By Cadice Choi, AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — The arithmetic of hiring a tutor can keep you up at night. At $100 an hour, once a week, for the next several months or more, what are the costs?
A whole lot of coupon cutting, and endless hours of financial fretting.
But even as you scale back spending in the downturn, you're probably not willing to compromise on your children's education. That said, there are some options that could help save you money.
"There are timely discounts right now both because of the start of the school year and the economy," said Karen Froseth, tutoring director for Kaplan Test Prep, which also provides tutoring for regular coursework.
As the school year approaches, here are a few ways to give your kids a boost without spending a lot.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
The first step is diagnosing exactly what kind of help your child needs, said Lisa Jacobson, president of Inspirica, a tutoring company based in New York. That way you won't waste time or money on ineffective tutoring.
"It might be their study habits or that they're having trouble with a particular subject," Jacobson said.
Once you're clear about your goal, look for someone you and your child feel comfortable with. There's no science to determining the right fit, but don't base your decision on credentials alone.
Anybody can call themselves a tutor, so the resumes you'll see can vary greatly. Some tutors are practicing or retired teachers, and tutoring companies often have in-house training programs.
Or you might find a local graduate or college student who has no teaching credentials, but comes strongly recommended by friends.
As a starting point, there are plenty of free or low-cost tutoring sites, and it's likely you can find one for any subject.
CliffNotes.com is geared toward students in the eighth grade and up, and has free study guides for subjects including math, literature and foreign languages.
Students can look up a specific topic within a subject. So if your child is preparing for an algebra quiz and has a question about polynomials, that term could be searched on the site.
The online format could work well for your kids, who might groan at the thought of a sit-down tutoring session.
"Students today want it online and they want it free," said Greg Tubach, a senior editor for the site.
One drawback is the CliffNotes.com's limited interactive element, but Tubach said the company is working to add options to let kids test themselves on what they've learned.
To interact with a live tutor at any time, try directing your child to Tutor.com. The site's instructors pass an internal training program and are often certified teachers or graduate students.
The service costs $35 for 60 minutes, and you can use as many or few minutes per session. Students fill out a survey detailing their questions before the session starts to avoid wasting time.
"This way they pay for only what they use. So many times we hear parents say a tutor comes for an hour, even if they don't always need the whole hour," said Jennifer Kohn, a Tutor.com spokeswoman.
The site is also available for free at 1,800 libraries across the country.
For younger children, AAAMath.com and AAASpell.com have free interactive lessons targeted toward kids in kindergarten through 8th grade. MindSprinting.com, another free program, offers math and reading worksheets tailored to students based on assessment tests and state standards. Students print their assignments and do them by hand.
LOOK FOR DEALS, DISCOUNTS
One way to cut costs is to team up with other families to form a small group. If you're using a tutoring company, the firm will generally do the grouping for you.
At Kaplan Test Prep, for example, small group tutoring of three kindergarten through eighth grade students costs about $45 to $55 per session. That's compared to about $60 to $75 for a one-on-one session.
Kaplan last year also began offering online instruction, which is $29 a month. Students are given unlimited, automated instruction, which is catered to them based on assessment tests.
"It's the same learning plan online as with private tutoring," said Froseth, tutoring director for the New York-based company.
Tutoring companies usually offer discounts this time of year too. Sylvan Learning, for example, is offering a $100 discount on its academic instruction, as well as for its SAT/ACT prep courses.
Sylvan also offers a free interactive reading program. Parents or teachers can help kids pick books from more than 7,000 titles, then have students take short comprehension quizzes.
CONSIDER COMMUNITY GROUPS
It could be that all your child needs is a structured time and place to concentrate on homework. There are plenty of places that provide just that, with an adult on site to help.
Most Boys & Girls Clubs offer a homework program called Power Hour. Staff aren't required to be certified teachers, but they're trained by the nonprofit to provide educational guidance. General membership fees cost about $15 to $25 a year, and there is no additional charge for homework help.
The YMCA also has after school academic enrichment programs at some 900 locations. The specifics vary depending on the particular site, but some programs can be very extensive. In Cincinnati, for example, low-income families can apply for a program where staffers consult with the student's teachers to work on specific needs.
You can visit www.ymca.net to find your local YMCA and inquire about the programs.
Another place to look for affordable help is your child's school. PTAs may fund enrichment programs, often to offset budget cuts. There will likely be some fees to cover book, supply or teacher costs. But the price should be minimal, especially considering the convenience of an onsite after school program.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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