It's officially called "supplemental education," but most families probably call it "tutoring."

It's officially called "supplemental education," but most families probably call it "tutoring." In a nutshell, it's outside help when your child seems to be hitting a road bump or even a brick wall with school work. In this month's Go-To Guide, Columbus Parent talked to some of the area's top providers of supplemental education to decipher the why, when and how of tutoring.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY CHILD NEEDS A TUTOR?
Any number of signals will tell you that something's up and needs to be addressed:

Grades: it could be just one subject or all of them, but the grades are suddenly slipping and this is the time of the year when most people decide they need to do something, said providers. If it's one subject, said Sylvan's Nisey Sebak, it might be something as simple as a knowledge gap caused by having missed a few critical lessons during an absence, so extra practice is needed in that area. But if a child is "only skating by in school," said Sebak, there could be an underlying foundational problem with a broad-based skill like reading comprehension.

Homework: if homework is "taking an abnormal amount of time to finish," said Huntington's Kirsten Cathers, that's another sign. This often happens as children transition from elementary to middle school, said College Nannies & Tutors' Susan Cornish: "There's no more hand holding, but an enormous disconnect because of the amount of freedom occurs." Likewise, a refusal to do homework often is "a mask for not understanding material," said The Tutoring Center's Gwen Kyle.

Physical Signs: Stomach aches, said Cathers, are a classic sign of anxiety and trouble in school. Test anxiety also shows up with a number of physical symptoms like crying and sleep disruption.

Emotional Signs: Behavior problems in school are another masking mechanism, said Kyle. Likewise a reluctance or lack of motivation to go to school often stems from a fear of criticism or failure. Boredom can also be an indicator, said Cornish, that a student may actually be under-challenged and in danger of losing interest in school. Finally, chronic frustration - yours and your child's - is another red flag.

Parental Instincts: Your gut is telling you that something's wrong. Parents, said Cathers, "are typically going to know their kid better than anyone else." Even if they're getting good grades but you feel like something is wrong, "go with your gut," Cathers said.

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Talk to your child's teachers first. Every tutoring expert we talked to said they encourage parents to communicate with the school and let them know they are considering outside help. "Classroom teachers can sometimes feel threatened by a parent seeking outside help," said Sebak, so she encourages parents to use the word "coach," not "tutor," because it's a less emotionally-loaded term. Kyle said that schools "sometimes take it personally," but as long as you emphasize that you want to take a cooperative and/or team approach, you can minimize tension. And teachers may actually have recommendations for tutors they know and like. Check out a few different providers. Pay attention to how the people there make you and your child feel. Be open and honest about the situation, and the factors that may be contributing to diminished performance in school. Now is not the time to sugar-coat reality. Be prepared to share report cards, progress reports, tests, papers and homework.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT?

Most but not all tutoring services will perform a diagnostic assessment, which is a standardized test designed to pinpoint strengths, weaknesses and knowledge gaps. And they will usually charge a fee for this. The average fee in this area seems to be around $200, but you can often find coupons (including in Columbus Parent) that will help reduce that fee. All services will ask you and your child for your goals - what do you hope to get out of tutoring? It could be something as specific as an improved grade point average or something more abstract. "One parent told me she just wanted her child to 'see joy in reading,' and that's a very valid goal," said Sebak. You should expect to receive a detailed, goal-oriented recommendation. If the learning issue is identified as being a foundational problem - like reading comprehension - do not expect a quick fix. It could require tutoring sessions for the duration of a school year or longer. Most families opt for tutoring sessions 1-3 times a week, with each session usually lasting an hour. The services we spoke to indicated that, on average, children used a tutoring service for at least 6 months. Some services will provide tutoring in your home, but most prefer to conduct tutoring in their own center, "away from the numerous distractions that are present at home," said Cornish. Expect to receive feedback reports at set intervals from the tutoring service: They should tell you up front how often those will be. Generally you will receive a report, and your child may also be re-tested, every 10-12 hours of instruction. Costs vary from about $30-$75 per hour in the Central Ohio area, depending on whether you opt for one-on-one or 3:1 student/teacher ratios. Those fees generally also include consultations with a child's school teachers. Inquire to make sure. Some services require you to sign a contract, but others do not. Some also offer financing plans, which can stretch out payments for as long as five years. Discounts for pre-paying may be available, and some employers' benefits plans contribute to the cost of tutoring.