Drill, Baby, Drill

This Sunday’s NY Times illuminated the growing trend in early learning. Kumon is a Japanese import in the form of a tutoring franchise which has, of late, focused its attention on reading and math skills for pre-kindergarteners from ages 2 to 5. In New York City, enrollment in Junior Kumon has grown tremendously. The cost is from $200. to $300 per month for one or two hours a week of reading and math (with equal time for each).  Children are expected to do 20 minutes of homework in each subject every day with the help of their parents.

What should one expect from the Junior Kumon experience? From what I could gather, it seems that it is mostly rote learning using flash cards and worksheets. Their educational rationale, repetition - rejected by some as drill and kill -is considered the basis for developing concentration.

Who attends these centers? It seems, those who need it the least – children of the affluent, the educationally oriented, the concerned and the competitive. In New York City there are entrance exams to get into the best pre-schools, kindergartens, and/or elementary schools.  Ironically, the Kumon methodology seems antithetical to the philosophy of the schools to which these Junior Kumon parents aspire.  But these parents are looking for an edge, and they are afraid of missing out – especially if their neighbor’s child is enrolled in this kind of program.

Are these programs beneficial? There are varying opinions on this. Some experts say it has no long term benefit and that more profound learning and creativity goes on when your child spends his time playing with blocks.  Others say it gives their children an edge. So far there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that it hurts (except for the parents’ pocketbooks). But, in my opinion, the key to educational success has more to do with parental involvement than with the type of supplemental education provided. All that said, the popularity of these programs is helping to push for a more structured curriculum at an earlier age.

Personally, I don’t have experience with Kumon, but I do with Montessori. My daughter attended one of its schools at ages 4 and 5.  Here, the impetus to learn comes from the children as they are exposed to the materials and demonstrations that are a part of this program. They select what interests them, but everything has an educational purpose. The younger children are grouped with the older ones and are anxious to imitate them. The older ones feel empowered when they help the younger ones. Everyone benefits, and it gave my daughter a solid foundation in reading and math rather painlessly – and without limiting her creativity.

Question: How do you feel about structured, rote learning for 2, 3 and 4 year old children?

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