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What Is Kumon?

Updated on October 18, 2011

What is the Kumon Math Program?

Many people have heard of the Kumon Math program but have no real understanding of what it actually is. Perhaps the first thing to tell you when describing Kumon is to tell you what it isn't- Kumon isn't math tutoring.

Kumon math is actually a structured after school program that helps children to improve their math skills. The majority of the work in the Kumon is done at home. Children simply attend a Kumon centre once or twice a week, depending on the parents preferences, and the rest of the week complete work at home set by the Kumon instructor. Usually the work set by Kumon amounts to around 20 minutes a day.

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What Happens At A Kumon Centre?

Whereas math tutoring generally involves one on one teaching by a tutor or teacher the Kumon program is a self taught program. Kumon uses a system of worksheets, divided into a series of levels, to teach the pupils math. The students are required to fully master one level of worksheets before moving on to the next level. Students time themselves in completing the worksheets so that they can also see how they become quicker at completing the work.

On joining the Kumon program the students attend a centre where a Kumon instructor, trained in the Kumon program, sets a test to determine the students existing level of mathematical knowledge. From this test an "easy starting point" is found; a starting point in the Kumon program where the student will find the worksheets quick and simple to complete. An easy starting program is selected in order to allow the student to gain confidence right from the first moment of starting Kumon.

How Does Kumon Work?

The student will then be given a series of worksheets to complete. Only when every worksheet in the series has been completely mastered can the student move onto the next level in the program. Kumon's definition of completely mastered means that not only must the student be able to complete the worksheet with complete accuracy, but that they must also be able to do so within a standard completion time. This is because Kumon recognises that some diligent students may be able to get high levels of accuracy on a particular workbook by completing it very slowly and working through every question very carefully. However, this does not represent a complete mastery of the topic; only when the student can do the work quickly and easily are they really fully competent and ready to move onto the next level.

In reality what this means is that many students need to repeat and rerepeat the same level of the Kumon program many, many times. Each student keeps repeating each level until they have completely mastered it. This means that students do not necessarily work at their grade level but work through the program at their own speed according to their interest and abilities.

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what is kumon
what is kumon

Does Kumon Work?

Most parents find that not only does Kumon dramatically improve their child's math results, but that it also helps them to become more independent in their learning. This is because there is an emphasis in Kumon program on it being a self taught program. Rather than being taught new subjects by the Kumon instructor, new topics are introduced gradually through the workbooks with an abundance of worked examples. Students therefore essentially teach themselves using the Kumon material. Rather than acting as a teacher the Kumon instructor is there to allocate the work each week, depending on the students results from the week before, and to periodically test and check up on the students progress. Attendance at the centre is more to check that the student is on track with their progress, offer encouragement and study tips and to set new work.

One thing that parents should note is that in some countries parents are required to mark their child's work. This can be a time consuming business.

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What does Kumon actually teach?

Kumon works by repetition. There is little problem solving involved in the Kumon program, rather it focuses on the student doing daily practice of large numbers of math problems. Through sheer repetition the student develops their math skills and becomes fast and accurate at completing their work. Calculators are not allowed in the Kumon program, rather the focus is upon students becoming so proficient at math that they simply do not need calculators.

Kumon math starts from the very basics of math, i.e. counting, for kindergarten aged children and goes all the way through the school years. Many pupils complete the full Kumon program, often at a remarkably young age! The youngest child to complete the Kumon program in math is only eight years old, although the average time to complete the program is five years, and the average completer is 16 years old.

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