Hawai‘i Parent to Parent: This 10-Year-Old Kid from ʻAiea Excels in High School Math
We ask her mom for tips on how to encourage keiki to do their homework.
Like most kids in Hawai‘i, Makena Kresta memorized multiplication tables in third grade. She also surfs, dances hula, practices martial arts and volunteers for homeless and kūpuna residents.
But that’s where similarities with her peers stop.
When it comes to math and reading, Makena surpasses most 10-year-olds. She will start fifth grade at Momilani Elementary School in Pearl City this month, already knowing high-school-level Algebra and linear equations, Beowulf and other classic literature.
Makena recently returned to O‘ahu from Chicago, where she was invited to represent the state of Hawai‘i in the third annual Kumon Student Conference for young leaders. There, she met 55 other outstanding kids from around the U.S., Mexico and Canada. After listening to talks by Kumon grads and Kumon’s founder Minoru Tanabe, she walked away with this lesson: “Failure is part of the learning process and so is persistence.”
HONOLULU Family spoke with Makena’s mother, Lynn Kresta, to learn what it takes to raise a high achiever. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
HF: Congratulations on Makena being selected to rep Hawai‘i in the Kumon Student Conference in Chicago. Please tell us about the conference.
Lynn: “She was the only student from Hawai‘i. She loved that she got to meet, interact and make friends with students from other countries. They broke up into groups during the conference for breakout sessions—working to problem-solve so they could work their way out of imaginary situations, similar to a breakout room. When families were allowed to join, we heard speeches from current students and Kumon graduates. Hearing from graduates was inspiring for Makena. She loved that a Harvard alum, who now works for Instagram, discussed and acknowledged how difficult and overwhelming Kumon can sometimes be.”
HF: At what age did Makena start Kumon’s reading and math programs?
Lynn: “She started doing Kumon at the age of 2. She prefers math over reading, so multiplication tables were somewhat fun for her (as a third grader). We just kept quizzing her on multiplication, and having her practice, over and over and over again.”
HF: Kumon students are required to complete 30 minutes of daily worksheets. How do you and husband, Kurt, get Makena to do her math and reading sheets every day?
(Makena has a 9-year-old-brother, Keoni.)
Lynn: “It is never easy to have our kids do their Kumon daily while other kids, cousins are playing, but we just emphasize that when she completes the worksheets, she can play, too. It does require focus and discipline for us, as well. Eventually, the kids realize, they get the work done every day, and they’ll be able to join the others.”
HF: How can parents help their young kids power through daily homework assignments? Any tips?
Lynn: “#1. Be consistent. This is the most important and best piece of advice we can give. It is not easy. We had to get the grandparents onboard too: No TV, no iPad, no playing with the other kids until the work is done. Now, there are certain exceptions we make, but it’s few and far between.
When Makena was struggling with critical thinking, interpreting passages and linear equations, she would sometimes just cry. We would be up with her until late at night, and at some point, she would be too tired, so we’d call it and continue the next day. But be consistent. The child will understand, work first, play after.
#2. Be engaged. One of us—sometimes even grandma—would always be close by when she did her work, especially if it was new work. That way, Makena can ask for help and not get so frustrated. At some point, the child’s level exceeds your memory. I can’t remember polynomials. It’s been 30 years! But being engaged makes you re-learn it with them. Using Google and looking at examples in the answer books help.
#3. Make it a priority. Even when we travel, we take the Kumon packs with us, and our two kids have to do the work. They have done the worksheets in airport restaurants, on the planes, in hotels, even next to hotel pools as family members swam and played. If the parents make it a priority, the child will too!
HF: Kumon aside, Makena is an athlete and gives back to the community. What sports and service projects does she do?
Lynn: “Volunteering at the Hawai‘i Food Bank’s annual food drive is one of Makena’s favorite things to do. She stacks cans and fills balloons for the displays. She has also done Meals on Wheels deliveries with me. Not all recipients want to talk story, but the ones who do, Makena shows them games on the phone and listens to their stories. She competes in swimming and judo and is learning to play volleyball. She has run several 5k and 10k races, including the Ford Island Bridge Run, the King’s Runner, the Great Aloha Run and the Fourth of July Freedom Run.”