Category Archives: Education



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.


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.


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.


Learning math, learning reading and writing, learning music

This blog from Kumon North America got me thinking, because I have a very deep love for music, and both sing and play the flute (though not at the same time!), and have also been an advocate of Kumon instruction over 18 years.

music keys

Certainly the points made in the blog are very true of music as well as learning math and English – I have a practice room so I can work on my singing without distraction; there has always been a large component of basics, like scales and warm-ups in my musical learning over the past decades; awareness of time, whether practice time or tempo, is indeed important in music; and constant practice as well as long-term commitment are essential to excellence in music.

music and math(Terrible at math? Maybe you just haven’t practised it as much as you have music?)

Thinking about other connections between music and math and English, there are many. We have all heard how learning to play a musical instrument helps develop a child’s brain – for example see this article from Science Daily in 2006.

Also, people who are strong in math and often strong in music and vice versa – this Wikipedia article may offer some insights.

The connection between reading words and reading music? This is a fascinating blog by a mom about connections between the way we read stories and read music.

piano flow

But beyond all these, and I’m sure many more connections, is the sheer beauty that can be found in books, in math, and in music. The love affair we have as musicians with listening to and producing/composing/directing music is not so different perhaps than the love affair with words, as readers or writers of stories, or the joy of math in its more intriguing and creative aspects.

beauty-of-music_large(Beauty in all its complexity – reflections from famous composer Benjamin Britten)

What connections have you noticed between music and math and languages?

Little Gidding Part V by T.S. Eliot


I was reminded of this sublime portion of one of Eliot’s poems today. I consider poetry a vital part of any education, but sadly it seems to be less and less a part of the modern curriculum as it is deemed inaccessible to our 21st century youth. Enjoy!


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


Why Third Grade is So Pivotal


“Why is third grade so important to your child’s educational development? To start, third grade is the transitional year when your child moves from learning to read – using their knowledge of the alphabet to identifying words – to reading to learn or using books as a source of information.

“Prior to third grade, your child’s education is primarily focused on teaching him or her basics such as how to identify shapes, symbols and letters as well as how to read and write. However, from third grade forward, students are expected to build on that foundation by applying skills to learn about increasingly difficult subjects – from the solar system to Native Americans to biology and calculus. In that sense, third grade is, as Donald J. Hernandez, a professor at CUNY-Hunter College writes “a pivot point,” and a critical period in students’ educational development.

“Children who are unable to successfully transition to fast and fluent reading develop a learning gap among their peers that continues to grow. Third grade struggles will lead to increasing difficulties in 4th and 5th graders where assignments continue to rely upon knowledge acquired from this transitional period. In fact, a study conducted last year by Hernandez and the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that third graders who lack proficiency in reading were more likely to become high school dropouts.”Image



How to Help Your Child Want to Succeed

“Without inspiration the best powers of the mind remain dormant. There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks.” -Johann Gottfried Von Herder

When children are motivated to succeed, they can do anything. But sometimes children need some extra help from their parents in order to create that desire to succeed academically. They may need some extra motivation in order to achieve specific goals such as making the honor roll, or general ones such as building critical thinking skills or improving overall math skills. Below are ways that can motivate your children to succeed and how Kumon Math and Reading Programs can help your children as well…