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Sylvan Learning Center Alternatives

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 so little. 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: https://teachingmybabytoread.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.


  1. Kerri says:

    This is some great advice! I linked here from the Well Trained Mind Special Needs Forum. Question: How do I incorporate all this into homeschooling a 9 y/o reading on a first grade level (we’ve somewhat topped out in the phonics programs I’ve tried) who also needs instruction in content subjects like history and geography and literature?
    Intuitively, I know we need to get his reading up to par, but I feel urgency t0 “move forward.” As you mentioned, outside tutoring is so expensive! My 9 y/o has some developmental delays and I also have a verbally gifted 7 y/o. So they’re literally on opposite ends of the spectrum. My 9 y/o is a bright visual-spatial learner (good a chess, puzzles, building, etc.) with lots social communication challenges. As our core, we use Moving Beyond the Page (MBTP), because it’s literature-based, hands-on and fun for our family. But there’s not much review. What direct instruction program for content subjects would you suggest I use to supplement MBTP? Or should I just use a separate curriculum for my 9 y/o. Also what do you think about the Sound Reading program (which we’re using now) and Phonics Road to Spelling and Reading? Any suggestions for grammar–I need a systematic program that will possibly take us up to high school? We already use Rightstart Math–which is great.

    Thanks so much for any advice ( I haven’t explored your website, yet). I’m feeling pulled in two opposing directions–ahead to higher order thinking skills with my 7 y/o and back to basics and remediation for my 9 y/o. In a sense, my kids are flip-flopped w/ the 7 y/o reading at a 5th grade level and craving deeper and broader academics. I’m also feeling pressure from some “professionals” to put him in a “structured” classroom setting (interpreted–Public School). I don’t want to do that and we can’t afford a special private school for kids on the autism spectrum. Please help! I don’t want to get burned out.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Wow! I really admire you and all of the hard work you are doing with your children. Our own extended family includes people with ASD, and I have also had a couple of children with Aspergers Syndrome in my classroom back when I was a teacher, so I can appreciate the specificity of the challenges you are facing.

      I’ve been thinking about your situation all day, and the two programs that come to mind the most for your 9year old are Lindamoodbell and Slingerland. Both are extremely expensive, and I sincerely wish I knew how to write an “Alternatives” page for those two programs! My MIL is especially a fan of Linda-Mood Bell, and credits it with helping my BIL learn to read around the same age as your son.

      I know from teaching that there were in the past a lot of lawsuits from ASD families trying to get school district to pay from programs like Slingerland and Linda-Mood Bell. Since then, many districts have paid to have their own staff trained in these methods. So I think it is worth finding out what your school district has to offer.

      As a homeschooling family, you are saving your local school district $15,000+ on the education of your 9 year old. If you have a friendly, working relationship with your school district, it is possible that everyone could come to the table and hash out a hybrid plan for your child. You, doing 90% of your child’s education, but then the school district paying for something like Linda-Mood Bell, or else providing equivalent style instruction one hour a day three days a week. Does that make sense? Once your child’s reading ability is brought up to grade level, I bet a lot of other curriculum issues will fall into place.

      Regarding that other 90% of your child’s education, I was wondering if your 9 year old likes maps? If that was a strength, maybe that would be something you could lead with.

      • Kerri says:

        Thanks for your reply! I needed to put our problem down in writing and to get some coherent feedback. I just had it muddled around in my head for a while. I agree that once we get our son’s reading ability up to grade level, the other curriculum issues will fall into place.

        So, while I haven’t heard of Slingerland, I have explored Lindamood-Bell (LMB). We’re thinking similarly–LMB would be a excellent match for us. It’s my “dream” approach. However, as you’ve said, the cost is very expensive and it is out of reach my family. I’ll check with our local school system right away to see what they have to offer–I hadn’t thought of that before. Maybe I can negotiate some help.

        I just went to the Slingerland website–it looks like it would also be what we’re looking for–There’s a nice Youtube video about it. They currently don’t have any tutors available in Georgia.

        I also came across a program called Lexercise at a homeschool conference last week. They say that they are equivalent to LMB, but that they use a web-based, daily practice approach and a once a week meeting w/a language therapist (via web-cam) to keep the costs down and to make the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach accessible to more families. Even though it would cost a fraction of the price of LMB, we are still very cautious. I’ve promised my husband that I’ll work with something we already have until November/December, before we jump into a large expense.

        In the meantime, here is my plan: Sound Reading, which we are using now, is supposed to have many aspects of the OG approach and is “research-based”–we’ll continue with that for 3 months and see how it goes. The author of the program is quite approachable and supportive. We’re “supposed” to see profound improvement by then…. (Watch out for snake-oil, right?) If we see some progress, though, we’ll stick with that–I’ll need to then buy another level. By then, I should know exactly what our school district has to offer. Maybe they have teachers trained in OG who can teach through schools or as private tutors. I’m leaning most toward our school district or Lexercise–both would be convenient, provide daily practice, support, and accountability. I definitely need support and accountability right now.

        Wow! Talking this out has really helped me focus on the goal, bringing my son up to grade level so he can move on with other learning. Thanks, again for your encouragement, your original advice and your LMB/Slingerland and school district suggestions! I’ll check in and let you know how things go, so look for my post in about 3 months!

        BTW, my son does like maps and has almost a photographic memory for places we’ve visited, so that is definitely something to lead with for his reading interests.

        God bless you.


      • jenbrdsly says:

        Kerri, thank you for education me about education! I have not heard about Orto-Gillingham, but am going to be looking it up for my own edification. I think I have heard of Lexercise before, but I might be confusing that with earphonics. Wouldn’t that be something if your school district did have teachers trained in OG? Or, maybe they will be able to tell you if it is really “snake oil or not”.

        Regarding maps, there is a really great map game that hardly involves any reading that your son might like. It is called “Ten Days in Europe”. I first heard about it from a family who’s daughter had Aspergers. This little six year old memorized all of the countries in Europe after just a couple of weeks playing the game. I have a picture of it on my blog if you look in the geography section.

        Stay strong!

  2. Sally says:

    I would like a response to my concern. My granddaughter is 7 yrs old. Her parents have had every test done on her. She has sensory issues. Spacial awareness etc. She has been through the IEP process and has been in special class at her school. She is normal in every other way. She not delayed in any other way. The school has now put her in a different school and in a class the is all various disabilities that are much more severe than hers. We are very concerned how this is going to affect her socially and in other ways.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Are you in America? If so, the US education system has a rule called “Least Restrictive Environment”. That means that a child should be placed in a classroom that is the best fit, surrounded by other children who at an equivalent intellectual and behavioral level, or else a higher level, than the child being placed. So a seven year old who is high functioning, should not be placed in a “special day class”, because that would be considered too restrictive of an environment. A possible alternative would be to have your granddaughter in a regular ed classroom with a one-on-one aide. Then your granddaughter could get “pull-out” services several times a week where had occupational therapy, or other services that might meet your need.

      Best Wishes!

  3. Hai vo says:

    Hello, I have a son with ADHD and he is a hard time to sit and learn at least 15 min. He is behind according to his age at 4 yrs old and he is going to Kindergarden this September. I would to know if there is a special program that help bit for my son. I can not rely on the public system to help and I am prepare for the financial hardship. Thank you

    • That’s a tough situation. I would suggest practicing sitting in a chair every day, to build up his stamina. Set the timer for 5 minutes the first day, then 6 minutes the next. Also, if you are in America and your son has an official diagnosis of ADHD, then he would qualify for a 504 plan with the school. This is legal protection to make sure the school understands the needs of your son. Good luck!

  4. Joarnee says:

    Thank you so much! As a Mom this gives me hope that we can do this as a family . It just cost too much to place her on those well known places
    I will give it a try and hope for the best Thanks again!

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