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.






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

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…