What Is Kumon?

What Exactly Is Kumon Math?

Most people have heard of Kumon either through word of mouth, or through television advertising, but may not have a complete idea of what the Kumon Math Program actually is. So what is Kumon?

Kumon math is a program aimed at children from Kindergarten to University age, (or at adults that want to improve their math skills.) The program operates out of individual Kumon centres which the student attends once or twice a week, but the majority of the work is completed at home by the student independently. In fact, Kumon is largely a self taught program, through a series of levelled worksheets. This method of independent learning is what makes Kumon so different from traditional math tutoring.

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How Does Kumon Work?

The Kumon system was developed and tested over a number of years to find the optimal way to teach students mathematics. It uses a series of worksheets or Kumon workbooks divided into levels by topic. Students enrolled in the Kumon program work through the different levels of Kumon in a systematic way, only moving from one level to the next when that particular level has been completely mastered.

When enrolling in the Kumon program the student begins by taking a math test aimed at establishing how much existing knowledge of math they have. This test is then used to select a starting point in the program for the student, a point known as their “easy starting point.” This is a level that the student will find easy to complete and is used so that upon starting the program the student quickly increases their confidence in their math ability. This focus of starting the student at their own individual tailored level and allowing them to work through the program at their own speed is one of the key features of Kumon, and means that students are not required to work at a level commensurate with what grade there are in at school, but can instead work at their own level dependent on their existing knowledge and natural math abilities.

For this reason Kumon is an excellent choice for students who are either far behind their peers at school, or who are naturally gifted mathematicians and are way ahead.

How Do Kumon Students Learn?

Having started at a Kumon level appropriate for them, students work through this level repeating the workbook as many times as necessary until they have completely mastered the topic that is being covered. Within the Kumon program mastery of a particular topic is judged not only on how accurately a workbook is completed, but also by how quickly. Thus in order to move onto the next level a pupil must complete be able to complete all of the workbooks in a level both to a specified level of accuracy and in a specified amount of time known as the standard completion time.

For some students who are struggling with a particular topic this can mean repeating the same workbook many times over. Although students do sometimes find this frustrating, repetition is one of the cornerstones of the Kumon program.

Once a student moves onto the next level the new topics are introduced in a very gradual fashion, starting with very simple worked examples. Once the student has practised one new idea, another is introduced. In this way the student, using the workbooks, essentially teaches themselves math and no real teaching is needed from the Kumon instructors.


What Happens At The Kumon Centre

At the Kumon centre Kumon instructors check over the work that the student has completed in the previous week, recording their marks and determining what work they should complete the following week. The student also completes a workbook at the centre so that the instructor can check on their study habits and how they are going about completing the workbooks. Younger students also complete number boards, where they time themselves putting numbers onto a board in the correct position, improving their knowledge of number.

Kumon instructors thus oversee the students work, but don't actually TEACH the students, although they can help a student who is struggling. In some areas books are marked at the Kumon centre, at others the parents are required to mark the booklets.


What Happens Then?

Students work their way gradually through the whole Kumon program. When left to study at their own pace most students quite quickly move ahead of their peers at school completing work which is far above that normally studied for children of their age group, Students that work through every level of the Kumon program are known as completers and receive prizes and certificates. The youngest completer of the Kumon program (up to university level math!) is eight years old, although the average age of a completer is 16 years old.


Does Kumon Work?

My two children have been enrolled in the Kumon program over a period of several years and you can read my review of what I think the best and worst things about Kumon are at my Kumon Review page.

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