Category Archives: Reading & Writing Tutor

What is the right age to start a child writing essays? Is first grade too young?

3rd grade student writingFor 20 years I have tutored children in how to write. Only one rising first grader and two children already in first grade were ready to write essays. Essays require thoughtful organization for which most first graders don’t have the patience or organizational skills. They want to jump right in without planning.

What qualities do I look for in students ready to write essays?

  • Children who already write long narratives—the fronts and backs of notebook paper. Sometimes this is the sign of a gifted child who is more advanced than her peers in writing skills.
  • Children who can read at a third grade level or better. Through their reading, these children have encountered lots of writing which subconsciously will influence their style, vocabulary and topics.
  • Children with strong vocabulary skills. During a writing class, students will hear new words, or will hear words used in new ways. Liking to work with words is a sign that students are ready for essay writing.
  • Children who can spell well (not perfectly) with more correct spelling than phonetic spelling. A writing lesson is not a spelling lesson.
  • Children who speak English well, using words and grammar correctly. Writing lessons include fixing up grammar errors, but in general, the student’s command of English grammar and usage should be good. A writing lesson is not a grammar lesson.
  • Children who can focus for up to an hour. Many skills come together during writing classes—holding a pencil, forming letters and words, organizing thoughts, spelling, finding synonyms in a thesaurus, listening to a teacher’s instructions, sitting (or standing) for most of an hour, and asking questions. Writing is a process, not a single skill, and parts of the process are best worked on while the ideas are flowing, so the child needs to be able to hang in there.
  • Children willing to take direction. I have taught talented first graders who had all the above qualities but they were not willing to listen to my suggestions or to follow my directions. Children need maturity to begin essay writing.

Third grade is a good time to start essay writing for some children. For others, fourth grade is better. During kindergarten, first and second grade, students can focus on writing sentences or paragraphs. Invite to EnglishWritingTeacher.comThey can also learn from reading with an adult. You can point out to your child why a certain sentence sounds good, or how a writer gets the child’s attention. You can point out how a certain character in a book sounds like a child because of the words she uses or the way she uses them, while an adult sounds differently.

My neighbor, who was born in Korea, sends her children to English tutors year-round. Should I do the same? Her children get straight A’s and are in gifted classes.

Tutoring is a way of life in some cultures, including South Korea.  There children go to school for six to eight hours during the day, 220 days a year, and then they go to a tutor for another four to six hours in the evening.  Estimates are that Korean children spend up to 13 hours a day being educated, almost half of that time in the largest private tutoring system in the world. Tutor teaching a child.

The cost is high.  Some Korean parents spend up to half their income on their children’s education, leaving them little money for other expenses.  It also has increased the debt of private citizens.

So why do parents in South Korea use private tutoring?

  • Dissatisfaction with the fairly uniform curriculum available to Korean students;
  • A desire for their children to be accepted at top universities;
  • The option for students to study subjects they cannot get in school;
  • The opportunity for students to receive excellent educations, leading to excellent jobs.

In the U.S., Korean parents continue using tutoring services.  They rarely cancel a tutoring lesson, and when they do, they make it up.  Often, they help their children with math and science homework, but use private tutors for English and social studies.

But in the U.S., many non-Asian parents balk at using tutors. Why?  They might think that

  • tutoring is elitist;
  • tutoring stresses children;
  • tutoring leads a child to believe he is deficient and cannot learn on his own;
  • tutoring usurps the time when children should be playing;
  • tutoring interferes with organized sports programs;
  • tutoring interrupts the time when parents might want to chill out after work.

Yet when you look at the valedictorians and salutatorians of our high schools, or at a breakdown of student backgrounds at excellent universities, you find many privately tutored students of Asian background.

One way of looking at extracurricular learning is that it can add months of learning to each year of a child’s education.  I have personally seen four-year-olds, who don’t know their ABC’s, start working with a private tutor and by the end of kindergarten—after working one hour a week, year-round—able to read at third or fourth grade levels and easily qualify for gifted programs in their public schools.

Should you hire a tutor for your child?  I cannot answer that, but I know that your child will be competing for scholarships, a place in college, and good jobs with children like your neighbors who are being tutored.  –Mrs. K

Many parents have their child participate in after-school sports for hours a day. They will drive many miles to have the child on the elite team or with the best coach.  They will send their child to sports camps and even hire a personal trainer. They’ll fly across the country for gymnastics meets or baseball world series.  They do not consider the athletic endeavors to be stressful, yet those same parents may never consider hiring an academic tutor.  In our typical American culture, too much time spent on academics is considered stressful.  Yet, a child who does better in school may be less stressed at school.  It is a complicated issue.  –Mrs. A

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.