Category Archives: Inspiration



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.


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?

Kumon “Team Up to Clean Up”


From the City of Hamilton Team Up to Clean Up page: 

“Tim Hortons Team Up to Clean Up Spring Blitz is a major city-wide community clean up event that coincides with Earth Day and the Great American Cleanup. This annual city-wide spring clean up event is coordinated by City staff in partnership with Hamilton’s Clean City Liaison Committee.  Last year’s Tim Hortons Team Up to Clean Up Spring Blitz attracted more than 16,000 enthusiastic volunteer registrants. The Team Up to Clean Up Program gives you the tools and tips to work together to keep your neighbourhood clean and green all year round.  The program helps keep public places  in  your neighbourhood clean and safe for everyone’s use.  These areas include municipal properties, community parks, trails, parking lots, alleyways, streets and so much more. Get a group together and create a clean team!”

We at Kumon of Hamilton West End are putting a Kumon Clean Up Team together for Sunday, April 28, from 3-5 pm – see our Facebook event page here to clean up nearby Beulah Park as well as at least part of Highland Park – it’s a big job but if we have enough hands it will be a fun and productive community effort.

Are you doing anything similar in your neighbourhood?Image


connections“Suspended coffee” takes off in Bulgaria

I found this a very inspiring example of “paying it forward” (a concept encapsulated in the beautiful, deeply touching 2000 movie Pay It Forward).

“Can’t afford coffee? No matter. In Bulgaria, an old Italian tradition that sees good souls buying hot drinks for those who struggle to make ends meet has taken hold after weeks of tensions over deepening poverty.

More than 150 cafes across Bulgaria have joined a goodwill initiative modelled on the Italian “caffe sospeso” tradition, which literally means “suspended coffee”, according to a Facebook page devoted to the movement.

The tradition — born in the cafes of Italy’s southern city of Naples — sees people pay in advance for one or several coffees without drinking them…” Read the whole story here