A Method and a Movement

Monday, 18.12.2017

How well-versed are you with the story behind Kumon and why does it continue to greatly improve the lives of so many students all over the world?  

Although it’s been more than 60 years since Toru Kumon established his very own fledgling Maths Centre dedicated to helping students, the backstory that first set the wheels in motion is one that resonates with parents up until today.

In 1954, Toru’s wife, Teiko chanced upon a math test that their young son Takeshi had stashed away in his pocket. While it may have been out of sight, it certainly was not out of mind, with the results weighing heavily on the second-grader’s conscience and then, his mother’s concerns. (Sounds familiar? As you’ve just read, this scenario is one that still strikes a chord with generations of parents!) Teiko noticed that her son’s test marks had slipped—a red flag beginning to flutter. If there was no intervention to get his math back on track, it was likely his struggle with the subject would continue.

Fortunately, Takeshi’s father was a high school math teacher who had amassed some 20 years of teaching experience by then. While his workload was heavy and demanding, Toru’s love for his son prevailed, and at his wife’s urging, he began devoting time, energy and resources to compile worksheets just for Takeshi’s practice and revision. The Kumon method was born. 

The Method Flourishes
Today, the Kumon Method is successful testimony to its founder’s belief that education should be individualised to optimise learning, as humans all have different levels of ability. This is true, particularly for children, as their abilities are constantly changing, especially during their formative and developmental years. Because the Kumon Method is so highly personalised according to each child’s ability, it offers “just-right” levels of study and learning so that every student is effectively enabled to perform at a level that surpasses their potential. What this means is that a student begins at a level that matches their initial ability—but over a period of time, they can expect to exceed their individual competence by progressing even beyond their school grade level

Imagine a nine-year-old solving complex problems at secondary school level! That’s possible under the Kumon Method, which aims to make such progress a reality. The proof is in the pudding as Kumon’s successful track record can be traced right back to Takeshi Kumon himself, who was the original ambassador of his father’s unique study design. By the time he reached high school, Takeshi had already mastered complex college calculus, and while his drastic turnaround is the first that can be directly attributed to the Kumon Method, it is definitely not the last. 

While Kumon has its roots in math, it has transcended its origins as an arithmetic-only centre as the Kumon Method also facilitates the teaching of other subjects. As of 2016, Kumon operates in 49 countries and regions, with over 4.2 million studying at 24,700 centres worldwide.

The Kumon Method of Learning: 5 key traits

1. Initial diagnosis: Students do not start their choice of programme(s) at a level commensurate with their school year. Upon enrolment, they are first tested for their proficiency and then commence at a point that will be easy for them in order for them to grow confidence during these early stages as they work their way through the programme. 

2. Putting plan into action: Students have their own personal study plan and projection, which includes academic goals to achieve in future. Kumon’s individually-fuelled study system allows them to pace their progress accordingly: Students work through a series of worksheets, moving up to the next level only when they have mastered the current set. The assignments involve repetition of previous concepts and reinforce the new ones, thus enabling the student to achieve complete mastery of the subject. 

3. Constant improvement: The Kumon Method measures this mastery not only in the number of questions that the student answers correctly, but also the time it takes for each worksheet booklet to be completed. Kumon has a predetermined time that assesses the readiness of the student to advance to the next learning level. Students are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment every time they manage to surpass their previous performance; they feel greater involvement during the learning process and more in control of their input and the subsequent outcome.

4. Classroom strategy: In this setting, Kumon centre instructors are more like coach-mentors, and do not conform to the traditional schoolteacher mould. They are trained to guide and encourage students during every step of their learning journey and support them with useful advice and motivational rewards. Every student attends classes twice a week at a Kumon Centre, where under their respective instructor’s care, they have their homework meticulously checked, work on corrections and begin tackling a new set of worksheets. Above all, class time is spent engaged in productive activity with the class instructor, who continually tracks their students’ progress to accurately assess their understanding and reinforcement of previous and current concepts.

5. Parental involvement and support: If a child happens to miss a session, parents are expected to be equally involved in the supervision of their children’s assignments, and make sure that they follow their regular study schedule. Parents are also recommended to understand what their kids are learning and regularly track and discuss the progress of their children with the Kumon instructors. Like how Toru and Teiko Kumon served as the parental overseers in their son Takeshi’s climb back up the academic ladder, keeping abreast of your child’s educational endeavours can be a satisfying and all-inclusive family affair! 

Raising A Leader
Most parents understand the value of sharing reading experiences with their child. Whether it’s mummy or daddy reading aloud to them, paediatricians and early childhood educators all agree that this is the perfect bonding activity to create nurturing parent-child relationships, which is important for your child’s cognitive, language and social-emotional development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents to read to their children even before they attend preschool, as reading aloud and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development and relationships, to name but a few. Books expose children to narratives, information and concepts which help stir them to use their imagination in creative ways while challenging them to think and express themselves more coherently and effectively.

Here are some ways that the entire family can get in on the act of reading together and build a collective awareness that reading is a stimulating and rewarding activity that pays off in many ways. 

For example, strong reading skills are important for all subjects in school, and not just language alone.

Here are some tips for parents who want to help their children become active and avid readers as they grow:  

* Establish reading rituals. The more kids read, the more they will enjoy the activity while growing their skills. Depending on your family’s schedule, reading time might be in the morning, afternoon or before bed. Whatever time you choose, stick to it! Building good habits starts with consistency.

* Set a good example. Be a reading role model and spend time reading by yourself or sharing with your kids something interesting that you’ve read. In the process, you show your child that reading is both fun and useful.

* Make reading fun. The more engaging the reading experience, the more it benefits the child. Have your child stop and think about plot points and characters. This will develop their analytical skills. You can even dole out small rewards initially to reluctant readers going by the number of books completed, or by the new words they’ve acquired. Associate reading and books with what’s good until your kids no longer require an incentive, because they’ll soon love doing it—no coercion necessary!

* Let your child make their reading choices. Let kids read whatever they want, and according to their current proficiency and preference. The reading experts at Kumon recommend that children read books “that match their ability and interests, which may not correspond to their age or school year”. Eliminate pressure and expectations and your child will feel more at ease whilst reading for pleasure—and not to please.

* Ditch stereotypes. By that we mean the roles of dads when it comes to reading to their children, particularly to their sons; who also deserve special mention as it’s long been thought that boys lag behind girls when it comes to reading skills. “Leading education experts and psychologists agree that a boy who has a male reading role model will stand a much better chance in developing a lifelong love of reading,” says author and children’s literacy advocate Robert Gould. “Of course, the most obvious responsibility of fathers-as-reading-role-models is to read to their sons every chance they get. Study after study illustrates the positive correlation between reading comprehension and being read to.”

* Have access to good resources. Besides the library, there are lots of websites for kids’ book choices if you need ideas and inspiration for good reading materials. A good place to start is to retrieve a copy of the Kumon Recommended Reading List (RRL), a useful resource comprised of 380 titles designed to help parents and kids identify suitable books from a wide range of genres and styles. You can also register your child in a Kumon Language Programme where students can further hone their reading, comprehension and literacy skills. Kumon’s instructors helm interactive read-along sessions and monitor every student’s progress to keep them engaged at every stage throughout their reading journey. Each Kumon Centre also has its own curated library which is constantly kept updated and well-stocked with books from the RRL.

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