Some of my students were curious about my trip to Malaysia last month, so I decided to blog some of my photos and the events of my trip.

My husband and I flew via Hong Kong on January 14. Of course, by the time we arrived, it was January 15, because of the 13 hours they are ahead of us.

welcome to Hong Kong

This was one of many signs in the airport welcoming people in a wide variety of languages to Hong Kong. It is about a 15 hour flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. We left Hamilton by bus at 10:20 pm on January 13, as our flight left Toronto at 1:20 am January 14. Surprisingly, we got a lot of sleep on the plane.

The flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur is about 3 and a half hours long. This was one of the first sights that greeted us when we arrived in Malaysia at the airport.

KL airport

Another unexpected sight was what looked like part of a tropical forest in enclosed glass right in the airport:

forest at KL airport

We were picked up at the airport by our kind host, the President of the Malaysian Kumon Association. She took us to collect her daughter from school and treat us to the first of many delicious Asian meals we enjoyed there, and then we went to her beautiful, spacious home to begin to recover from jet lag.

As this was a business trip, I was keen to see at least two Kumon centres. It was fascinating to see both the marked differences between Kumon there and Kumon here.

Kumon sign Malaysia

Malaysian, of course, is the primary language of signs on the streets, though everyone we interacted with spoke fluent English.

Kumon Malaysia centre layout

One cool feature of the tables at one of the centres we saw was this handy shelf under the table where students can slip stuff out of the way while doing worksheets.

I also really liked this Kumon backpack the students all had, instead of a pouch. Notice the bare feet. Everyone at the centre was barefoot, and when we were at the house where we were staying, we always removed our shoes before going inside.

Kumon backpack.jpg

The main purpose of my trip though wasn’t to visit Kumon centres, but rather to present at the annual meeting of the association there. But the committee was determined that we experience as much of Malaysia as we could while we were there, so we did do a fair amount of sight seeing in three very, very full days. One of the most entertaining places was a large open area where many monkeys came to be fed and hang out with anyone who visited them. The baby monkeys were especially adorable.

Baby monkey

My husband made friends with one in particular.

monkey and husband

We went to an orchid farm with stunningly beautiful and colourful flowers like this.

orchid farm

This statue of Buddha was amazing. It is much larger than it appears here as it is set into a cliff. There were also many little caves there showing the 18 different hells people could suffer if they did not live a virtuous life.

buddha statue

We visited a number of other places – the rice fields and the mill where the rice is processed, vital of course for a country where rice is a huge part of the diet; the night market, a phenomenon that springs up in any place with sufficient population full of a bewildering variety of stalls selling many kinds of goods and foods; a great field where kites were being flown by families relaxing after work and school; Little India in Kuala Lumpur, all decked out and festive in preparation for the Chinese New Year; and, of course, a number of Chinese and Indian restaurants where we ate far too much and enjoyed every minute of it.

The second to last day was the annual meeting in Kuala Lumpur. My presentation on international cooperation between Kumon associations worldwide and why associations are so vital to franchisees was well received, and we all were also intrigued by an excellent presentation following mine on NLP (neuro-linguistic programming).

Here I am with the association President (immediately to my left) and six out of the nine other members of her committee. I had spent quite a bit of time with four of these women as they were on our sightseeing adventures together with my husband and me.

with some of Malaysia association committee

The last day, unfortunately, my husband was not feeling well, so we relaxed at a hotel which had, to my delight, an infinity pool.

infinity pool

It was at the top of the hotel and you can see the plexiglass wall (but not the gap between the edge of the pool and the wall) that meant there is no danger falling over the edge down below!

The next day was back to the airport for another 24 hour travel home. The trip is impossible to encapsulate in one short blog. There were a plethora of intense discussions in which we learned much about the politics and history of Malaysia, the plans of the association for the future and the triumphs of the past short years since its inception, and many, many unforgettable impressions of a part of the world neither of us had ever seen before.

I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to travel there on the kind invitation of that association, for the extremely warm and generous hospitality of all who welcomed us, and for the learnings of our week. I am looking forward to the next excursion to a tropical Kumon location, the Riviera Maya in Mexico, near Cancun, where the Kumon North American conference will be held in July of this year.

Autumnal Thoughts


This time of the year, I find, is a more reflective one. Summer was beautiful, full of sunshine and long walks, and leisurely conversations with children. Autumn is very hectic, especially September, but also with the cooler weather, decreasing light, and gathering rain clouds, leads to a pensive frame of mind.

I have been thinking of many things over the past few weeks. My Kumon journey of over 20 years so far, including the first years as a Kumon parent, has been filled with all kinds of variety. I have seen my children go from just starting school (and life, since my third child was born within the first year of my Kumon centre in Outremont) to working in their careers in computers and machining. My youngest is starting her second semester at Concordia University, so all my birds have flown the nest and are living in Montreal. Life is very different when there are only two adults in the house.

I watch parents with their babies and small children, and remember what that felt like. I remember the years of homework, sports activities, music lessons, laughter, tears, the happy times, the times of conflict and pain. So much goes into parenting, and being a parent is for life. You know your children will not stop needing you even when they live far away and seem to be running their lives entirely just fine without you, thank you very much.

What are the most important things I feel I gave my children? I certainly believe the gift of Kumon was high on that list, because they not only developed excellent math and reading skills, but they learned self-learning, perseverance, and many other vital things that will always contribute to a happier and more productive adult life.

In a way, though, I am most proud of the characters my children have. They are complete individuals. They think for themselves, and question everything. They are fiercely independent, and also have a warm circle of close friends. They are caring and look out for others. Kumon certainly contributed to their character, yet it will always be mysterious how much of who they are and are becoming is nature and how much is nurture.

They developed character through observing me, learning through their experiences, and being given the freedom to become who they are.

It is that tension between providing freedom and setting rules which is perhaps the hardest thing about parenting. Often one has to be the “bad guy” and say no, when it would be easy and fun to say yes. And often one has to let go and allow them to try new things, when the instinct is strong to hover and protect.

So wherever you are in the whole parenting cycle, I wish you the best, to nurture your children and/or those you mentor both to gain strong skills and character, and wings to fly high.egret-in-flight graham owen

Characteristics of Innovative Leaders


innovative leadersSo, a couple of weeks ago I shared this on my centre FB page, because this spoke to me about the kinds of characteristics we would like to build in our children. It got me thinking, too about which ones I value the most. Diversity, trust, vision, challenging status quo, deep expertise, high goals, moving on things, asking questions, listening to answers, teamwork – how can I choose just one or five? These are all vital.

Nature News: Stress of growing up poor can hurt brain development


This is a very disturbing though not surprising article from Nature News.

“The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests — and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain.

“Researchers have long suspected that children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors..

” In children from the poorest families, income disparities of a few thousand dollars were associated with major differences in brain structure, particularly in areas associated with language and decision-making skills. Children’s scores on tests measuring cognitive skills, such as reading and memory ability, also declined with parental income.”

Thankfully, the article ends on a hopeful note.

“Still, the researchers are hopeful that the impacts could be reversible through interventions such as providing better child care and nutrition. Research in humans and in other animals suggests that is the case: a study in Mexico, for instance, showed that supplementing poor families’ income improved their children’s cognitive and language skills within 18 months2.

“It’s important for the message not to be that if you’re poor your brain is smaller and will be smaller forever,” Sowell says.

2014 Kumon Student Awards Celebration


2014 Kumon Student Awards Celebration

Very much looking forward to our awards event at the Kumon centre tomorrow, Tuesday March 25, 2014. These are bright and happy moments for our centre year by year as we celebrate how each of our students is progressing in Kumon, the milestones which have been achieved and just generally have a wonderful time.


A Beautiful Mind

A wonderfully inspiring true story about a brilliant mathematician who didn’t let childhood blindness stand in her way.

“As a young girl, Dr Yeo Sze Ling fell in love with mathematics, solving maths problems like little puzzles in her head.

The fact that she had glaucoma and lost her sight at age four did not stop her from pursuing her love for the subject, winning an A*Star scholarship in 2002 to do her PhD in maths.

Her grit earned her a mention in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech last week.

Dr Yeo, 35, now a research scientist at A*Star, spends her days at its infocomm security department doing cryptography, a field which protects data as it transfers from one computer system to another.”

I find it also very heart-warming how Dr Yeo always helps others who face similar challenges.

“Helping younger, blind students is what Dr Yeo calls her “greatest satisfaction”. She says: “So many people in my life have helped me along – my teachers, peers and even just random strangers on the street, so I want to pass it on by helping others.”

Paying it forward at work transforming lives. Love it.


How Grit leads to Success

Leaving a high-flying job in consulting, Angela Lee Duckworth took a job teaching math to seventh graders in a New York public school. She quickly realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating the successful students from those who struggled. Here, she explains her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Lee Duckworth studies intangible concepts such as self-control and grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success”