The reasons why parents send their kids to these programs vary – some of the recurring themes that we came across were:
- My child is struggling with math in school
- My child is totally into reading and just not into math
- The local school curriculum is not challenging enough – my kid is bored in class
- Speed and accuracy are very important for competitive exams like the SAT – if the school does not provide that grounding, we need to find something else that does.
Irrespective of the reason, many parents are turning to after-school math programs to fill in some gaps. The aim of this article is not to assess the efficacy of these programs or to judge one method versus the other – it seeks to provide balanced information to help parents make an educated choice on what approach works best for their child. We interviewed Center Directors of Kumon, Aloha, SchoolPlus as well as Vedic Vidyalay to get some basic questions answered:
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Aloha: ALOHA means Abacus Learning of Higher Arithmetic. Started in Malaysia in 1993, it is now present in 14 countries.
- It’s an international child enrichment and brain development program that triggers the usage of both halves of the brain
- Kids are first taught with the help of the abacus(an ancient mathematical tool) and then later move onto mentally visualizing it to perform complex math problems without the aid of any external tools
- Teaching takes place in small, age based batches through interactive fun-filled sessions and evaluations occur at each level
- Along with improving math skills, the program aims at enhancing focus, reflexes, memory, creativity, speed and accuracy.
Kumon: Started in 1956 in Japan, Kumon is the world’s largest academic enrichment program spread across 47 countries. The key principles and elements of Kumon are :
- Self-learning: Children are encouraged to learn on their own through the examples provided in the practice sheets. While teachers in the Kumon centers may work with the kids (especially in Junior Kumon) if they are struggling in some topic, for the most part, there is no formalized instruction. Topics and introduced and practiced through the worksheets.
- Working independently: Whether in the Kumon center or at home, the ability to work independently and do the practice sheet on their own is emphasized. Sitting down and working every day from an early age also develops good study habits which helps children in the long run even if they leave Kumon.
- Level setting: For each child, Kumon does a placement test to determine starting level and the child progresses from that point onwards. Even after the child has moved past a level, sometimes he/she will be given material from the previous level so that past concepts are not forgotten. Students are evaluated at their current level before moving on to the next.
SchoolPlus: SchoolPlus is an academic enrichment program and offers Math & Logic classes based on the Singapore Math curriculum which is the national teaching curriculum of Singapore.
- It is a balanced approach between free form math and the traditional style of teaching math and uses a mix of numerical and pictorial tools as well as critical thinking to teach concepts.
- Goal is to provide a solid foundation in key concepts and unless the child demonstrates a complete understanding of the concept, he/she is not moved to the next level.
- The program is very sequential with time being given to each topic and rather than focusing on speed, it focuses on developing a complete understanding.
- Kids are taught in a fun, interactive classroom (maximum 10 kids) that fosters ‘active learning’ through group activity, math games and teamwork.
Vedic Vidyalay: The institute teaches Vedic Math which is an ancient system of math from India that was re-introduced in the early 20th century and has now been adopted as part of the core curriculum in certain schools and universities within UK and India
- It is based on 16 verses (‘sutras’) which, when used correctly will allow a student to mentally solve a complex mathematical problem at rapid speed without using any additional tools.
- The focus is to encourage kids to remove the fear of numbers and encourage them to get comfortable solving math problems.
- Jeopardy style quizzes and challenges in the class encourage the kids to think on their feet and respond quickly
- Students are taught in a small class sizes (8-10) and they also go through periodic evaluations before moving to the next level.
Aloha: The Junior program is for ages 5 – 7, Senior Program for ages7-12.
Kumon: Junior Kumon: 3-5 years(can start at 2.5 depending on child), Regular Kumon: 5-17
SchoolPlus: Early Logic classes ages 3-4, PreK-K: 4-5, Elementary: 5-8, Middle School: 8-13
Vedic Vidyalay: Program is typically for 8-13 age range. Depending on ability, some could start earlier. In order to be able to grasp the concepts, children need to at least know their multiplication tables up to 10 before starting the program.
Aloha:
- The Junior Level course consists of 10 levels, with a 3 month (approximately) period in each level. The Senior Program works in Eight Levels and every level lasts for 12 sessions.
- The classes are once a week and the time duration of 2 hours.
- Children may get homework of around 4 worksheets a week.
Kumon:
- Students typically visit the Kumon center twice a week for around ½ hour per visit
- Homework comprises 6 worksheets a week each of which generally takes around 20 minutes.
SchoolPlus:
- The weekly classes vary in length from 45 min (for the 3-year olds), 1 hr(PreK and Elementary program) to 1.5 hours(Middle School program).
- Home assignments for the Elementary level are typically ½ hour twice a week.
Vedic Vidyalay:
- Classes are held once a week for 50 minutes
- Homework sheets would generally take the students around ½ hour every day.
Kumon: Parents play a key role in encouraging their child in their pursuit of Math. Especially in the early stages, it is unlikely that a child will sit and complete the practice sheet alone. Parents will need to interact and be involved in their child’s work. Also, it’s important for parents to realize that if need be, they should supplement the Kumon worksheets with other methods – for instance, using blocks and other manipulatives to explain the concepts of addition, multiplication etc.
SchoolPlus: Quality of teachers can play a key role in influencing children’s perception of the subject. One of our biggest criteria in evaluating teachers is whether they have the ability to make math fun for the kids. If kids find the subject fun then we don’t typically encounter resistance.
Vedic Math: Parents should not force a kid to do the homework if there is resistance. Often parents can inadvertently send a message to their kids that math is difficult thereby compounding the resistance. Interaction and interest on the part of the parents is important especially early on in the program
Aloha: The program is generally aligned to what children learn in school based on the grade level. If anything, we give them a head start to what they will be learning in school so it makes it easier when the math concepts are taught in school.
Kumon: Parents need to ingrain in their children that there is more than one method to solve a math problem. Use the analogy of an apple. There are different ways to eat the same apple – you can peel it, bite into it or cut it – all of which leads to the same end result. Similarly in math, use the school method when in school and follow the Kumon method when working on Kumon.
SchoolPlus: Yes, learning Math one way in school and the other way in SchoolPlus (Singapore Curriculum) can be confusing. We first focus on the concept and once that is clear, the teachers themselves may ask the student how they would solve the same problem in school so that students understand that they can address a problem in different ways.
Vedic Vidyalay: School curriculum is very important and we want the kids to do well in school. There is a certain level of maturity required for the child to be able to realize that they can use one method in school and another elsewhere. If a child is getting confused, we will work one-on-one to resolve doubts. We also try to explain ways for students to use the Vedic Math concepts to complement what is being taught in school. For instance, we might tell the students to solve a problem using the school method but to use the Vedic Math method to check the accuracy of their result.
Kumon: Kumon caters to all kids of varying abilities and skills – it can work for one who is having difficulty with math and for a child who is advanced. Yes, children need to do the practice sheets every day. Parents should try it out to see if the method works for their child and give it a try for a minimum of three months before making a decision on continuation.
SchoolPlus: Our small class sizes make it easier for the teacher to know each student and work with them to bring out the best. So whether it’s a shy kid or someone who is not confident, the un-regimented interactive classroom set up works for most kids across skill levels and personality types.
Vedic Vidyalay: Typically most of the kids who come to us are those who are interested in math and want to understand it further and are looking for more creative ways to solve problems.
To summarize, it seems that there are many options available for parents when choosing a math program. In trying to find the right formula that works for your child, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself:
- What is my objective in enrolling my kid into a Math program – is it speed, help with school work, conceptual learning? - At what age do I want my child to start learning Math?
- How much time can we as a family, devote to the activity?
- What is my child’s maturity level, attention span and personality?
Your answers to the above may help you find the right math program for your child.
You can also find some handy tips in our article Choosing the Right Activity for My Child.
To find any of the programs near you, try our class search http://www.schoolsnmore.com/myclasses
Do you have an experience to share about an after-school math program? Are there any other programs you would like to know more about? Email us or post a comment. Visit our Learning Store to shop for Kumon and Singapore Math workbooks, educational toys, DVDs, and books.
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A little more about the people we interviewed:
Shweta runs Aloha center in Jersey City. Aloha now also offers an English program for students.
Email: Elmwood@aloha-usa.com
Tracy Lin is the director of the Kumon center in Jersey City. Kumon also offers a Reading program.
Email: jerseycityjournalsquare_nj@ikumon.com. Phone: 609-851-7957
Anna Novosyolok is the Director of SchoolPlus Hudson. SchoolPlus offers a number of classes ranging from Mommy & Me to Art History, Chess, Creative Writing and Reading Comprehension.
Email: schoolplus.hudson@gmail.com Phone: 201.844.8535
Chandrasekharan Raman is a Vedic Math teacher at Vedic Vidyalay in Franklin, NJ. The center also has classes for Indian Classical Dance as well as different Indian languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Sanskrit.
Email: info@vedicvidyalay.org Phone: 732-305-0509