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Sylvan Learning Centers Alternative

What do you do if your child is really struggling at school? A lot of parents end up turning to Sylvan Learning Center…if they can afford it. I knew one family who went to Sylvan for a year and it cost between $2,000-$3,000. Did they think it was worth it? Yes, but the financial cost was a real hardship for that family. As an educator I take issue with Sylvan in that they hire credentialed teachers but then only pay them about $15 an hour. However, the families themselves are paying Sylvan between $45-$50 an hour. That data alone begs for other, cheaper alternatives.

As a former K-4 teacher, here is what I would suggest as a cheaper alternative to Sylvan Learning Center:

  • Work with your school district to determine if your child has a learning disability
  • Assess and continually track your child’s learning needs and progress
  • Use quality, scripted tools to deliver one-on-one instruction in the home

Step 1: Working with your School District

If you live in a well-functioning and accountable school district

If you feel like your child is really struggling in school, the first thing to do is to talk to your child’s teacher immediately. She can probably offer a lot of insight, and give your ideas to try at home. If you think your child might be struggling with a potential learning disability, you and your child’s teacher can make a referral for assessment and evaluation to the special education department in the school district. This can sometimes take a couple of months, so in the meantime continue working with your child at home.

If you live in a school district facing corruption and/or poverty issues

Definitely talk to your child’s teacher and get ideas for what to do. The teacher probably really wants to help your child, but her hands might be tied in terms of getting the special education assessment services your child needs. This happened to me as a teacher when I taught in a low performing school district. I finally ended up having parents write letters requesting special education assessment, and then having them hand deliver those letters to the school district office. If you need to go this route, make sure to have your letter time and date-stamped by the secretary, and then have her make a copy of that letter for you. At one of the districts I once worked in, I also had to send a copy to the lawyers who were suing our school district for failure to administer special education services!

I would not recommend requesting assessment in writing if you live in a normal, functioning school district because it might make you as the parent appear overly aggressive and not willing to go through the proper channels. But requesting assessment in writing is a legitimate, valid thing to do, and is sometimes necessary. More information regarding assessment, special education, and IEPs can be found here.

Step 2: Continual and Ongoing Assessment

One of the things that Sylvan Learning Centers does really well is telling you exactly what grade level your child is at in language arts and math. But you can figure this out for yourself at home, if you have the right tools! Some of the ways to do this cost a little bit of money, but some of them are absolutely free.

Reading Assessments: Guided Reading Level, San Diego Quick Reading Assessment,

Math Assessments: Saxon, Singapore, Horizons

Step 3: Deliver Quality, One-on-One Instruction at Home

First of all, you need to choose a neutral parent or adult to be the Afterschooling instructor. If you are lucky enough to be in a two-parent household, choose the parent who does not have a history of homework battles with your child. For example, if it’s been the mom who has been struggling with the eight year old to learn multiplication, then have the dad take this on, at least for a little while. I’m not blaming the mom, but if there is already some “tense” history here, then choose the neutral parent. If at all possible, give your child a fresh perspective.

Second of all, buy a kitchen timer. Make sure your child knows that your Afterschooling time is going to be fun, effective, and limited. Use your own judgment, but think about creating an hour long schedule that is broken into 15 minute chunks. Set the timer so that your child can see that progress is being made. Afterwards, eat ice cream or bring out the DS as a reward for cooperation.

Thirdly, invest in the right materials. For a child who needs remedial intervention you want to choose instructional materials that incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning as much as possible. Hopefully the school district will be assessing your child soon to determine if they have visual or auditory learning disabilities, but in the meantime make sure you are using teaching techniques that encompass all possible learning styles. You also want to choose programs that are scripted, or (although I find this term insulting) “teacher proof”. Here is what I would suggest:


I would recommend All About Spelling, Levels 1 and 2 to start with. Full Disclaimer: I am an AAS affiliate, but only because as a teacher I really believe in the quality of the program. It is systematic, sequential, hands-on, fun, fast, and will help you diagnosis where the exact gaps in your child’s phonics and spelling knowledge lie. Here’s my full review with pictures: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/where-to-start/all-about-spelling-level-1/ AAS will give you a scripted program to teach reading and spelling at the same time. It can be used with nuero-typcial children, as well as kids with dyslexia.

You could also try Guided Reading using post-it notes, for about ten minutes each Afterschooling session. Be sure you choose the right level of book for your child to read. That’s why you need to be continually assessing and monitoring their Guided Reading level.


Some kids have horrible writing blocks and can’t put anything on the paper. Other children write page after page, but their writing is riddled with convention errors. Here’s is a continuum of suggestions for how to help kids write at home:

For kids who won’t write anything at all

Kids who want to write, but get stuck with spelling

Encouraging writing in general


Working on Conventions (no link yet, sorry!)

How to Write a 5 Paragraph Essay


I think that the best, scripted, hands-on math program you could buy to help you teach your child math is Right Start. Full Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Activities of Learning/Right Start Math whatsoever! Right Start is a bit of an investment, but you can use all of the manipulative materials that come with it to help your child with their regular math homework through the years. Start with the free online placement test to determine which kit to buy. Make sure you buy the teacher’s guide, because this will tell you exactly what to do. For more information on math education in general, please see my post here: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/math/

Final Thoughts

You can do it! You can deliver remedial intervention for your child, and get your son and daughter back on track. Start by working with your school district to make sure the possibility of learning disabilities are assessed and addressed. But don’t wait around for bureaucracy to take its course, start working with your child at home right away! Afterschooling three–five hours a week can really make a difference, especially if you have the right tools.

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