New math program gives kids a head start: Abacus West
Vinaya Kulkarni said she believes she has the program that will help grade-school age children gain confidence and competence in arithmetic.
Kulkarni is the founder and head teacher of Abacus West, which started classes in February at campuses in Sammamish and Issaquah. Starting next January, she will start a program in Redmond.
She said that using an abacus, a type of ancient beaded calculator, as a teaching tool is extremely popular in other parts of the world, yet seldom seen in the United States.
“I discovered how popular it is… mainly in the (Far East), India, Asia and also parts of Europe,” she said. “I also found that the countries that it’s popular in, do very well in math on an international level.”
With a strong background in math and science, Kulkarni set out to do research and learn how the traditional Japanese abacus, called a “soroban,” could help youngsters develop crucial mental math skills.
Once she learned the base-10 system, where every column of beads represents a decimal place and each individual bead has a numerical value of one (bottom row) or five (top row), Kulkarni discovered that the simplicity and hands-on approach of the abacus fit perfectly with the optimal learning styles of elementary-aged children.
“It’s a very tactile learning, they’re touching the beads and it’s very visual, learning that each bead equates to a number,” Kulkarni explained. “Kids between ages 5-12 have the ability to visualize. They can move the beads with their mind, and get correct math answers.”
While after-school math courses usually aren’t high on the list of kids’ preferred extracurricular activities, Kulkarni and her instructors strive to make each course engaging.
“We’re seeing that kids are developing a love for math that they didn’t have before,” she noted. “Coming to an after-school math program is not inherently a fun thing to do, but we do everything we can to make it enjoyable, to make it fun. It’s a very interactive, teacher-led class.”
Abacus West caps its hour-long class sizes at just 10 students, to ensure that each child gets individual attention. Kulkarni added that in today’s world, a strong skill set in math is essential for success.
“It is extremely important that kids have a solid foundation in mathematics, because no matter what area they plan to go into with their adult world, it will always help them,” she said. “In addition, they’re learning how to focus and to concentrate, and those are skills they can take into other parts of their education.”
Lea McKay, who has a 6-year-old son, James, has seen firsthand how Abacus math can make a difference.
“The thing that has impressed me the most has been how effortless it has been for him to pick up concepts,” she said, adding that James is going into his seventh week of classes at Abacus West’s campus at the Plateau Club. “He could only count to 30 when he started Abacus six weeks ago, and now he recognizes place values into the hundreds. He can do calculations both using the abacus and picturing the beads in his mind… sometimes faster than me.”
Currently, about 10 percent of students in the program draw from Redmond, which prompted Kulkarni to open another local classroom to satisfy demand.
The Redmond branch of Abacus West is scheduled to open in January 2011 at the Orange Blossom Society, a unique children’s enrichment center located at 16715 Northeast 79th Street in Redmond.
“The teachers are all amazing,” McKay commended. “I was really impressed with how hands-on they were with the children, and how involved and supportive the teachers were with each individual student.”
For more information or to sign up for Abacus West in Redmond, visit the Web site at www.abacuswest.com.