A Teacher and Tutor of 8 Years Shares His 6-Step Secret to Keeping Kids Engaged While Learning at Home

Photo: Twenty20 | Natalia Solovii

Over the course of my eight-year teaching career, I've taught students of all grades, from elementary school to college — in classrooms, online and through private in-person tutoring sessions

Teaching isn't easy, and different kids learn best in different ways. Some perform better with a more hands-on approach, while others do well with minimal supervision and occasional check-ins.

But what's true for all types of learners is that it takes practice, repetition and structure for retention to occur. If you're a stressed-out parent, remember these six simple reminders to ensure educational success at home:

1. Refresh your knowledge.

Let's be honest: If you're a parent who hasn't sat at a classroom desk in over a decade, you'll probably need a refresher on some of the teaching topics. Not only is this completely normal, but it's also expected.

Part of the teacher's job is to guide parents, too. So don't hesitate to contact your kid's teacher to ask for more comprehensive answer keys or additional resources.

I recently reached out to the teachers of a student I tutor for insight about what topics were going to be on upcoming exams. I also asked about upcoming lessons so I could help my student get a head start and learn the prerequisite skills.

2. Create a structured learning routine...and stick to it.

Like adults, kids also thrive on structure and consistency. So transitioning from a full school day in the classroom to learning in the living room can make it hard for them to stay focused and committed.

To ease them into the new changes, create a structured schedule at home. There is no one-size-fits-all schedule, since different parents have different day-to-day demands to weave in.

The most important rule is to stick to it. I currently tutor a student in math every Tuesday at 3 p.m. — the same time she had her math class before the pandemic. If there's a specific day we can't make that time work, I'll always suggest choosing the next closest time, like 3:45 p.m.

3. Set up your own rewards system.

What you choose as the reward may vary depending on what your kid likes. Keep tinkering around until you find something that works and excites them.

And we're not talking about star-shaped stickers. Some effective rewards include an increase in allowance or a week off from doing chores. Or, instead of restricting TV or iPad hours, let your kids earn time on their devices through good performance.

Another important note: Parents often forget that physical education counts as schoolwork, too. So consider rewarding them for activities like completing 10 minutes of running or 20 jumping jacks.

4. Don't immediately tell them the answer to a question they're struggling with.

Instead of telling your kid the answer to a question they're stumped by, simply move on to a next question that they're more likely to know how to answer. The goal is to guide them in the right direction by breaking down one hard problem into smaller, more manageable ones.

If the next question is still too difficult, ask them about a related topic you know they're familiar with. Maybe your sports-loving kid is struggling with geometry. Challenge them to use field layouts (i.e., basketball court of soccer field) to identify geometrical shapes and concepts.

Although this process may take more time, it will help increase your kid's confidence and motivate them to continue learning (especially when starting a new topic).

5. Let your kids be the teacher.

If your kid is mostly learning independently, it's always a good idea to set up a daily (or weekly) check-in to see what they've been studying.

Ask them about things they learned that excited them. They can explain things verbally or by using a PowerPoint (which can also help them build on public speaking and presentation skills). Or, they might feel more comfortable writing a quick summary or overview.

If you have more than one kid, ask them to teach each other. Then, quiz each sibling to check for understanding.

6. Make it an enjoyable activity.

This is easier said than done, but there are resources that can spice up the at-home learning experience. Many of my students love using Kahoot!, an app that allows them to take quizzes and compete against their classmates in real-time — using their smartphone, tablet or computer.

When school isn't in session, consider showing an interesting movie related to a topic they're studying. For kids learning math in middle-school and up, I suggest "Hidden Figures" or "Moneyball," because they show how statistics and math came to be so crucial in the world of sports and science.

Michael Twersky is the founder of Empire Prep, a private tutoring and test preparation service. He has been teaching and tutoring for more than eight years. Michael has an M.A. in education from the Hunter Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in finance from George Washington University. Prior to his teaching career, he worked as an investment banker in New York. Follow Michael on LinkedIn.

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