Is Kumon Good?
July 28, 2007 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Is Kumon a good or a bad thing? Does it work?

I've been told about Kumon in response to questions about bumping up the English skills of a friends kid. The person telling me about it seemed positive, but I'm looking for a more balanced view. Has anyone here used Kumon for the better or the worse? Are there any negatives I should be aware of? Does it work? Is the fact that Kumon is a franchise something I should worry about?
posted by seanyboy to Education (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My sister went to Kumon math because she was having trouble in math, and after a couple of years she was a year ahead of the rest of her class. It works. It's great. They really know what they're doing.
posted by Dasein at 11:23 AM on July 28, 2007

Emily Yoffe wrote about trying Kumon to overcome her dyscalculia. She explains in detail the assignments and methods.
posted by clearlydemon at 12:50 PM on July 28, 2007

My son was having trouble in math (he was 11 at the time). His buddy was doing the Kumon thing, so we gave it a shot. After six months, my son's math skills improved dramatically, and we can still see the difference today (2 years later). He only did if for the 6 months, and we found that to be plenty.
The only "negative" is that it requires some commitment on part of the student and parent--the student has to do question booklets EVERY day, and the parent needs to correct and monitor. Small price to pay, however, for the results.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 3:32 PM on July 28, 2007

Yes it works. No your kids won't like it, but they'll like understanding math and grammar well enough to ace the tests they give at their regular school and they'll like being ahead of everyone else. Those "question booklets" that Bozo just mentioned are made by corporate, and literally guide a kid step by step through what it takes to do the task at hand -- revised each year to be just a little better -- so I wouldn't let the franchise thing bother you a bit.

They may or may not give you a little book that talks about how the system was developed. The short version is that one day little Takeshi Kumon came home with a bad math test. Mrs. Kumon was not amused, so she set this test in front of Toru Kumon, Takeshi's dad and a high school math teacher and said "What are you going to do about this??" When he said that it was only one bad test she retorted "Well how many bad tests will it take before you get serious about this?"

Toru sighed and opened Takeshi's math text and declared it crap. So he started working on stuff that did work. It was later that the "reading" component was developed (in Japanese, which has 3 "alphabets"!) So in many ways Zig Engelmann is his philosophical heir; neither one would stop until they worked out a way to make sure everyone understood, and that meant doing things one step at a time, reinforcing older material and how it related to new material, letting students work at their own pace, and not stopping or moving on until the skill in question was mastered.

Give it 6 months and even the most skeptical of relatives will be pleased with the results.
posted by ilsa at 3:44 PM on July 28, 2007

I used Kumon for math and yes, I liked it, because it worked! It uses the principle of drills (for math at least) you keep doing exercises until it becomes second nature.
posted by GleepGlop at 4:45 PM on July 28, 2007

I used Kumon maths when I was about nine or ten for a few months. I hated having to do the exercises every day but I went from scoring consistantly badly on maths tests in class to scoring above average.
It's definately worth a try - you should see some improvement in a month.
posted by Laura_J at 4:48 PM on July 28, 2007

Can't comment on Kumon English/grammar but the Kumon math works. I did mind-numbing multiplication and division practice booklets for about a half-year and during that time dramatically increased how fast I could perform those operations with large factors. Math in school became a bit more interesting (though I pretty much still hate it now) simply because I wasn't being bogged down by the arithmetic.

In terms of it being a franchise well I don't see the harm. The practice booklets you get are fairly standardized and correspond to your particular math level.
posted by junesix at 5:20 PM on July 28, 2007

My mother was a Kumon franchisee. Her prior experience to opening a Kumon center was as maths and psychology teacher at a high school. I helped her as an 'assistant' at her center, and my job was to perform marking and data entry.

Kumon as an organization is run on a series of formulas. Variation from the formulas is discouraged, as the system of rote learning and repetition is disheartening, but it really does work. As a result, it doesn't really matter which franchise you walk into, they are more or less the same.

I saw a lot of kids drop out of the system after a few months. Most of them expected really good results in the short term, and couldn't understand why Little Johnny who was having trouble with division and fractions was being charged $x/month for this mathematics system that was supposed to help him at school, but he was only working on addition! These attitudes were really hard to work with.

Kumon gives those who work at it, confidence in mathematical and english skills. The way the system works is that you are not allowed to progress to the next 'set' of problems until you can get this set of problems a) 98% correct and b) fast.

This combination means that you only really approach problems from the point of view of someone who gets things right all the time and has no problem finding the answer within moments.

Your original question was, "is Kumon good for english?" I'm not qualified to answer that question, as my english was so poor that I generally just read the answers out of the answer book - and mostly tried to let my other workmates mark those booklets.

If there is one piece of advice I would give your friend is to after she has made an assessment of Kumon and decided she wants to try it, is to treat it as a long term investment. The first few months will contain very little return, and then after that initial period is when results will really be seen. Commit to doing it for at least a year.
posted by Jerub at 9:29 PM on July 28, 2007

I did Kumon math as well--I don't know anything about the English portion, but I can comment on the method.. I basically went from failing math in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade to, well, not failing it. I did badly on the initial placement test so the Kumon center started me (a fifth grader) at the '1 + 0 =" "2 + 0 = " level! My younger brother started higher and I never caught up with him. :)

Nevertheless, by the end of fifth grade, I was working at my grade level. I expect that if I had continued it I would have had a better grasp of the math I did later, as their methods worked pretty well for me.. particularly that it is paced to the student, and you basically do endless repetition until you get it, with no punishment (or even a "bad grade") if it takes you a little longer than anyone else.

About the franchise issue.. The basic method is going to be the same from franchise to franchise, but what might be different is the work environment, which for a process like Kumon can be pretty important. We had a great one in a part of town that was heavily Japanese--so even back then it was huge and there were always 20-30 students at the center and a half dozen graders at any point when it was open.. when we moved out of state and the franchise there was much, much (much!) smaller and seemed to me to be less organized and serious... it was harder for me to take it seriously, and eventually we gave it up.

So definitely some franchises work better than others for certain kids--it's worth checking out a couple. Watch for how the groups of children are doing their work when they're at the center--is it a studious environment? (quiet, etc?) Are there a lot of distractions/goofing off? The good center we were at had the parents waiting area outside, which definitely reduced distraction, etc.
posted by everybody polka at 10:37 PM on July 28, 2007

To build on what Jerub said, if little Johnny can't add, then he doesn't know enough math to get fractions, regardless of what is being taught in his school. So sure, it is frustrating to be told "Listen, it turns out that Johnny is having trouble with adding and subtracting, and that is a prerequisite to understanding multiplication and division. Since fractions are basically a specialized kind of division, that's why he doesn't get fractions. We have to build these skills from foundation up, and it takes time. I know he's studying fractions in school, and he's going to do badly at them until he understands the underlying math."

Although he says commit to a year, I think you will see enough measurable progress in 6 months to realize that it's working (at which point another 6 months won't seem like a big deal).
posted by ilsa at 4:44 PM on July 29, 2007

I somehow ended up doing Kumon in high school and as far as I'm concerned it's the only reason I did as well as I did on the math SAT. Prior to Kumon I had little or no facility with any kind of math, but I realize did internalize the important stuff thanks to the program. I had no problem with the repetition and worksheets. I actually found them sort of soothing, and I liked that I was able to work independently. I plan to enroll my own children in Kumon once they are old enough. As for your friend's kid's English skills, the number one thing to do is READ to him or her. Even if said kid is supposedly past the read-aloud stage, hearing real language from real, live books on a daily basis will do wonders. Start with 20 minutes a day and work up to an hour a day. It'll make a huge difference.
posted by jengod at 7:48 PM on September 15, 2007

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