Kumon program: worth the cost?

April 8, 2016

in curriculum, Early Learning, Kumon, Maths

Kumon centres are booming around the world and more and more parents I know are using it to supplement their child’s learning at school or to accelerate them at their own pace if their school is not moving fast enough. Of course, it can also be an attractive option for homeschooling parents. I was initially quite sceptical and you do hear many negative opinions on it. It is repetitive, based on worksheets that ask very similar types of questions over and over again. It follows the Mastery approach and drills kids in the basics until they memorise them. The Maths program is neither creative nor visual or hands on, very worksheet based. So I had my concerns how it will support students to solve unusual question and brainteasers in the higher realms of Maths. On the other hand, I was curious, because you do hear many kids using it successfully (at least if measured by scholastic achievement) and many people say that “Kumon works”.

One concern people have is of course the cost of the program. How much does it cost? The cost of Kumon classes differ between each centre. In the UK, Kumon Centres tend to charge a one-off registration fee of £30 and then £60 per month per subject (so just that if you only do Reading or only Math). This includes one or two weekly lessons and a large amount of worksheets that your child needs to complete as homework every day. Compared to private tutoring, this is actually quite affordable, but of course most of the tutoring will happen at home under the parent’s supervision, so don’t expect the Kumon centre to teach everything to your child. They basically provide the curriculum, the structure and the worksheets, and it will require the parent to work with their child.

One benefit of the programme is that children move up the levels depending on how quickly they learn and master a topic (similar to the Suzuki method in music), so bright children can advance very fast and reach more advanced topics long before they would cover them in school. Another advantage that I see is the very simple focus on the basics, as I have noticed many creative and progressive approaches are used in schools these days, which is a great idea, but then you can have 8 year olds going to expensive private schools who can’t add up 123 + 154 or tell you what 13 x 7 is after all these years of learning Maths. With Kumon, you know they will master addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, most likely within a few years, depending on the child, so it provides a great basis.

Why did I not sign up to the programme in the end? I did not want Maths to become a chore, and my understanding is that children are expected to complete 10 pages of worksheets every day within 10 minutes (this may change over time depending on the subject). I did purchase Kumon worksheet books (Addition Grade 1, Subtraction Grade 1, Addition Grade 2) to try them out and I think the worksheets are excellent, they are systematic and fantastic for working at home, but I am more than happy if my daughter does 2 or 4 pages of these on a day, as we do so many other things, and I want to make sure it does not become a dreaded chore. I follow the Glenn Doman “little and often” approach. I know theoretically Kumon claims it should only take the kid 10 minutes per day, but realistically 4 and 5 year olds do get distracted, discouraged, you have a sibling running around, they are thirsty etc., so I felt if we signed up to the program, I would feel under pressure to make her do such an amount of worksheets, and I just feel life’s too short to have a 5 year old do so many worksheets per day. I must say that she does attend a great school and also does lots of extracurriculars (swimming, ballet, gymnastics, violin) and is very social, so in our case, we just couldn’t fit it in to the day. For a homeschooling parent or those who feel the school is not providing any stimulation, I do think it is a very solid programme worth the cost.

I do highly recommend their Maths worksheets though. They are very simple and effective, they don’t mix lots of different topics as other early Maths books tend to do, and they are quite cheap as well. Depending on the age and level of your child, you can choose where you would start. It may make sense to start with a slightly easier topic to motivate your child. I found that at this age, even when some of the simple addition questions were easy for her, at least she could do it quickly and practice her letter formation, so for that alone it has been worth it. Here are links to some of their introductory workbooks:

My book of numbers 1 – 30 (Counting and number formation)
My book of numbers 1 – 120 (Counting and number formation)
Addition Grade 1
Addition Grade 2
Subtraction Grade 1
Subtraction Grade 2
Kumon Focus on Multiplication 1 – 10
Multiplication Grade 3
Division Grade 3

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