This blog is managed by Song Hock Chye, author of Improve Your Thinking Skills in Maths (P1-P3 series), which is published and distributed by EPH.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tuition or No Tuition? (Part 3) – Tutoring your own child

There are a few things that need to be considered if you decide to tutor your own child. Besides allocating your precious time (lots of it) for your child, you need to consider the fact that you have to study her schoolwork too. The last thing you’d like to happen is to teach her something which you were taught 30 years ago, only to find that what you were taught then, is no longer applicable in schools today!

Here are the points you need to note if you decide to tutor your own child:

1. Time Allocation for your child – A Very Important Factor

You need to have a fixed time allocated for your child if you decide to tutor her. Your time (lots of it), must be set aside on a daily basis. There is NO two ways about it. If you can’t afford that time for her, you will be shortchanging her.

You cannot expect to tutor her just an hour or two a week, and expect results. To her, you are a parent, not a tutor. As such, her expectation from you, as her parent, is far more demanding than that from a paid tutor. She sees you as THE role model. She sees you as a moral guide.

A paid tutor is expected to be with your child only once or twice a week. However, as a parent, if you tutor her only once or twice a week, she will perceive that you are only interested in her work, once or twice a week. As such, if you decide to tutor her, you need to do it everyday.

How much time you are able allocate depends whether you are working or not. A full time housewife is most ideal. She would be in command to dictate the time schedule. However, not all parents are full time homemakers. If that is the case, you need to manage your time between work and time for your child.

Whatever the case, you will need anywhere between 2 hours to as much as 4 hours per day with your child. Sounds demanding? No. That’s parenting.

2. Be in the know what the school syllabus is

This sounds logical. But unfortunately, many parents do not bother to find out what is taught in schools. By now, many parents know that algebra is no longer used to solve Maths problems in Primary schools. However, because many parents do not keep in touch, they are unable to solve Maths problems at P5 and P6 today.

You also have to keep abreast of changes in the syllabus. For example, only this year (2007), for the topic of the Solar System (P5 Science), Pluto is no longer considered one of the planets. The decision taken by MOE was made after textbooks were published for the Year 2007. Parents who were not aware of this, kept teaching that the Solar System has 9 planets, when it was revised that it has only 8!

For the next academic year 2008, the use of calculators is introduced at P5. P6 will continue with the old system where no calculators are allowed at all. This means that assessment books that were published for P5 Maths before this year, are all tailored for the old system, ie without the use of calculators. The parent who wishes to tutor his or her own child, must be aware of this.

3. Master the subject content – another “must do” action

Nothing is more frustrating to a student than a teacher or tutor who does not know the content he or she is teaching! Likewise, if a parent decides to tutor his or her own child, and if he or she does not know the content, it demoralizes the child.

In order to be able to teach, you must know the content. Equip yourself with the latest answering techniques in Maths problems. If you want to guide English, your grammar must be strong, your vocabulary must be wide and your ability to form properly constructed, grammatically correct sentences, must not be in question. You must also be able to explain under what conditions certain tenses can be used, and under what conditions those tenses cannot be used.

If you wish to guide your child in Science, not only you must know the content, you must also know the details of the whys. You must know key words, key concepts and why certain answers will get students full marks, while other answers score only partial marks.

4. Test your own subject content competency and ability to teach

A good way to test your own competency is to “sit” for the Exam Papers yourself, within the stipulated time. If you find that there are many questions you are not able to answer yourself, or if you fail to complete the paper within the stipulated time, you know that you are not competent enough to sit for the paper, let alone teach your child.

That is half the test. The other half of the test is the teaching itself. Assume you did well for the Exam Papers. Now pass your work to your child and see if she understands your answers and working. If she does, good. If she does not, are you able to explain to her such that she understands what, how and why you answered the way you answered?

If she still is unable to understand the what, how and why you answered the way you answered, then the problem is not your competency in the subject per se, but perhaps, your teaching methods. You may be teaching a method that you were taught 30 years ago, which is no longer applicable in primary schools today – eg Algebra.

5. Make sure you teach what is taught in schools

You have to teach in the same manner as the school actually teaches – not what you think how it should be taught.
For example, if the school expects models and statements for Maths, you have to teach that. If you try to bypass that and use your own “creative method”, your child may lose marks in exams and that may demoralize her.

Some schools expect intermediate statements in their Maths workout. These statements explain the steps taken when a calculation is done. You have to teach your child that too, if the school insists students write intermediate statements.

Other schools insist that every step of the working be shown. Short cuts are not allowed and the student gets penalized if she jumps steps. If that is the case, you have to make sure your child does not jump steps.

6. Oral Test – The Most Neglected Section in the English Exam

The Oral section is the most neglected section in the English Paper. Most schools hardly stress this section, while most tuition centres and tutors ignore this section completely.

Oral is a small part of the English Paper. However, it can be very unnerving for the student who does not get enough practice for this section. Unlike written exams, oral exams are taken in actual real-time, “face-to-face” exams.

A mistake made in a written exam can be corrected later. A mistake during an oral exam cannot be retracted. Once a mistake is made, the student’s confidence dives and she will be very nervous for the rest of the Oral Test. This may have a psychological impact on the student and further pressure her in her written exam that is to come.

It is therefore very important that enough oral practice is given, not just to get the reading aloud right, but the psychological mindset of the student in “prepared mode”.

If you tutor your own child, you must know what the examiner looks for during the oral test. To equip yourself, it would be advisable to get from retail bookshops, books that give you tips on the oral section of the English Exam.

7. Science – easy to learn, but teaching it is a different story

If you were to read P3 to P6 science textbooks and try out the assessment papers yourself, within a matter of weeks, you would have covered the whole PSLE Science syllabus. There is not much content in PSLE Science, as compared to the other subjects.

Teaching the subject to your child is a different matter altogether. You have to know what are the key words and concepts. Some assessment books in the market come with Answer Keys that highlight key words and concepts. Others do not. You have to choose your resources carefully. Failing to highlight the important keywords and concepts to your child will cost her a lot of marks in her exams.

8. The Child’s Discipline – a “must have”

This means that you have to allocate a specific time for her tuition with you. No TV, no computer, no music playing in the background, no phone chats, no distraction during your tuition time with her. On a regular basis, you also have to give assessment papers, which must be done within the stipulated time.

It must be remembered that during an exam, your child will have no luxuries like music, friends to chat or tidbits to bite. If your child does not have the discipline to complete the 2 and one-quarter hour Maths paper under such a condition at home, what makes you think she will have that required discipline in school during a real exam?

It is therefore important for your child to get accustomed to exam conditions well before the real exam. Without discipline, every thing falls apart. You, as your child’s tutor, will have to see that her discipline is in place.

9. Your Discipline – an even bigger “must have”

If Dad decides to teach his son, but halfway through the lesson, he proceeds to watch the live match on ESPN, do you think son will be motivated to work?

If Mummy decides to teach her daughter, but halfway through the lesson, she calls her friend over the phone to have a chit-chat, do you think daughter will be motivated to work?

Children are humans too. When the boss does not care, don’t expect the subordinates to be motivated to do their best. Likewise, if parents do not show full commitment, the child won’t be too committed either.

That said, it is OK if dad or mum does “real work”. For example, if dad assigns the child to complete a two and one-quarter hour Maths Assessment Paper, and dad completes his own project work on his computer beside his son, that is acceptable. Likewise, mum may decide to complete her ironing chores in the same room, while the child does her work quietly.

Children are intelligent and reasonable. They know if dad and mum do “productive work” or are just excusing themselves for their own leisure.

10. The biggest plus – your ability to reward, punish and create bonding

As a parent, if you are your child’s own tutor, the biggest plus is that you are able to decide – and no one is able to override you – what kind of reward or punishment your child gets. The hands of a teacher or an external tutor are tied. Yours are not.

As a parent, you know your child’s likes and dislikes. You can reward her if she does her work dutifully with what she likes. Likewise, you can withhold what she likes if you feel her work is unsatisfactory.

As a parent, if you do all the above correctly, your child will respect you – for life. The biggest spin-off about tutoring your own child is the parent-child bond you create – and that relationship would most likely be carried into adolescence and even into their young adulthood.


Nobody said parenting is easy. It is one of the heaviest responsibilities in life. Whether you decide to tutor your own child depends on a whole host of factors.

The final decision is for the parents to make.

This is the end of a 3-part series of "Tuition or No Tuition".


Related articles
Tuition or No Tuition? (Part 1)
Tuition or No Tuition? (Part 2)


keentolearn said...

Dear Mr Song

Are examinations getting too difficult?

If you look at the examination questions for Primary Maths and Science , they are usually quite different from those found in the textbooks and workbooks. Pupils may perform miserably in semester and PSLE examinations, even when their daily work had been up to par. Last year, a reader lamented about his son returning home shattered after a difficult PSLE Maths paper.
Are setters trying to outdo one another to come out with more challenging questions that are beyond the abilities of the average pupils or are our children prepared inadequately to solve difficult problems under intense examination environment?

Excel Eduservice said...

I agree with you that some schools tend to try to "outdo" each other, especially for Maths papers.

As for PSLE, there really is no need to worry because all students will sit for the same exam.

If a question is "tough", every PSLE student will face that same question.

Eve said...

Hi!I just across your site and find it very informative as my girl will be taking her PSLE next year.She is also very weak in her marks & just got an E for her SA2.Her other subjects for Science & English is C,so only for Chinese B. She has lost her confidence in Maths & rather practice other subjects instead.How do you think I can help her even though I just got her 1-1 tution for Maths?Is it she excels in language than Maths.Thank you for your advice.

ExcelEduservice said...

It is possible for a student to do well in languages but badly in Maths or vice-versa.

It is also possible for a student to do well for Eng but badly for MT or vice-versa.

I have come across many such students. As for your child, the best is still to discuss with her teacher. I can't tell you her weak spots without looking at her work in detail.