While the decision whether to seek supplementary tutoring for your child can be a daunting one, there are still many choices following that decision, namely in whether to seek a private tutor or center-based option.
Each offers its own separate set of strengths and weaknesses, and oftentimes the choice between the two is determined by your child's needs and your financial situation. As with any service, such as going through a private mechanic versus a dealership service station, there is a balance when it comes to finding personal attention and cost-effectiveness in tutoring. You need to determine which is the best fit by considering every angle before making the big decision.
- Tutors are highly trained and qualified. Tutors employed by tutoring centers are selectively chosen based on their expertise and training, and generally possess a great deal of knowledge in their field. Dr. Alicia Holland-Johnson, author of Becoming A Better Tutor and a tutor consultant, says that many tutors at centers have higher degrees and more experience tutoring, which is what truly matters. "The more experience the tutor has will be the first [thing to look at]," says Holland-Johnson.
- Tutoring centers are well-stocked with textbooks and materials. Each center typically has its own curriculum, with corresponding worksheets and books for tutors and their students. Centers spend a lot of time and money creating learning materials and books proven to help students, while private tutors are more likely to plan as they go.
- They can instruct on numerous topics. If your child needs a tutor in physics, math and Spanish, a tutoring center can offer specialists in each of those areas, whereas one private tutor may not possess the expertise in each of the subjects. This is great if your child is struggling in several subjects. "A lot of [tutors] are already teachers," says Vashiti Du Bois, executive director at Tree House Books, a Philadelphia volunteer-based resource center for kids of all ages. This means they offer experience in helping kids understand and absorb material. "[Tutoring centers] assemble a group of professionals and train them to be great tutors."
- Structure and social interaction. Tutoring needs to be structured. There must be an outline of what kids need and how they are going to get it, and tutoring centers are often great at finding and addressing problem areas with planning and structure. Also, tutoring centers often include other kids, offering the opportunity for study groups and learning with others. As always, its child dependent, but learning in a group or classroom setting may help more.
- Cost and convenience aren't tutoring centers' strong suit. Centers are generally more expensive than private tutors and typically include a commute. It typically comes down to pricing and often tutoring centers cost more than an individual tutor, who may serve just as well.
- Distractions come with the territory. There will likely be other children present during your child's tutoring time, which may take away from one-on-one time. If there are a lot of students around, your child may not be focused and the tutors may not be able to provide their full-attention either.
- Risk of a lack of consistency. When a child goes to a tutoring center, he or she could become paired up with whatever tutor is available that day. Make sure you get consistency with tutors to guarantee the best experience for your child. Discuss that tutor's plan for your child. Just because you send a child off to an experienced center doesn't mean they are getting what they need.
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- Convenience. A tutoring session typically occurs in the home or library, at the convenience of the family. Family schedules are hectic and ever-changing so having a private tutor allows a child to get the education he or she needs with the flexibility of staying at home or at least in the neighborhood.
- One-on-one attention. Private tutors, by their nature, allow students to be tutored one-on-one without the distractions of other students. They provide the opportunity to develop a relationship with the tutor. If a student has focusing issues, putting him or her in a room with just one other person may improve that child's attention. When kids go to school they get books, materials and lessons, but sometimes they need one-on-one face time to get the subjects down pat.
- Cost. Private tutors don't come with a brand or center name, which often means they are a bit cheaper. At the end of the day, it is about quality, and a private tutor who has the right credentials could get you a much better experience for a much lower price than a tutoring center.
- Hands-on options. While a parent may trust what a tutoring center provides, there may be little way to know what goes on during sessions. Parents need to be attentive about what occurs during tutoring sessions, including what the tutor and child are working on and any kind of lesson plans or overall goals. Having a private tutor allows for more of a relationship between parent/child and tutor. If the sessions take place at home, mom or dad can keep a closer eye on progress.
- Overall expertise. Private tutors aren't vetted professionally like those at tutoring centers, and thus may not possess the expertise required to adequately tutor your child. If your child is struggling in more than one subject, or faces a learning challenge, private tutors might not offer the all-around access to trained professionals and a variety of subject options a tutoring center would.
- Lack of training. While private tutors may have the expertise in the field your child is struggling in, they may not have the ability to teach it well. Tutoring centers often host training sessions and workshops for their tutors. It is important to carefully examine a private tutor's resume and call references to see if the person would be a good fit.
- Less organized setting. For some, having your child work on math problems at the kitchen table isn't the best idea. Sometimes part of the problem is focus or organization, and tutoring centers help provide that. Atmosphere is crucial when it comes to learning, and tutoring centers understand how to create atmosphere for kids.
There is no magic answer that will tell you whether to go with a tutoring center or a private tutor. It is entirely dependent on your child's needs. "You get different results with different kids," Du Bois says. Examine what kind of help your child needs and the kind of environment that would best suit those needs. Each tutor is different, whether he or she comes from a center or lives down the street. Quality and requirements should always take precedence when deciding, but remember that quality doesn't mean you have to break the bank.
Tiffany Smith is the senior associate editor here at Care.com. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.