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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.

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.


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”


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?

Conference #1: Kumon UK Instructors’ Conference, Manchester


Image The Kumon reception desk at the Manchester conference hotel – friendly Kumon UK staff welcoming us all!

What an adventure I had from June 19-27 in the UK!

I left on the 19th in the late evening and arrived in mid morning on June 20th. My cousin Montio was waiting to meet me at the airport. Here is a picture of her beaming self that I took the following day:


Montio and I set out for Birmingham, where the first Kumon experience of my trip was to take place: a visit to the corporate Kumon centre there, which assists well over 400 students in their Kumon studies. As such it is by far the largest centre in the UK.

Traffic on the M6 was horrific but we stopped on the way for a bite to eat and whiled away the hours very pleasantly in catching up on each others’ lives.

To our surprise, we got to Birmingham just at the time I had originally forecast. We were helped to find a parking spot by the very kind Will Messent, who is in charge of corporate centres in the UK, and we began to look around the centre. It was fascinating.


After getting a lot of answers to questions about the centre and observing the children study there, Montio and I thanked Will and the staff and went on to have dinner at a local Indian restaurant. The food was delicious and by the time we were done, the M6 was free and clear back to Manchester. (I don’t remember too much at that point – I had had very little sleep on the plane and mostly dozed on the way back.)

We then arrived at the very impressive and beautiful Midland Hotel – here is the Kumon UK blog, which includes a view of the hotel from the front:

The Kumon UK staff were tremendous throughout and did their best to assist with any questions.


The next day was an informal lunch at a charming Italian restaurant with Executive Vice President of Kumon Europe and Asia, Mike Shim. Mike had worked for Kumon Canada for a long time and I have known him for over 15 years. It was wonderful to catch up.

Then we had a group visit to the SaleImage Kumon Centre, the corporate centre in Manchester. It was amazing. Very new and well organised.

That evening we had dinner at another Italian restaurant and the following day was the first full day of the conference itself. The head of Kumon International, Mr Akio Tsunoda, gave the opening address.


He is a warm and kind individual. I always enjoy meeting him though I must say he was surprised to see me in the UK!

We also heard from the President of Kumon Europe and Africa, Kazu Shibata (again well-known to me as he worked in North America for many years), on the topic of letting go preconceptions.


Our emcee for the two day event was a delightful and animated 12 year old Kumon student who confided in us that she hopes to become a lawyer. She was certainly bright and articulate enough to be successful at whatever she wishes.


The conference was full of much learning and professional development and there was also ample time for valuable networking with my colleagues not only in the UK and Ireland, but also from Spain. We had a lot of fun too – the gala dinner Saturday night was around the Great Gatsby theme and had a terrific jazz band followed by a dj with more contemporary music. We danced till 1 am!


(The saxophonist looked exhausted but did a brilliant job and didn’t keel over once.)


Kumon UK staff all dressed in period outfits – very spiffy indeed!

Another lighter aspect of the conference I enjoyed was the pianist who entertained us for hours in the hotel lounge.


We had a lovely chat about all kinds of music and he even indulged me in my singing along with a couple of better known favourites. It was a music-lovers’ highlight, definitely.

All in all, much valuable information, great people and unforgettable experiences. I look forward to my next UK conference – probably not in the next couple of years but perhaps in three or four years? We will see.






Down Syndrome Owner Runs Friendliest Restaurant


“Tim Harris, as far as his parents know, is the only restaurant owner in America with Down Syndrome. The following video shows his friendly personality and his customers responding in kind. With the advances that have been made in more recent years, those with Down Syndrome, who seem to have a naturally sweet disposition, are able to do things that would have been unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago. But Tim’s restaurant ownership, with the support of his family, is pretty special.” (BlueMauMau)