The Kumon Method and the Science of Practice
At some point, all of us have had to practice something. Tying our shoes, multiplication tables, tennis, basketball – even having good manners – are learned through practice. You might have had a coach who encouraged you to practice on your own, a parent who made you practice for a piano recital, a teacher who encouraged you to read more frequently. Why do we think practice is so important?
Merriam-Webster defines practice as “to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually;
to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.” The Kumon Method is built on practice. It is our foundation and our strength. It defines us. We believe that practice makes possibilities™. The Kumon Math and Reading Program has harnessed the power of practice and uses it to develop a host of good study habits and life skills that benefit Kumon Students in academics and beyond.
Practice is Supported by Nature
Did you know that even babies innately know the value of practice? Think about it. Practice is natural. Have you ever heard a parent say, “OK, honey, now it’s time to practice walking,” when a baby is learning to walk? Have you ever heard of a baby taking their first step, falling down and never trying to walk again? Of course not.
Even before they can talk, babies know that practice is important. If they want to master something, then they need to keep repeating the same action over and over. At Kumon, we take advantage of this natural drive and use it to help students find success in the classroom and in life.
Practice is Supported by Science
Not only can we observe the internal drive to practice, but scientists have also studied the effects and importance of learning new skills (practice). They have found that the act of practicing actually changes the brain. “Learning new habits and skills can aid in the generation of new myelin in the nervous system, according to Christine Comaford at SmartTribes® Institute.”1
So what is myelin and why is it important? We have all heard of our brain referred to as “gray matter,” but the brain is also composed of something called “white matter.” White matter refers to the myelin sheath that develops around the axons in the central nervous system. Myelination – or the development of white matter – is activated by repetition (a.k.a practice).
According to an article by Comaford in Forbes, “Heavily myelinated neural pathways are up to 300 times faster. They’ve been optimized for speed and efficiency.”2 Basically, the myelin makes your brain work faster. So, actions that once seemed slow and choppy become faster and more fluid.
We can see this most noticeably with professional athletes. You will hear them refer to “muscle memory” – meaning that they don’t really have to think about the mechanics of what they are doing in the middle of a competition – the actions just come naturally. What they have really done, through repeated practice, is to improve the production of myelin so that the brain, and therefore their motor skills, work faster and more efficiently. Kumon applies the same principle to education.
Practice Is Supported by Results
The Kumon Method is based on practice. Toru Kumon, the creator of the Kumon Method, developed the process to help his young son with math. He found that with consistent and focused practice, his son was not only able to master math concepts at grade level but progressed far beyond. By sixth grade, he was able to successfully complete calculus problems. The same principles still guide Kumon today. Through consistent practice, Kumon Students continually build on previous knowledge, master new concepts, develop study skills and improve organizational habits.
The Kumon Method has helped more than 4 million students become lifelong, independent learners. Skills that were once challenging become second nature – and it’s all because of practice.