This is a very personal one for me as an instructor, because this is the story of my firstborn daughter, the reason I originally became excited about being in Kumon.
I first learned about Kumon through the school Julia was attending – they had had the in-school Kumon program until the year before Julia could attend, and then it was withdrawn. I didn’t want her to miss out so enrolled her at the local centre in Dorval in 1994. Julia was already very good at math concepts and I love math, so I was excited to start her in the program.
Within the first six months she had improved her speed and confidence with basic addition and subtraction greatly, and she was very focused and motivated to continue. Julia developed excellent computational and mental arithmetic skills, but much more importantly, she became a very strong, confident and determined self-learner, which made it easy for her to excel in college and university, and now in her career and life in general.
I do not know of any other after school program that as effectively develops confident self-learners who more fully explore their human potential. It was a great privilege for me to be the mother and instructor of Julia. I learned so much from watching how she approached the worksheets and it was extremely helpful in my development as a Kumon instructor. I have always been extremely proud of my Julia and am grateful that the Kumon opportunity assisted her in her development into the very fine and generous adult she is today. I believe Kumon is more than just study skills, math and English skills and self-learning, as wonderful as those are. Ultimately, it is about building strength of character and developing potential, which is why, I think, our founder Toru Kumon saw it as a way of transforming the world and bringing greater peace everywhere.
Time to hear from Julia: “As a child, I probably enjoyed all the positive feedback I got the most — I still have a pile of medals and various awards I got (G by 5, North American Honour Roll, and so on). It motivated me to continue working when the math was hard. I had a difficult struggle initially with levels D (long division) and E (operations of fractions and changing fractions to decimals). There were so many new concepts coming at me and I was far beyond school grade level. Because I had not yet acquired the self-learning ability and because so far Kumon had been relatively easy, it was a big shock. I used to cry sometimes when I would do work for the first time. But as I progressed through levels F and G and became more and more used to encountering new concepts, and better and better at self-learning them, the tears went away and the feeling of struggle did too. I realized, ‘Oh, this is just another new concept. Let me study the example and figure it out. Oh, I see what to do. It feels hard now, but that is because it is the first time. As I practice it will get easy like everything else I have mastered in Kumon.’ So even when the levels got very tough in math J and up (advanced algebra through calculus), I was never fazed.
“Kumon gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to do math. I’ve heard other women say that they sometimes felt like that they weren’t good at math or weren’t smart as a child, but I never felt that all. I felt like I was really good at it and I could do anything. This really helped me in my university studies, where people who were less confident were sometimes discouraged from continuing.
“I didn’t spend much time in high school, since I skipped the last year, and so if you consider high school begins in grade nine (in Quebec it begins in grade seven), I was only in high school for two years. So I didn’t have much time to get involved, but I did begin tutoring my peers formally at that point. (Of course throughout elementary school I was always expected to help the other kids with math because it was so easy for me.) In university I was on the council for my undergraduate math society and in committees, worked as a teaching assistant and math tutor, and played a lot of bridge. Now that I’ve graduated, I organize events for women in technology (networking meetings, introduction to programming workshops) and spend a lot of time programming in my spare time. I’m generally interested in increasing diversity among computer programmers, since I think it’s a really fun thing to do.
“I went to McGill University and did a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in mathematics and computer science, graduating with a perfect GPA each time. I decided to study mathematics just because I really enjoyed it. Coincidentally, it was also a pretty good career move. I now work as a computer programmer and data scientist, where I use a lot of the mathematical and analytical skills I’ve gained over the years. It’s a great field to be in, and I feel very lucky that it’s something I enjoy doing.
“To a student who was considering quitting Kumon, I would say, I know what it feels like to be frustrated or impatient with Kumon. I did both Kumon programs for many years myself and I didn’t always feel like doing it. In fact, sometimes I wished I could quit (I knew my mom who was also my instructor would not accept that option!), but looking back, I am really glad I didn’t. Kumon has helped me in so many ways that I could not understand that it would, especially when I was in early elementary school and just learning the basics of math and English. I would say, trust your parents and your instructor. They do have a perspective of what Kumon will do for you if you don’t give up too soon.
“I’m glad that I had the chance to do as much Kumon as I did. I also worked for my mom at her centre briefly, and that was good work experience for me, as it was one of my first jobs. I have always enjoyed opportunities to help other students. My mom says I was one of the best assistants she ever had, because I would never teach the students. I would go to the worksheets and find the appropriate example for them to study and watch them self-learn. Her only regret was that because of my school and work commitments, my time as her assistant was quickly over.
“I also should explain that I didn’t stop at O100 because it got too hard or because I got distracted. At that point, completing the program just wasn’t a priority for me. Unlike when I was a child and loved raking in the awards and recognition, it no longer mattered to me to be a math completer in and of itself,. My mom was disappointed, but she didn’t insist at that point, because I was much older by then, and she respected my decision. I did, of course, complete the reading program, when I was in grade six.”