Explore Learning: our experience
Explore Learning - you may have seen the centres if you shop in Sainsbury's and wonderered what they are all about.
Well, we tried out our nearest centre to see just how they worked - and if they would work for us.
Explore Learning runs maths and English tuition centres, aimed at children aged five to 14.
My son is seven and we actually first looked at the centres a while ago, as he had had hearing issues when he was younger and was still finding it very hard to focus at school. The fact that much of the work is done onscreen, with audio coming through headphones, is very useful for children like him, who may have some issues with auditory processing.
Anyway the basic premise is that your child can attend up to three sessions a week, for 75 minutes each. You can have a free introductory session to find out about the centre, while your child has a go at some of the programs, and where you can talk about any issues, concerns and so on.
For anyone who has not had a very positive response when trying to discuss problems at school, this in itself can be a delight as they are happy to talk about how your child learns, their strengths and weaknesses and so on.
While you have a chat, your child will get to try out the various programs - for instance, Arron had a go at his times tables with a porgramme called Table Mountain, and tried some comprehension with a reading programme.
The centre will suggest how the session is divided up - perhaps you want them to have more time practising handwriting, or concentrating on maths. The last 15 minutes is spent doing something fun, such as crafts, computer games and so on.
The attractions for a young boy are obvious - most of the work is done on a screen - and there are a number of incentives - you get to collect lizard cards when you do well and achieve your objectives, you climb up a chart on the all, and when you reach a certain level everyone gathers round for a special ceremony, which culminates in you getting them to do what you want - which is why you may see a whole group of children (and tutors) barking like a dog, or doing a silly dance! You also get to swap your cards for prizes including toys and books.
Google Explore Learning and you'll see mixed reviews - some criticise the tutors' lack of teaching experience, others think it is just another form of childcare while parents do the shopping.
Personally, I thought the tutors had one very important qualification - a sense of fun. They might seem a bit over the top to us, but they are forever high-fiving and offering praise, and Arron in particular responded incredibly positively to this.
We tried out the centre over the summer holidays - and Arron couldn't get enough of the place - and this from a child who tells me how boring school is! The fact that the centres are in Sainsbury's is a bonus as you can do your shopping while they're busy - so your time is not wasted.
Our trial time was only for a couple of months and as most of that was spent in the assessment period, where they gauge the levels your child should be working at, it's hard to say whether Arron made massive progress - although it certainly kept his mind agile and ticking over during the holidays - and in actual fact he is doing really well in Year 3, so I think it did have a positive effect.
The pity is that our nearest centre is nearly half an hour away, which actually makes it pretty impractical to get to during school terms, as he has after school activities so often. If we were nearer, I would seriously have considered signing him up.
I must point out that the centres aren't just used by parents whose children are struggling or dropping behind, they are also used for children who aren't challenged enough at school - and they also run 11-plus tuition courses if you live in an area where there are selective grammar schools.
So is it worth the £80 or so a month? (costs vary around the country, and there are schemes to make it affordable if you are on a lower income. They also accept Childcare vouchers.)
Like so many of these things, it all depends on your child. As I said, Arron has responded very positively, but it may not suit all children.
Yes, you could go online and find a number of free online programmes (see our online learning page), and this can work if you and your child are disciplined about scheduling a time to do this. or you could find a tutor (and that could costs £25 an hour). But if your child is not engaging with school, or lacks in confidence, and you want to offer them a positive learning environment, it's certainly worth a go.