My neighbor hires a tutor to work with her preschool child on reading for an hour a week. Is that really necessary?

Tutoring is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S., so your neighbor joins plenty of other parents in using tutoring services. I work as a private tutor, and I have tutored four-year-olds in how to read. Good idea? Bad idea? It depends.

Parents hire reading tutors for many reasons:

  • Many foreign-born parents speak English as a second language. They want their children to learn reading, vocabulary and pronunciation from a native English speaker.
  • Other parents want their children to be the best in the class and can afford to pay for that excellence.
  • Some children are poorly organized and benefit from systematic instruction.
  • Some children have no one at home to help them. The tutor takes on that role.
  • Some parents hire a tutor as a babysitter—someone to develop a relationship with the child and keep the child occupied in useful tasks while the parent is working.
  • Some students have genuine learning problems—dyslexia, for example. The sooner the problem is identified and the sooner the child works with an expert, the more likely the child will keep up with classmates and learn ways to overcome her disabilities

In many Asian countries, using tutors is customary. When parents move to the U.S., they bring that custom with them. In some immigrant communities, almost all the children are tutored, so the children assume that tutoring is normal. Their parents are often engineers or doctors, and expect the same careers for their children. What gave the parents an edge in Korea, Taiwan, India or Shanghai is what they want for their children in the U.S.

2 kids showing tutoring's advantageOne of the most compelling reasons for tutoring is the amount of extra education it gives a child. A four-year-old who is tutored only during the weeks when school is not in session gains 16 weeks a year of ongoing education. Multiply those 16 weeks by kindergarten, first grade and second grade, and that child will have studied a year more than her classmates when she starts third grade. A year more of education at a time in life when learning is so essential!

One grandmother I know said when her son was young, he struggled learning how to read. By first grade he was already behind and feeling overwhelmed. This grandmother helped her son with his homework, but it was always a struggle. If she had it to do over, she says, she certainly would get him a tutor, and enroll him in a structured summer program. Now it is 25 years later and she sees the same learning style in her grandson. She has recommended that her son hire a tutor for the boy, and he agrees.

Should your child be tutored? If it is just to keep up with the neighbor, maybe not. Talk to his preschool teacher. Read with him yourself. Not every child needs to be tutored, especially those who have an involved parent. I never had an outside tutor, but I had a wonderful mother who read to me every day and helped me with my homework. Don’t underestimate your capabilities or your influence. After all, most of the learning your child has done until now has been with you as his teacher.

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