by Tim Hall

There’s no question that more and more people are becoming concerned with the quality of our education system in the United States. We, as a nation, have slipped to an “average” ranking among 30+ countries in reading, math and science. And while politicians debate when and how much money to cut from their state’s education budget parents are left wondering how to give their children the proper education they deserve.

For some parents, private schools or charter schools offer a nice alternative to the public system. However there is a growing alternative for parents who wish to educate their children outside of the traditional “brick and mortar” school setting. These parents are choosing to home-school their children.

There are many reasons to home-school your child. Perhaps you want to instill your religious, cultural and moral values into the way your child learns. Another reason is that you want to know your child is in a safe learning environment. (By the way, when did we, as a society, say it was OK to install metal detectors in schools?) And yet another reason could be related to the social settings you want your child in. As varied as the reasons are almost every parent would agree that they simply want a better education for their children.

Homeschooling can be an exhilarating experience for both parent and child. Bonds can strengthen. Relationships can improve. Discovering the worldBoy in the blue shirt together can be life-changing – for both parent and child. The only requirements are patience and a sincere desire to learn. You don’t have to be a credentialed teacher to home-school your child. But you must have the time and willingness to plan, explore, teach, tutor and adjust to your child’s individual learning style if this experience is going to be successful.

The best part of homeschooling is that there is no “typical” day. You can spend part of the day with a textbook; or you could spend it at the local park. You may want to utilize a specific curriculum or design your own. That’s the beauty of home-schooling – each day can be a unique learning experience. Imagine going to a local farm to learn how vegetables grow (instead of just reading about it in a textbook) or taking a hike in the hills to discover all the new plants you’ve just read about!

There are different approaches to homeschooling – and many parents find a combination of techniques works best. For example, utilizing a math book to learn how to multiply and divide can be enhanced with a trip to that local farm to see how many tomatoes can be planted in 5 rows of soil.  Whether you study one subject a day or several at a time, home-schooling offers parents and children the opportunity to make it come alive!

Home-schooling is on the rise! In 2010 it is estimated that there were about 2 million children who considered themselves to be home-schooled. While it can be a truly rewarding experience for both student and parent it is not something to be considered lightly. As with any major life decision this topic needs the time and attention it deserves if it’s going to be successful.

Each state has their own laws concerning education and homeschooling your child. You should check with your state’s legal requirements before you consider taking your child out of public school in order to home school. There are several websites available to help guide you – just Google “homeschooling laws” and you should be able to find several sites with good information. Remember, you must follow your state’s law as it relates to homeschooling.

Once you’ve figured out the legal requirements it’s time to decide what kind of curriculum to follow. Again, there are many sources available to help you with the actual materials you’ll need. You know your child better than anyone else. Ask yourself what materials will make this learning experience the best for my child? Do I need textbooks? Do I need videos? Can I utilize what I already have access to (my home, my office, my local library, etc.)?

When you have your materials together then what? Just begin teaching and learning together! Remember, there is no “typical” day – make each day a unique experience. While it’s important to have a plan don’t be surprised if you don’t follow it exactly each day.  And don’t elevate yourself to the position of “superior know-it-all teacher.” Even the best teacher doesn’t know everything about everything. You’ll need the help of other people with knowledge and expertise you just don’t have. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Remember you are not alone in this experience. There are also support groups available forJoyful blonde boy parents new to homeschooling. You’ll find you’re not alone in the home-schooling arena – whether you’re just starting out or in your 5th year of doing it.

It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you, personally, are making a difference in someone’s life. To see a child connect with a subject, to have that “ah-ha!”moment together is life-changing. Education is the key that unlocks everyone’s possibilities. If you’re one of the growing numbers of concerned parents seeking another alternative to the public education system, home-schooling may be the choice for you. It’s not a decision to be made lightly as it will require time, patience and the desire to truly learn about the world around you. But if you’re ready for it, a new experience in education is waiting for you!

Tim Hall lives in Los Angeles and is a tutor who works with children and students of all ages (1st – 12th grade). He currently homeschools students in Language Arts and Math. He is CBEST certified and is pursuing his Math Education degree and credentials. For more information on Tim or homeschooling you may contact him at [email protected].

School has been in session now for several months.  Students are busy learning their ABC’s, new vocabulary words, writing skills and math skills.  Teachers are busy assessing each student’s progress by observing learning styles and test results.  Inevitably questions must be asked of every student’s ability and achievements, including:

Are they at grade level?

Are they mastering new techniques for learning?

Are they understanding and comprehending new material?

Perhaps your child is performing well in most subjects.  But, if you’re like the majority of parents, your child is behind in one or more subjects or could use a little “refreshing” of concepts and applications.   If your little star is to succeed and keep up with their classmates (and California State Standards) it may be time to consider getting some extra help.

There are several resources available to parents who wish to improve their child’s skills in learning new material (or re-learning older material).  Learning centers such as Sylvan, Huntington and Mathnasium are most likely in your neighborhood or within a short driving distance.  They typically charge by the hour and usually recommend lots of sessions, depending on what your child needs help with. You can also buy “packages” of sessions at a discount so don’t be afraid to ask about this option.

Learning centers may want to test your child before recommending a tutoring package.  There are fees associated with these tests in addition to the tutoring fees.  I have a simple rule when considering utilizing learning centers: do your own homework and research and ask questions.  Go and visit a learning center in your area.  Ask if you can just observe for a half-hour or so.  Check online (just Google the name of the learning center), ask other parents, ask teachers – the more information you have the better!

While most learning centers advertise the “one-on-one” tutoring benefit, don’t be surprised to see a classroom setting in the center. There may be single desks or workstations.  Students may receive some “one-on-one” tutoring and also receive small group tutoring.  Both of these can work for your child if they’re able to focus.  There will be distractions from other students working with other tutors, people coming and going in and out of the centers, and books and papers being ruffled.  For some students these stimuli simply aren’t a bother.  But for others they can be a huge distraction.

Another resource for struggling students (and their parents) is the private tutor.  Private tutors may work for tutoring companies or be self-employed.  They typically meet students in the student’s home or public place, such as a library.   They may be high-school or college students or even a certified teacher earning some extra money.  Finding and hiring a private tutor is not difficult.  However you want to be proactive and, just like working with learning center tutors, you want to do your own research and ask questions.

The tutoring industry has exploded in the last 5 – 10 years.  One of the causes of this growth has been the No Child Left Behind Act that was passed into law in 2002.  In simple terms the NCLB Act requires any school that receives federal funds to meet standardized testing scores in order to continue receiving those funds.   Within the parameters of meeting these “standards” is the opportunity for students of a struggling school to receive free tutoring.  With so many struggling schools required to offer free tutoring to its students, a multitude of tutors was needed.  This spurred the growth of Supplemental Education Service providers, companies set-up to specifically tutor under the NCLB Act.   It is these companies that desperately needed tutors.  As with any industry there are some great SES providers and some not-so-great providers.

Hiring a private tutor (outside of the SES provider route) is an easy process – if you take the time to do a little research.  Ask your friends and colleagues for recommendations.  A simple Google search of “tutor” will produce lots of prospects.  Visit each company’s website.   Do they specialize in a specific subject?  Do they offer one-on-one tutoring or group tutoring?  Do they come to your house? How do they hire their tutors?  What qualifications are important to you?  By the way, it’s not important that the tutor has a doctorate degree or a master’s degree.  There are plenty of wonderful tutors out there without these credentials.  You also don’t need a tutor from an Ivy League school.  Having a doctorate from a prestigious school doesn’t necessarily translate into a great tutor for your child.

Whether you choose a learning center, an SES provider, or a private tutor it’s important to be involved.  Do your homework and ask questions.  Be prepared to discuss money too (unless you’re hiring an SES provider as they are paid by the SES companies directly). You’ll find a whole range of hourly rates – averaging from $20 to $100 per hour.   You’ll need to pre-determine your budget, planning for at least one tutoring session per week at minimum.  You should also think about how long each session should be and how many weeks or months you would like your child to be tutored.  For children under the age of 8 years I recommend sessions of 30 minutes to an hour;  for children older than 8 up to 1 ½ hours.  You will need to monitor sessions to see how your child is doing and when he/she is losing their focus.  You’ll know when it’s time to stop.

So what should you look for when you hire a tutor?  The goal is to help your child improve their understanding and knowledge.  Obviously you want someone who knows and understands the material to be tutored.  However, you want more than someone who can add numbers together or spell a word or write a sentence.  You want someone who can teach these things to your child.  It’s one thing to know how to do something; it’s quite another to know how to teach it.   That requires an understanding of how we learn.  The ancient Greek philosopher, scientist and physician said it best, “Those that know, do.  Those that understand, teach.”  Look for a tutor who “connects” with your child.   You may have to try a few tutors before finding the right fit.  It will be worth it, however, in the long run.  Your child will feel more confident, increase his/her self-esteem and excel at school.  Tutoring is an investment, and every investment requires its own due diligence.

Tim Hall lives in Los Angeles and is a tutor who works with children and students of all ages (1st – 12th grade).  He is CBEST certified and is pursuing his Math Education degree and credentials. For more information on Tim or if you have any tutoring questions,  you may contact him at [email protected].