This tutor-mom expert shares why and when you need one
Thirty-eight-year-old mom Ma. Heide Bernabe has had her fair share of teaching. She started to tutor kids while she was still in college and continued to tutor while taking up her second college degree in nursing. Eventually, she co-managed one of the biggest English Academies in her city in Iloilo. “We had about 100 tutors and 200 to 300 students during peak season, most of them were Koreans,” she says. She decided to work from home in 2013 as an online freelance ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor. From 2016 onward, she started to tutor Filipino kids again in her neighborhood, working simultaneously from home as an ESL tutor for a Japanese company.
With a nine-year-old son and 19 years of tutoring both children and adults, Heidi shares with Manila Bulletin Lifestyleher vast and personal experience on tutoring kids, and tips on transitioning the children to be independent learners.
What is the ideal age range for children to start tutoring?
As a parent myself, I always believe that the younger ones should need more supervision in their studies while the older kids can be left on their own to develop their sense of responsibility. Especially if both parents are working, I think preschool-aged children until nine years old would need tutors to work with them intensively. While the older ones, 10 years to 13 years old may need someone to work with them and check on them at times, so a tutor may still be needed to assist them. Although, there are some kids, regardless of age, who need the extra help, so as a parent, it’s our duty to know and assess their weaknesses. This way, we know how to address them and get the much needed help of a tutor.
What are the signs that our children need a tutor?
This is a tough question. I’ve always believed that each child has his own potentials that blossom at the right time. It’s not really because that child is a slow learner or is less smart than the others in his class. It may be that he’s less interested in one subject and more interested in another. But, as we know, in mainstream schools, competition in academics is very apparent, so it’s understandable that parents don’t want their kids to be left behind. I think the most important thing is for parents to test their kids personally, which may be done indirectly. They don’t really need to give a written test to check. Parents can randomly pick a book and ask their child to read a line or two, or maybe do some math exercises while talking about the food in the kitchen, adding them up or measuring them. Simple things, but you’re able to assess your child’s needs without them being agitated or conscious about it.
No matter how busy we get, we still need to be sensitive to how our kids react to their activities. It may be during their study time or their play time. If you notice that they have a hard time talking to their toy dolls or arranging colors, then they may need some help in speech, reading, or vocabulary classes.
If our kids are old enough to understand, you can also ask them honestly (or directly) which among their classes they find most difficult. Do this in a manner that is not intimidating—make it sound like a casual question. That way, the child is encouraged to communicate with honesty. For much younger kids, you can ask their constant companions (nannies or grandmas) about their observations or let them try to test your kids as well.
Most important, I think it’s also time to change the notion of people about “tutoring.” In the past (or maybe to this day), we had this “negative” idea that kids who had tutors were either problematic kids or academically challenged. So this also gives off negative “feels” to the kids themselves as they regard themselves as inferior to others. This way, kids can appreciate their “tutor time” and their tutors as a way to help them become even better. Kids should have in mind that they’re doing great in school and their tutor can help them do even greater.
Is it advisable to have the tutor sessions right after school?
My son goes to a Waldorf school. Their approach of teaching is different from mainstream schools as they offer a holistic education system, meaning they don’t focus on academics alone. They believe that there should be a balance in the things that a kid does in school or at home. I learned from them that kids can only retain as much when they study their main lessons for two hours only.
Of course, this can’t be done in mainstream schools, so with the Filipino kids I tutor, I often advise the parents not to do more than two hours of tutoring because that’s already on top of their school hours, which is around six to seven hours per day.
I also recommend giving the child time to rest and play first before their “tutor time.” This usually yields better results as the child is able to enjoy and relax first before getting back to studying again. The child also becomes less impatient and unhurried because he has had his play time. Break time is also encouraged during tutor time. This may be done by doing some storytelling or chatting while having snacks. This is so the child doesn’t get bored or loses his/her focus.
Can you share tips for kids to transition from having tutoring assistance to studying on their own?
Even during their classes with tutors, you may personally request the tutor to give your child some space to practice his independence, meaning the tutor doesn’t have to spoon-feed everything. Let him discover things on his own and help him develop his own approach or style in studying.
Another tip that may be helpful is to give the child a learning task that isn’t too much and make it a part of his routine. As for my son, we do some math, writing, and reading exercises every morning but it doesn’t take much of his time so he finds it an enjoyable task. Like I make him answer 10 math equations only and to challenge him, we set a timer to check if he can do it faster than before. For writing, I make him write two to three sentences about anything fun or interesting he did the previous day. For reading, he chooses a book that he likes and then I ask him to read aloud two to three pages only. All these are done in a relaxed manner without having to set myself as the teacher. I found this approach effective because we can do this anywhere and anytime and it’s just like a game. This allows him to be independent when it comes to his main lessons where he doesn’t even ask me for assistance and my offer of help is often not needed.
Lastly, if your child has classes with a tutor like thrice a week, then you can start to incorporate independent learning on days he doesn’t have his tutor around. You can try the exercises I mentioned earlier. Just make it fun and not too demanding or strict for the child. You can also prepare some exercises he can do even if you’re not around (because of work). Again, don’t overdo it. Just a few simple exercises because our goal is to make him feel independent and to develop his self confidence. Make it a routine, especially for younger kids because learning is easier if a rhythm is created. If a rhythm is set, the child thinks that he has this routine and there are certain things that need to be done and accomplished. So even without your help, he can manage. I’ve set this rhythm with my son since he was four years old, so even at that young age, he was the one who would prepare his things for school, wash himself, etc. Now that he’s almost 10 years old, his sense of independence is also reflected on his academics.
Any other advice for the parents?
I also recommend having basic knowledge on common apps needed for the online classes and make themselves familiar with Skype, Zoom, Google Classroom, etc. They can explore this on their own so when it’s time for the kids to use these applications and software, parents know how to navigate them.
Parents should acknowledge the authority of the tutor in the class just as teachers do it in their classrooms. Parents should give the kids the idea that their tutor takes control of the lesson and they’re bound to follow. At the same time, parents should also set realistic expectations and understand that there are certain limitations in online teaching so they should all work together and communicate constantly to help the child adapt to these changes.