentences. They may understand what a run-on or a fragment is, but when it comes to identifying them in their own writing they have a lot of difficulty. One of the main strategies I recommend for this is not a popular one with students. One of the best ways to catch errors in your writing is to read it out loud.

Another strategy, which I teach to students who make mechanical errors, is COPS. Students learn to read a whole paragraph checking each sentence for capital letters, then read it again checking for overall appearance, which includes neatness and letter formation. The third time they read the paragraph they look for punctuation at the end of every sentence. And finally they read the paragraph from the last word backwards until they get to the first word to see whether all the words are spelled correctly. While it is time-consuming, this focused structure helps them make sure that they have not overlooked any errors.

This process of learning the building blocks of writing can be a time-consuming one and it can be frustrating for students, especially those who have been getting by without this knowledge for years of school. But for many students in middle school and high school they find that they can’t get by with what they knew about writing anymore. The assignments get complex and longer. Teachers are no longer as forgiving about mistakes in spelling grammar and organization. Many classmates have internalized features of good writing and seem to be getting good grades effort effortlessly. Students might feel frustrated or cheated, but really the problem is just that they haven’t learned the rules for this kind of writing yet. An academic writing is a rule-based process that can be taught!

If your child struggles with writing and needs some strategies that work, contact me today for a free 30-minute tutoring consultation.

Students continue to struggle with writing when all they get is practice because they are practicing the wrong things!

Can you get Orton-Gillingham tutoring online?

Getting trained in Orton-Gillingham has totally changed the way I look at students and reading. Explicit, diagnostic, teaching in phonics makes an enormous difference in how students learn. But when I became an online tutor, I had to figure out if I could still do Orton-Gillingham tutoring online. Now that I have figured it out, I won’t go back to in-person meetings for O-G!

When I first became an Orton-Gillingham tutor, I found it really difficult to quickly manage all the materials I need in a lesson. Working with students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities who were reading below grade level (and often exhausted from a frustrating day of school), I knew it was really important to use their time wisely. I also worked with some younger students who had difficulty sustaining attention for an intense one-hour Orton-Gillingham reading lesson. Then I became an online reading and writing tutor. I have developed my set of tools so I can do Orton Gillingham tutoring online. And the results have been fantastic!

The key thing that makes an Orton-Gillingham lesson work is that the teaching should be should be systematic and based on a student’s mastery of earlier skills. That means that when I first start working with a student with dyslexia or a specific learning disability in reading, I use informal assessments to figure out what they need. Then I use my lessons to systematically fill those skill gaps. So if an older reader still doesn’t automatically use the right short vowel sounds, we have to go back to the short vowel sounds. 

Sometimes those materials can look really young because they are designed for students who are learning to read in first grade. What I can do in the online setting is quickly reformat and redesign materials to make them more appealing to older readers. For example, I can insert images to go with our vowel sound practice in the reader’s notebook that are not the traditional cartoony phonics images. I can also engage students in choosing their own visuals with a quick Google image search so that they can build their notebook along with me.

Another reason that I love doing Orton-Gillingham tutoring online is that it gives me so much flexibility within the lesson. Sometimes during in-person lessons, I find that a student doesn’t understand a vocabulary word we’re discussing or has trouble with a particular sound. In an in-person lesson I usually have to make a note of that and remember to review it in our next meeting. During an online Orton Gillingham lesson I can open a new tab in my browser and do a quick search for pictures of the thing we’re discussing. I can quickly give the student a visual of an emu or the city of Dallas to help them form a mental image to go along with the new words they are reading and learning. This strategy of using pictures as well as text as a context for learning vocabulary has been shown by research to help students remember words better and for longer.

And maybe the best thing about Orton-Gillingham tutoring online is that the student and I need very few specialized materials. For the multi-sensory part of the lesson, it does help for a child to have some physical materials in front of them. They definitely need paper and a pencil and it also helps to have some kind of textured surface, which can be as simple as salt poured in a baking sheet or a rough towel on which to trace their letters. Other than that, I supply everything and put it right up on the screen. I can use ebooks that I borrow from the library or get from Kindle. I can create word lists in a Google doc and share them right on my screen. I can create activities like word building and word sorts using Google Slides. And we have all of the free online reading games available to students online to choose from for reinforcements. (I really like some from fun4thebrain.com.) With my youngest students I usually build in a game break in the middle of the lesson, something like sight words or typing to reinforce their skills but give them a break from the challenging new content. Some of my older students don’t take a break at all during the lesson, while others ask if we can save the last 5 minutes for something they want to share with me, either a piece of work from school or a funny YouTube video.

What I do my Orton-Gillingham tutoring online, I’m also able to see more students in a day. For in-person tutoring there is travel time between the students and also time to set up and break down all my materials. By doing Orton-Gillingham tutoring and that way I am able to maximize the number of students I can help!

If you’re interested in seeing what an online Orton-Gillingham lesson looks like, please contact me today. I offer a free 30-minute consultation where I can assess the student and demonstrate some of the fun tools that we use.

Does Orton-Gillingham tutoring work online?

How young is too young for online tutoring?

“I’m looking for a reading tutor for my first grader, but I think he’s too young for online tutoring.”

“Can an 8-year-old do online tutoring?”

“Could you really keep my second grader focused online?”

I have talked to a few parents who were looking for reading and writing tutoring for their young children but had not considered online tutoring because it seemed like their children weren’t old enough. While many of my students are in middle school or high school, online tutoring can also be a great approach for children who are younger, as long as they have the right tutor and a parent to help them get set up the first few times.

I started online tutoring using Zoom for video conferencing with a fifth grader. For the first one or two sessions, his mom helped him log in and made sure that the tools were working for him. Then she was able to step away. At first, I shared my screen with the student and he could watch me or I could give him control of the screen when it was time to practice. Gradually, he got better and better at using the online tools and learned to share his screen with me when he had something like a story that he wanted me to see.

After the first few sessions, that fifth grader was able to use the tools in Zoom as well as any teenager or adult I have used it with.

I’ve worked with younger students, too. I find that students in first through third grade need a little more adult in-person help than older students. For my younger students, a parent usually sets up the session and makes sure that they are sitting so that they can be seen on camera and that they can hear the audio. For some younger children, it works best when a parent hangs out where they can hear the session and checks in as needed to help with things like finding letters on the keyboard or positioning the camera. For these students, having the computer set up in the kitchen or living room, where parents can work nearby but siblings don’t interrupt, can work well. Some children, even as young as third grade, are pretty independent. Some students are able to sit alone at the computer and follow my directions and guidance to use the mouse and keyboard to participate in the lesson.

Some great features of online tutoring that I love for young learners are:

  • It’s easy to incorporate online games or quick videos that keep kids engaged and motivated.
  • I can quickly update my lesson, like by typing more words that they need to practice. My handwriting is not great, so if I write words out by hand it takes me longer. Typing also lets me pick a font that works best for students.
  • The student and I can shop for books in the ebooks section of my public library and read one together on the computer screen. With in-person students, I bring a selection of books and stories with me, but I don’t always have something that the student is excited about.
  • Convenience for the families. With young children at home myself, I know it can be challenging to get everyone into the car and to the place they need to be, let alone to have the other children in the house stay quiet and occupied while a tutor is visiting for one of the children. With online tutoring, siblings seem less distracted by the tutoring experience and tend to interrupt less than when I’m actually visiting someone’s home. On the flip side, if you are sitting somewhere waiting for your other child to finish sports practice or dance, all you need is a wifi connection and a quiet place to sit and tutoring can still go on! This flexibility can be a huge help for busy families.
  • Health. Another benefit for families is that online tutoring can help everyone stay healthier during cold season. I don’t do in-home tutoring when I’m sick, but there are days when I can tutor online in spite of a cough or runny nose. When you have sick family members, or your child is getting over an illness, but well enough to work, online tutoring can go on as usual. Meeting consistently is so important for students to make progress, and online tutoring lets us do that.

If you’re thinking about online tutoring for your young child, there is not much of a downside. Lessons are fun, engaging, and flexible. Thanks to digital games, ebooks, and video conferencing, your child can get anything they would get from in-person meetings and maybe even more!

If you’re interested in trying online tutoring, contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to help you decide if online tutoring is a good fit for your child.

How young is too young for online tutoring?

6 Reasons Online Tutoring is Better Than In-Person Tutoring

When I first talk to parents about online tutoring, some of them are skeptical. Meeting with a new person online seems risky and unfamiliar. There are also lots of companies that market themselves as online, on-demand tutors that are impersonal and offer uncertain quality and I think they give online tutoring a bad name. Many people feel comfortable interviewing and choosing an in-person tutor. Why not choose an online tutor the same way? 

The benefits of online tutoring are well worth the initial setup process. Once you figure how how online tutoring works, starting a session is as simple as making sure your child is logged in when the session starts. Here are some benefits you can enjoy when your child meets with their tutor online.

Fewer sick days

Sometimes your child, or your tutor, is just too sick to work. However, there are lots of other times when a cough or runny nose might keep your child and tutor apart. But if you work with your tutor online you can meet on those days without worrying about spreading germs. This also works if you are sick or if somebody else in your house is sick. You don’t have to worry about inviting the tutor into your home full of germs or sitting around the library waiting for your child when you would much rather be lying down.

Meet in any weather

This has been a rough winter for snow storms. I think my New England school district had at least six snow days. And there were other nights when it was too icy or snowy for me to tutor in the evening even if there wasn’t a major snowfall. With online tutoring, as long as you and the tutor have power and internet access, you can meet in any weather. That means fewer evenings of brushing off the car, squinting through snow squalls and watching out the window to make sure the weather doesn’t get worse before your session is over. Everyone stays warm and dry while your child gets the tutoring she needs!

Meet from anywhere

For busy families, the ability to conduct tutoring no matter where you are can be a lifesaver. Although it works best if your child works in a quiet, familiar location, tutoring can take place anywhere they happen to be. I work with some students who meet with me sometimes from one parent’s house and sometimes from the other. Other students might meet with a tutor from their afternoon babysitter’s house or from a friend’s house if they go away for the weekend. If you decide to go on vacation this summer, you might be able to continue tutoring while you’re gone. I know not every kid wants to meet with their tutor in the middle of the vacation, but if you have a long trip planned, online tutoring can prevent your child from losing ground over the summer.

Hire the best available tutor

Opening your search to online tutoring means you can work with a tutor from anywhere in the world who has the skills your child needs to learn. You will be able to find a tutor who shares your schedule, or your child’s special interest, or who is knowledgeable about your child’s greatest area of need. And tutoring rates can be more affordable because the tutor doesn’t have to travel to your home and therefore those travel costs are not built into your fee.

Students are more comfortable

One of the greatest advantages of online tutoring is the comfort it brings many students. For students that are anxious or shy around new people, sometimes having the distance of a web camera and not having to sit side-by-side with the tutor or look them in the eye helps them to feel more comfortable and focus on the lesson. It also make students more comfortable when sharing materials. When I can share a document on the screen and point to it with my mouse, we don’t have to sit side-by-side. This can be especially an advantage for older students, like middle school and high school kids. I can also quickly point out mistakes or highlight information without interrupting the students flow. I keep the work right on the screen where they are already reading or writing.

Easier to share resources

Speaking of sharing resources, online tutoring is great because it lets me as the tutor introduce new resources quickly and flexibly when they’re needed for the lesson. When I travel to a student’s home or to the public library, I don’t always have access to the internet. So if a topic comes up that a student doesn’t have background knowledge about or something that they are confused about, it’s harder for me to share visuals to quickly teach them something new. On the other hand, with online tutoring, I can quickly pull up a picture or a resource to share a needed fact. For example, when reading an article about Olympic records, I realize that my student wasn’t familiar with the long jump event. A quick Google search and a couple images from Wikipedia let me show him what the event looks like, and what the article was describing. This can be especially helpful for students who are working to build their vocabulary or who are visual learners.

And if a student finishes the work I had planned, I can quickly open the next article we plan to read, instead of being limited to the text I have printed in my bag. I was working with an in-person student recently and he was talking about what he had learned about Wilma Rudolph, the Olympic runner. He was very impressed by her story but, unfortunately, I had to stop him and totally change the subject to the text I had planned for that evening. If we had been meeting online, I could have quickly shown him a different article I read earlier that connected to his interest in Wilma Rudolph. I brought the connected article the next week, but it felt like a missed opportunity to capitalize on his interest.

Who is online tutoring for?

Online tutoring isn’t the best solution for everyone. For some younger learners, it can be challenging to navigate using the mouse or too distracting to have to draw or write their responses on the screen. I can facilitate a lot of this by offering to do the writing myself and keeping the lessons very verbal.

Other times, a parent has found they need to sit beside the young student and support them as they learn to use the mouse and keyboard efficiently. Although there can be a learning curve for some students when doing online tutoring, it can be a great solution for older students who are comfortable on the computer. Many students who are digital natives, used to using devices throughout their school day and for fun, find online tutoring very natural. 

Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation so I can show you how online tutoring would look for your child.

6 Reasons Online Tutoring is Better Than In-Person Tutoring

Private Tutor vs. Tutoring Centers: Finding the Right Fit for Your Child

Hiring a tutor for your child is not a decision most parents take lightly. Often, the family has tried having a parent help with homework, encouraging the child to stay after school to meet with the teacher, and extra practice in workbooks or on websites like Khan Academy. Sometimes, in spite of all these efforts, the child needs extra support from a tutor to master the skills he is missing and meet his goals at school. There are many ways to find a tutor, and in this post I will outline some pros and cons of finding a private tutor and attending a commercial tutoring center.

Getting Connected

Unless you live in a very rural area, tutoring centers like Sylvan and Kumon are heavily advertised and widely available. You might drive by them in your errands or see their advertisements in your local paper or in Facebook. A tutor is just a click or call away. These big companies have a staff of people ready to talk with you about your request and match you to an available tutor.

Finding the right private tutor can take a little more effort. Local teachers often tutor students in their school community. Other parents hire high school or college students to tutor their children. For some students, this is enough. For students with greater needs, like those who need tutoring for dyslexia or dysgraphia, or students who need help with executive function, it is important to find an expert who can offer your child the best strategies for learning. To find a tutor that is a good match for your child, you may need to email, call and interview more than one person to find the best fit. It is easy to use an internet search to find tutors in your subject in your area. Online tutoring is another awesome way to work with the best tutor you can find without having to worry about travel or geographical limitations. Meeting with a tutor through video conferencing opens up your search to the best available tutor in the world, not just the best tutor in your town.

Scheduling

Tutoring centers are flexible and convenient. They are often open all afternoon and evening and they usually have many tutors they can assign you to. You will be able to set up a tutoring schedule that can fit in with your busy life and your child’s schedule of sports and activities.

Independent tutors are individual human beings, so they may or may not be able to meet your exact scheduling needs. But while they may not have unlimited hours to offer you, independent tutors are often willing to be flexible to best meet your needs. Offering flexible arrangements like every other week tutoring, or changing your time slot if needed are benefits that you can get with an independent tutor. Instead of working with an employee of a tutoring company, who may have fixed work hours, you can choose an independent tutor who sets his own hours.

Curriculum

In my experience, large tutoring companies offer more of a “one size fits all” approach to curriculum. A large tutoring center often has access to a wide variety of curriculum. Some companies use commercially available workbooks and worksheets and the quality of this curriculum may vary. Other large tutoring companies have developed their own proprietary curriculum that may or may not be a good fit for your child’s needs. Before you commit to a tutoring center, be sure you know what type of curriculum they use, and also what kind of assessments they offer to make sure your child is learning what they came in to learn.

Independent tutors have almost unlimited options in the curriculum they offer. Some tutors are willing to work with your child’s textbook and homework material. Others have their own preferred resources or develop individualized lessons for each student. In my experience, independent tutors are more likely to be flexible about the curriculum they use. It is in their best interest to use the materials that make your child most successful! An important part of arranging tutoring with a private tutor is still asking about curriculum and assessments.

The Personal Touch

As an independent tutor, it is my business to make sure my students achieve their tutoring goals. So if it’s appropriate, I have arranged with some students to review draft of their paper or to connect with them outside of our tutoring meetings to remind them about what they need to complete. I often send emails to parents or students to see whether they have tried the techniques I taught them, or finished the homework assignment that was giving them trouble when we last spoke.

Tutors from a tutoring center usually work set hours on site. Companies may even have policies that prevent these tutors from communicating directly with students and parents outside of their tutoring sessions. While there are many options online for instant homework help, these convenient sites won’t know about your child or be able to remind her about what she learned before to help her with tonight’s assignment.

Cost

I saved this for last, because the cost of tutoring varies widely depending on what services you are looking for and where you live. Tutoring centers often offer group tutoring, which can keep costs lower. They may offer pricing deals if you buy a block of tutoring hours, enroll more than one child, or commit to a long-term contract. When you buy tutoring from a tutoring center, keep in mind that your fee pays for the physical surroundings as well as the support staff and administrative staff running the center. The tutor who works directly with your child probably will not be highly paid. As a result, these jobs don’t attract the most highly-qualified and experienced tutors.

The cost for private tutoring varies, too. You can hire a high school or college student for not much more than minimum wage. Hiring a professional tutor, someone with an education degree and teaching experience, or someone with a specialty like learning disabilities tutoring or test preparation tutoring costs more. But a cheap tutor isn’t always a good deal. An experienced professional tutor can assess your child and identify the problem your child is having. She may be able to correct the problem in just a couple of well-planned lessons. An inexpensive, inexperienced tutor might put in many hours with your child without dramatic results.

The Final Decision

There is no one “best” or “right” kind of tutoring. Students and families can find almost any tutoring solution to meet their needs, from meeting with a local college student at the library after school to having a private tutor come to your home, to taking your child to a small group class at a large tutoring center. As you shop for a tutoring solution for your child, think about your child’s personality and academic needs. Consider your family’s schedule and other family members’ needs. Set your budget for tutoring and be prepared to talk about your goals for what you would like your child to accomplish through tutoring. By preparing before your first conversation with a tutor and knowing what you expect, you can find a tutor that will help your child make the most of her study time!

Choosing a private tutor or a tutoring center is one of the first steps toward getting your child the help they need.