Kumon – First Steps Series

SummaryA fabulously designed series, perfect for little ones, with bright engaging pictures. As to the strands themselves
Let’s Cut Paper – Amazing books to teach cutting skills, with wide lines which make all the difference. An absolute must in our homeschool preschool
Let’s Sticker and Paste – A great set, great concept, but requires some organization/patience from the parent to cut out all the little pieces. Didn’t work for our family for this reason, but for a more organized parent or only child, would be great
Let’s Color – I don’t understand the point of this series, it just annoyed Ladybug, would much rather a plain old colouring book.
Let’s Fold – A great ‘first origami’ book, but, by necessity, with a steep initial learning curve. This one comes down to personal preference. This book looks to be amazing at what it does, but for our family it wasn’t worth the effort to teach this skill so young.

USD $5.95 each ($71.40 for the set of 12) from Amazon (Affiliate links below)
USD $4.75 each ($57.00 for the set of 12) from Rainbow Resources
A
pprox AUD $9.00 each (approx $108.00 for the set of 12) from Book Depository

 

The First Steps series of books is intended for children ages 2 or 3. Each book contains 40 single-sided pages with gorgeous, bold colour pictures, and each book builds up, very very slowly and sequentially, through the skill being practised. All of them focus around fine motor skills and building those hand muscles up, along with learning to control little hands , making them go where they want to go.

One small criticism I want to point out at the beginning is that the books are not sequential. The later ones in each strand are harder than the first, but, each book still starts with the straight lines/easy projects/etc, then moves on from there, just with slightly increased pace. There’s two ways to handle this. The first is to pull out all the pages, arrange them in order of skill regardless of which book they came from, and give in that order. The other is to see the repeated ‘return to the beginning’ as a chance to really practice the basics, and focus on perfecting those base skills in between the more advanced pages. This is what we have chosen to do, and the children haven’t minded too much, meanwhile I’ve been able to really see their progress by comparing the first few pages of each book.

 

 Let’s Cut Paper strand

Books in this strand are
Let’s Cut Paper! – More Lets Cut Paper! – Let’s Cut Paper: Amazing Animals – Let’s Cut Paper! Food Fun

One of the first things which sticks out about this series (and all of the Kumon cutting books) is one very simple, but amazing, feature. The lines are wide grey areas, NOT thin black ones. It seems like a small thing to us adults, but to a toddler, being able to exactly perfectly follow the little black line is impossible. Being able to keep their wobbly, hap-hazard line within the boundaries of the grey area though? That’s achievable! The grey cutting area starts wide, then gets thinner. This feature alone sold the books for me, for my perfectionist Ladybug, and again for my easily frustrated Button.

We start with straight lines, move to curved, eventually hit corners, before finally cutting out entire images. There’s even some simple puzzles in there! The rate of progression is perfect for building confidence and skill, and each page seems somewhat ‘purposeful’ to the child, as, instead of ending up with a cut up blank page, they end up with a simple puzzle, paper toy, or full picture cut out.

My girls have adored this series, requested it frequently, and have really developed some impressive scissor skills through it. I think that this strand should be a must in any homeschool preschool curriculum.

 

Let’s Sticker and Paste strand

Books in this strand are
Let’s Sticker & Paste! – More Lets Sticker and Paste! – Let’s Sticker & Paste: Amazing Animals – Let’s Sticker and Paste! Food Fun

Each book in this series uses stickers for the first few pages, and then, after that, requires cutting out shapes for the child to glue in place. This starts easily enough, like the missing triangle from the strawberry above. But, I was unable to find any pictures of the pages later on where there are three or four small items, like toys for the child to put on a shelf, or the components of an animals face for the child to complete, each of which needs cutting out by an adult, as the designs are much too difficult for the child. This point ended up turning us away from these books. Ladybug hated sitting and waiting while I cut our pieces, and I became frustrated with cutting out the tiny pieces, when she wanted to be doing three or four pages in a sitting. It became one of those books I avoided pulling out, which just didn’t get done.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things to love about these books. I love the progressive concept of getting the pieces where they belong, having pieces which are not entirely free-play. I love the puzzle peices, and the bright colourful pages. If you are patient enough to cut the peices out, and preferably organized enough to do it the night before, this is a wonderful set of workbooks. But, for a 3 year old, with a 1 year old and an infant sister in tow, it just wasn’t happening. So we’ve dropped it in favour of standard sticker books, and free-play collages made by cutting and pasting coloured paper once they develop some cutting skills. But, for any only child or a more organized parent, I would highly recommend this set.

 

Let’s Color strand

Sorry about the preview pictures here, I had a hard time finding any for this series, and no longer have the books to take my own. It’s a shame because this, of all the strands, needs to be seen before purchase in my opinion.

Books in this strand are – Let’s Color! – More Let’s Color!

The first book starts out with scribbling in a generally defined area, and moves onto colouring small sections. Then colouring multiple small sections the correct colour, before beginning to fill in proper sections of a picture. The way it has been set up, with the circle of white within a colour, means that the ‘outside the line’ colouring is less visible to the child. This may be a pro, or a con, depending on how you view it.

I struggled to see the point of this strand, honestly. Ladybug got terribly bored of colouring a little circle from a whole picture. There’s very few pictures like the one of the clown above, and even that is half-done. She colours in colouring books all the time, so, this was a step back for her. We decided this strand wasn’t worth our time, and just made ‘colouring time’ a part of school. I don’t know that I would recommend this, except perhaps for a little boy who wont use colouring books, but even then, I’m not sure.

 

Let’s Fold strand

Books in this strand are – Let’s Fold! – More Let’s Fold!

My first origami book! Very cute…. but, folding is a tricky skill. I can see that in Japan, where these books originally come from, it would be an early childhood skill. But it is not so much the case here. Naturally, the initial ‘learn to fold’ part is a steep learning curve. Ladybug found it intensely frustrating! Even at age 3 (these books are meant for ages 2+) she couldn’t get it at all, and we never made it past the first few pages.

It starts with single folds, then multiple folds, then introducing mountain and valley lines, before finally moving to full-blown origami style pages.

This one comes down to personal preference. I could have kept persisting with Ladybug, just like I did through the first pages of cutting, and if you consider folding an important early childhood skill these would be absolutely wonderful books to teach it! I can see that they do so with the same gradual, and rewarding, methods of the cutting strand. But, it wasn’t worth it for us, we just don’t value it up there with other skills, and we decided that for our family it wasn’t worth the effort. Others will likely conclude differently.

 

All in all, the Kumon First Steps series is well written, and well designed (aside from, in my opinion, the colouring books). But which sections to use depends on your family, and not all the books will suit everyone. But at least one set has made it on to our ‘must use’ list.

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