Wherever there is a child struggling in school, the odds are there are parents struggling to figure out how to find the most effective help for that child.
Some kids find themselves falling behind their peers, despite a lot of effort, because they are frustrated by learning disorders. Some fall behind because they have a hard time focusing on learning, or making an organized effort to get homework done.
Some of the kids who are struggling will get the support they need to succeed from specialists at school, in the classroom or in sessions outside of class. But many, many parents each year find themselves looking for help after school.
That’s where things can get confusing: Are you looking for a tutor, a homework helper, or an educational therapist? That depends on what your child needs.
If your youngster is failing in one particular subject, a tutor might be the way to go. It’s easy to understand what a tutor is and does: she is knowledgeable in a particular subject area, and she can bolster a child’s success in that subject by filling in background information your child might have missed, and offering more explanation and practice to help the student acquire the necessary skills.
If your child’s challenge isn’t a particular subject, but trouble settling down and tackling the work itself, a homework helper might be the ticket. A homework helper does just that: help with homework by providing structure and support. Many, if not most, parents fill that role for their kids, being present and providing back-up when kids get confused or unfocused.
But when children have unusual difficulty with the work, and homework becomes a major area of conflict, having a professional homework helper on the case can be a big relief for both parents and kids. It’s not a form of therapy, notes Dr. Matthew Cruger, senior director of the Child Mind Institute’s Learning and Development Center, but the result can be therapeutic: Helping a child succeed at homework without involving mom or dad can remove a lot of stress from the whole family’s evening.
For a child who has serious learning issues, an educational therapist works with him not so much to get the homework done as to strengthen the skills he needs to be able to keep up. Educational therapists come to the task with a range of professional backgrounds, from special education to speech and language therapy to psychology. What they have in common is that they come to understand an individual child’s learning style, and then help him develop skills and strategies that will enable him to build on strengths and compensate for weaknesses.
For a child with dyslexia, for instance, that would mean help with reading, as well as strategies for compensating for that difficulty with reading. For a child whose challenge is focusing on learning, the therapist would help with strategies for getting started, for organizing a project, for remembering information, for practicing skills. Educational therapists recognize that kids who have been falling behind in school are often discouraged and anxious, so their mission is to build a child’s confidence along with her skills.