Working with high school students is very straightforward. Kids in their mid to late teens are often focused and self-motivated to learn and perform. They are thinking about college and beyond, and usually have some goals in mind that they would like to achieve. Young children, however, are not as determined to plow through hours of mathematical tutelage as their older counterparts. They are substantially more disconnected from the real world and career ambitions. What usually occupies their minds on a regular basis is playing sports with their friends, video games, and sleepovers. In a word, their lives are primarily centered around “having fun.” And that’s a beautiful thing. In fact, I do what I do on a daily basis because I love having fun. It just so happens that my version of fun is teaching math.

Because younger children are carefree, unencumbered by concerns of college admissions and career goals, it can be a challenge to command their attention. But after working with countless fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in both group and one-on-one settings, I have developed an understanding of how to engage these young minds. Not only do my students work with me at a stellar pace, but they are excited for our sessions. They actually look forward to learning about math! And to be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I have fun when I teach, and I want my students to feel the same way.

The secret to my tutoring success is that I bring more to the table than math education. I don’t look at my sessions as standard lessons; they are multifaceted interactions. They are play-dates, discussions, comedy shows, pep talks, and explanations all rolled into one. Because I’ve been able to successfully implement these components into my lessons, I’ve received rave reviews from both my students and their respective parents. Now, a great deal of this magic formula comes naturally to me. My personality and general nature inclines me to take on this varied role. I like talking and having fun with my students. As such, in order to pass on advice to other teachers, I had to sit down and think critically about precisely what I have been doing that works so well. After a bit of reflection, I have boiled down my formula to the following five tips:

  1. Always Maintain A High Level Positivity – when working with kids, never let your positive attitude wane. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a rough week or got no sleep the night before. When you walk in those doors, it’s game time. You must put on a super happy and positive face. If you’re not positive, your kids will follow your example. This basic tenet is derived from our understanding of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are the pieces of our brain that make us yawn from other yawns, frown when we encounter third party sadness, and smile when we are around jovial individuals. Essentially, people often mimic the mood and body language of those around them. If you are hunched over and overtly depressed, your kids will mirror that vibe. If, however, you smile and stay super positive throughout the lesson, your students will be much more likely to remain happy and eager to learn.
  2. Keep Energy Levels At A Maximum – think about tutoring kids as part education, part entertainment. If your lesson begins to drag, your students will rest their heads on their hands and gradually zone out. Not an ideal mind frame for optimal knowledge absorption. Your goal should be to keep your kids active and engaged. Instead of allowing yourself to drift into a monotonous tone, speak with power and inflection. Use hand gestures whenever possible. If you keep your energy levels high, your kids will be energized as well.
  3. Show Excitement For The Subject – when you sit down to teach children, you are asking them to give you their undivided attention. This whole process is much easier if your students are actually excited about the subject matter. The first step in engendering excitement is showing your own enthusiasm. After all, if you’re not thrilled to be going through math problems, how can you expect your students to be? Get excited and broadcast it.
  4. Intersperse The Lesson With Fun Conversations – for kids who are 9 through 11 years old, you need to keep the session lively. You can certainly accomplish a great deal of this with a positive attitude, loads of energy, and a healthy dose of enthusiasm. But those components alone will not carry the day. You need to connect with your kids. Accordingly, you need to take inventory of their interests. As the lesson rolls forward, take the time to bring up their topics of interest and engage them in a fun and interesting conversation. It will break up the lesson and rein in students who are potentially dozing off in the middle of the lesson. For example, some of my students share my interests in science, particularly astronomy.   For them, I always make sure to mention any cool documentaries I have seen recently, and routinely ask about the latest fun facts that they have learned.
  5. Joke Around – everybody likes to have fun. One of the most common ways that people bond and have fun is by joking around. Inject your lessons with jokes and humor whenever possible. Not only will this bring life into the session, but it will help forge the bond between you and your students. Once they see you as more than just a tutor, you will truly be able to make a solid impact on their education.