19 November 2009 02:56 PM

What to Look for in Educational Products and Services

by Dr. Rick

There sure are a lot of educational products and services out there competing for the attention of parents, educators, and students.  Because I’ve worked for public, private, and for-profit education, I’m often asked by parents what they should look for when they consider purchasing educational products or services.


Is it necessary?  Shouldn’t the schools be taking care of these needs?  There’s so much to choose from!  I’m confused.  How do I separate the marketing from the substance?  How do I know if this is good for my daughter?  How early should I start?  How long should I wait?


All good questions, and each is unique, like each child.


Every kid can use a little help now and then.  We can all agree on that.  Maybe it’s early reading, maybe it’s spelling, maybe it’s algebra, maybe it’s organization and study skills, maybe it’s getting ready for college entrance tests.  Whatever it is, it’s a virtual guarantee that every kid is going to need some extra help from time to time.


When that time comes, here are ten questions to consider to make your decisions easier.

  1. Is it simple?  When your child is having some difficulty, the last thing you need is to complicate your life or his any more than it already is.  The product or service you’re considering should be easy to use.  It should “feel” right.  Trust your Mommy or Daddy Instinct.

  2. Is it timely?  The worst mistake you can make is to wait before getting help.  As soon as you suspect your child is having difficulty, get help.  Lots of teachers – bless them – get to school early and stay late to work with kids.  Honor Society high schoolers can get service-learning credits for helping struggling younger students.  Tutoring companies, like Sylvan Learning, have excellent, proven records.

  3. Is it based on research and best-practices?   You don’t have to be an expert on educational research, though.  Investigate the product reasonably, then trust your common sense.  Three simple questions to ask: “Does it reinforce the skills my child needs?”   “Does it have a good track record?” and “Is there a structured, sensible approach?”  Again, it should “feel”right.

  4. Is there some simple technology involved?  Most kids are motivated by and attracted to technology.  The technology should be interesting, interactive, simple, and easy to use.  It shouldn’t take the place of substance.  Flash is less importance than depth.

  5. Does it take into account my child’s interests and needs?  Does it excite her creativity?  Help her follow directions?  Build logic, reasoning, and thinking?  Strengthen confidence?  Teach her how to organize herself?  Give her new knowledge and skills?

  6. Is the price right?  It’s value you want, not a status symbol.  Expensive isn’t always better, especially for pre-adolescents whose interests are – quite naturally – changing almost daily.  You don’t need to buy the most expensive guitar.  He may not be interested in it next month.  Let the interest and commitment develop over time.

  7. Is it fun?  Learning isn’t always fun, let’s face it, but there’s nothing wrong with making it fun whenever and as often as we can.  If a workbook, a software program, or a creative tutor can inject some humor, delight, and fun into difficult lessons, I say go for it.

  8. What have we done at home?  Healthy values, skills, and attitudes about learning begin, of course, at home.  Have we as parents been good role models about, say, reading, math, writing, organizing, and work routines?  Have we given our children simple “libraries” of a dictionary, thesaurus, and other books they’ll need for their studies?  Have we developed a regular go-to-the-neighborhood-library-to-check-out-interesting-books routine?  Do thy have globes?  Maps?  Educational CD-ROMs and software?  Yes, even many computer games have great learning values, encouraging interests in history, building, and strategy.  Monitor them.

  9. What do other parents think?  Get recommendations from other parents whenever possible.  Before purchasing a product or service, ask for references, so you can see for yourself and feel less pressured.  Ask teachers and guidance counselors.  Tell them that you’re not expecting them to “endorse” anything – you just want their counsel.

  10. What does your child think?  Sometimes it’s hard for a child to ask for help, and he may do so in indirect ways – sulking, arguing about school and homework, losing interest, bringing home low grades.  Show him that everyone, adults included, need a little help now and then.  That’s why God gave us mentors, role models, coaches, heroes, and teachers.  It’s brave to ask for help, and my goodness, don’t we feel good when we’ve solved a problem?

If you’ve got some advice for other parents who find themselves in this situation – finding the educational product or service that’s just right for their children – share your experiences with us.  Just click on the “comment” button below and help others.




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