Ever since Natalie Hagy was 3 years old, she has struggled with developmental delay issues. So her parents were not surprised to find she needed academic help when she started first grade.

“It got to the point where Natalie didn’t want to go to school,” reports her father Doug. “We would see her falling asleep at the dinner table at 5:30 p.m. The school work was so hard and we were getting nowhere.”

There are a number of signs that a child needs a tutor. These include difficulty doing homework, poor test grades, multiple wrong answers, unfinished assignments and, of course, frustration, tears and decreased self confidence.

Before finding a tutor, sit down and discuss the need with your child, says Beverly Stewart, president and director of Back-to-Basics Learning Dynamics. “Make the conversation as positive as possible. You are trying to get the child to buy in – ‘You know how reading is kind of hard sometimes? Well, we’re going to meet with someone who can help you.’ Most kids are okay with that because they don’t want to struggle with schoolwork.”

This is what the Hagy’s did. “Natalie loved to pick up books and make up her own stories, but she couldn’t read,” recalls Doug. “We told her, ‘These are going to be people who can help you.’”

Even though the Hagys took a positive approach, Natalie was still a bit apprehensive. “I think she was concerned it was going to be like school, which she didn’t like,” Doug continues. But once she got there, she learned about the reward system. “It was a quick lesson for Natalie: ‘If I do my work right, I can get some tokens.’”

The Hagy’s chose a tutoring center over a private teacher for their daughter. “When our oldest child Mackenzie was in first grade, we had a bad experience with a private tutor,” he says. “It definitely had its positive points – it was more convenient because the tutor came to our house and it didn’t cost as much as the center.”

But there were downfalls too. “The big reason private tutoring didn’t work was because of Mackenzie’s attitude. The tutor happened to be a friend of ours, so Mackenzie saw it as playtime.”

Hagy knew someone from a local tutoring center and switched his daughter to that program. “We were so pleased with the results we used it for our son Patrick and now for Natalie. It has been the best option for all of our children.”

“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to tutoring,” says Stewart. “It depends on the student and the goals. If there is a lot of remedial work to be done, the child really should have a professional to work with.”

Once you have talked it over with your child, try to get recommendations. Talk with your child’s teacher, principal, or guidance counselor, check with the Better Business Bureau, look in the Yellow Pages or go online. Other parents are a good resource also. Is there someone they have had success with? Next check credentials to find the most qualified person and best fit for the job. Look not only at degrees, but the experience and teaching style, too.

When the search has been narrowed down to a few names, call or make an appointment to speak with the tutor. Consider her personality and attitude. Is she upbeat and positive? Does she take the child’s learning style into account when tutoring? Is she available at a time that works for your child?

With kids’ extracurricular activities and parent's work schedules dominating the clock, finding the right time for tutoring sessions is always a struggle. “There needs to be a lot of flexibility so the sessions are held at a good time for the child and the family,” says Liz Holter, executive director of a Sylvan Learning Center. And that means a time when the child learns best. Some children, Holter says, do best right after school. Others need a break before tackling academics again.

While interviewing the tutor, ask who sets the academic goals. “I recommend every player – teacher, parents, child and tutor,” advises Stewart. “I encourage our tutors to talk with the teacher so they are on the same page.”

Holter agrees. “We are in the business and know what the appropriate goals should be. But parents know their child best, so they should be involved in the goal-setting process, too.”

“Natalie’s goals were plain and simple as to what she needed to be where her peers were,” says Doug. “The first part of the year it would take weeks to get through a section; now she can do a section or so a week. She’s making progress.”

And progress is what it is all about. “Our center does periodic progress reports,” says Holter. “We check off goals and redefine them, if necessary. This lets parents know what is happening. They have a monetary investment in this and deserve to know what is being accomplished.”

Stewart’s organization gives parents update also. “Ours are informal. When we see the parent, we discuss what progress has been made. It’s continual communication. We will give a written report if a parent asks for one. But most times, the proof is just there. I hear parents say, ‘My son is pulling books off the bookshelf and he never liked reading before! What a change!’”

Change is what the Hagy’s have seen in Natalie. “Before she started tutoring she had such low self-esteem,” recalls Doug. “Now she is incredibly self-confident. We’re not expecting her to be Einstein. We just want to give her what she needs to succeed.”


Questions to ask when choosing a tutor.

  • What age do you tutor?
  • Is it for remedial work only? Or do you do enrichment and maintenance, too?
  • What subjects do you offer?
  • Do you have summer programs?
  • Can my child go during school hours?
  • Do you offer diagnostic testing? Is it required?
  • Do you teach in small group sessions or one-on-one?
  • Where does tutoring take place?
  • What qualifications do you/your teachers have?
  • What if my child has a personal problem with the tutor, can I get another one?
  • How often is the child required to go?
  • Can you work sessions around my family’s schedule?
  • How often will I receive progress reports? Will they be written or verbal?
  • What is the duration of the contract?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Are there any hidden fees?

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.