Many students and families across the U.S. are coping with pandemic learning loss — the knowledge gap that resulted after COVID-19 shut down schools, moved classes online, and introduced immense academic challenges for children, parents, and educators alike.
It’s unclear how pandemic learning loss might affect students long-term, but many parents worry it could have an impact on their children’s graduation timelines, college admissions, and scholarship opportunities.
Students returning to the classroom have to readjust to the new normal. It may be difficult to predict whether they will soon catch up to where they would have been without any pandemic-related interruptions, or if they will need some extra help. Look out for these signs to consider whether tutoring could benefit your child.
5 Academic Challenges to Watch for in Your Child
If your child is struggling to catch up academically, they’re far from alone. One national study found that on average, kids between third and eighth grade lost a half year of learning in math and a quarter year of learning in reading.
Katelyn Rigg, an assistant professor of education and founder of LiteracyLearn.com, said tutoring can be a great option for closing the learning gaps that many students are experiencing after the past few years. “My number one suggestion would be not to wait,” she said. “Early intervention is key.”
Experts on child education recommend that you keep an eye out for signs that may indicate it’s time to seek the help of a tutor.
1. Declining Grades
Small fluctuations in grades aren’t unusual, but significant changes in your child’s report card or progress reports might suggest that something is amiss. You know your child’s track record — if their grades are clearly slipping, try to find out what they’re experiencing in class.
2. Avoidance of Homework or School
From early mornings to classmate conflicts, there are many reasons why a child might feel less than eager to go to school. But complaints about going to school or doing homework can also stem from a learning issue. Learning and attention issues, such as ADHD — which affects an estimated 6 million children in the U.S., often start early in life but may go undetected until several years into elementary school or even later. If you notice your child procrastinating on homework or complaining more than usual about school, it’s worth trying to determine the cause.
3. Spending Too Much or Too Little Time on Homework
If your child takes hours to finish a homework task or struggles to complete it without significant help, this could be a sign they need more one-on-one attention. On the other hand, if your child barely glances at their homework before calling it quits, this could be a clue they’re avoiding work that feels too hard.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how long homework should take, but the Learning Disabilities Association of America offers these general guidelines:
In first through third grades, students are likely to receive homework one to three times per week, and each homework session should take 15–20 minutes.
In grades four through six, students are likely to receive homework two to four times per week, and their homework sessions should last 15–45 minutes.
In grades seven through nine, students may receive three to five days per week, and each homework set should take 45–75 minutes to complete.
At the high school level, students are likely to receive homework five days per week, and their homework may take 75–150 minutes to complete each day.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities provides an interactive checklist that might help you recognize if your child is experiencing a learning disability.
4. Difficulty Grasping or Retaining Concepts
Parents sometimes jump to conclusions and assume their kid just needs to try harder if their grades are slipping in a particular subject. But the issue may have more to do with their child’s learning style or a need for individualized help. Students may benefit from tutoring to make progress grasping concepts and building on what they’ve learned.
It’s also possible your child is dealing with more than a skills gap that can be filled with academic tutoring. To know with certainty, your child would need to be tested for learning disabilities.
“If you suspect any disabilities, go to your school’s administration and request a meeting,” Rigg recommended. “Legally, a team has to meet to hear your concerns and make an action plan. Parents are their child’s number one advocate, so don’t be afraid to push for your child.”
While each state has its own process for handling such requests, public schools are subject to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which grants the right to an evaluation.
5. Disorganization Around Schoolwork
Is your child losing homework, forgetting to complete assignments, or generally showing a lack of organization when it comes to schoolwork? This could indicate a skills gap or even a learning disability. In either case, a tutor can be helpful in providing organizational tools your child needs to perform their best.
Rigg recommends discussing any issues you notice with your child’s teachers to gain clarity on what your child is missing. “Teaming up with the teacher to understand your child’s specific deficits is important. Teachers are required to track data and monitor progress, so the information they share is valuable.”
How to Find a Tutor
The good news is many resources can help your child catch up and become a more confident student. Teachers can often point you to resources available at school or through your school district, such as a homework club where students receive individual coaching from an experienced tutor.
During the pandemic, school districts around the country received billions of dollars in relief aid under the CARES Act, and some of that money has been used to provide tutoring for students who are grappling with learning loss. Rigg recommends parents start by asking about this option, which, if offered, is likely cost-free.
But if your child has a disability covered by IDEA, they’re entitled to an individualized education plan, which could include individual instruction and different forms of therapy. Disabilities covered by IDEA include learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.
Teachers or school counselors might also be able to refer you to free or paid academic tutoring services in your community. Many communities have free or affordable tutoring resources for children available through the YMCA, the public library, or another community center. Some companies partner with libraries to provide free online tutoring for students. And you can find other free tutoring resources online, such as Khan Academy, that offer a wide variety of course materials, including those aligned to Common Core standards. Paid online tutoring services, such as Varsity Tutor, are also available. Online tutoring could be a convenient option if your child tolerates remote learning well.
If you ask around, you might find other parents within your network who have hired tutors and can recommend those who’ve helped their children.
Average Cost of Tutoring
If you opt to hire a tutor, you’ll find a range of prices. Costs may vary depending on where you live and the tutoring service you choose. According to Tutors.com, tutors on average charge between $20 and $80 per hour, while the national average for a local tutoring center might run you between $150 to $200 per month.
You may pay more or less depending on the tutor’s experience, the subject matter, and your child’s grade level. Elementary school tutoring and middle school tutoring may have different rates, for example. Keep in mind that specialized tutoring such as standardized test prep often comes at a higher rate. In-person tutoring also tends to be more expensive than online services.
Another factor in the cost of tutoring is how long your child receives tutoring. If your child is struggling in a single subject on one particular learning gap, they might make the desired progress within a few months. But tutoring might be needed for an entire school year or longer if your child needs help in several subject areas and has more skills to learn.
If you have a Coverdell ESA for your child, you may be able to dip into that fund for tutoring fees. This does not hold true, however, for 529 savings plans — so if you or your child’s grandparents have been contributing to one, you’ll have to leave those savings for later and make other plans to cover tutoring services.
Tutoring Your Own Child Can Be a Cheaper Alternative
You might consider tutoring your child yourself, or enlisting the help of a friend or relative who’s willing to volunteer their time. One-on-one time could help your child grasp the material, catch up on what they’ve missed, and get back on track in the classroom.
Reading together plays a critical role in young children’s literacy development. You can also find videos on YouTube and free worksheets online that may help you structure tutoring sessions of your own. For example, in addition to offering free worksheets, Khan Academy also has a Youtube channel that features thousands of videos you can use to help work through different academic concepts and lessons with your child. Working with your child yourself might save costs and be more comfortable and convenient, if you have the time for it.
However, tutoring your own child isn’t always easy or effective. If you and your child’s teaching and learning styles misalign, or it’s difficult for you to stay patient, tutoring sessions can be ineffective and lead to tension between you. Or your work schedule and other commitments may push tutoring hours late, when neither of you is at your best. It’s tough to work out how to overcome academic challenges if schedules or other conflicts get in the way of your homework help. Pulling in outside help could lead to quicker results and more peaceful family life.
The Bottom Line
If your child is struggling academically, one-on-one tutoring could make a powerful difference and set them up for a better classroom experience for years to come. While hiring a tutor can be expensive, there are many different tutoring options to explore, including tapping a Coverdell ESA if your child has one.
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