Robinson curriculum was originally compiled and perfected by Dr. Art Robinson after his wife died unexpectedly. Until that point, the Robinson children (6 of them, in all), had been homeschooled by their mother, who had spent years collecting various homeschooling resources. After his wife's death, Dr. Robinson came to the conclusion that there was no way for him to be a present and active participant in the teaching role of his children, but also that there was no way he would ever send them into the public school system, either. Pondering a way to teach his children with minimal parental direction, he created a curriculum that attended to the children's needs, but also expected them to take an active role in self-governing their education. And so the Robinson Curriculum was born! Based almost entirely on historical books, the gist of the program is that children are to read books and learn how to learn on their own. Books such as Tom Swift, Little Women, and a slew of Rudyard Kipling introduce concepts of history, geography, correct (and beautiful) use of grammar, and vocabulary. While Math is left out of the purchasable curriculum, Saxon Math is used (just purchased separately). School is a strict, five hour process, beginning with two hours of Math, and including an essay per day, and three hours of reading. Self-education of the child is so important that die-hard RC'ers follow further directives that may seem pretty harsh, no television at all, no sugar at all, and no computer usage until age 16.
Quite a concept, eh? Let's discuss!
Being new to this concept, I was taken aback by a lot of the choices made for this program, while many things stood out to me as great concepts, as well. I want to emphasize that these are my PERSONAL hang-ups, and are in no way a reflection on poor planning on their part. Hundreds of thousands of kids have used this curriculum and lived, haha! I will also mention that the more I looked into RC, the more I could see the amazing benefits that a program like this could provide.
First, there is no formal grammar or spelling. During a lecture given by Dr. Robinson, he was asked about spelling and grammar, and his response was that kids naturally learn the rhythm and cadence of good grammar by reading good grammar over and over each day. In regard to spelling, he said that the daily required essay would be marked for spelling, and that he did not ever give the correct spelling, instead, he would ask the child to go find the correct spelling. Well, that sounds simple enough, right? Go hit up a word document and get the first correct word on the auto spell checker... Until you remember that there is no computer until the kids are 16, which means that your child actually has to- gasp- use a dictionary and phonics! Really, this method of spelling impresses me, so I don't count that part as con, but I would prefer there to be a real program specifically for spelling. As for grammar, I can see how that method works, as well, but I also know that if there is no learned identification of parts of speech, they might have a perfect speaking and writing use of grammar, but they would never pass an aptitude test due to the need to properly identify parts of speech. So, in this instance, it is a tied pro/con. *Correction: The lecture given was done before the addition of a parent-added grammar program written specifically to coincide with RC, so there is a grammar program now!*
There is no foreign language or electives. Funny story, when my husband first told me about the program, m first sentence was, "So there is no foreign language??!" Then as I began to read a long introduction to the program on my own, I came across this quote by Dr. Robinson, "Always remember that when you add a subject or activity to a child's schedule, you are subtracting from the time for something else. Is it really more important, for example, for the child to learn a foreign language than it is to learn error-free applied mathematics?" I had to stop and give a good giggle at myself, and then I realized that this was an excellent point. Initially I was shocked that someone would suggest limiting the information given to kids from the start, and then I had time to consider the way that our brains process learning, and I realized he was right! So this was a con-turned-pro. Due to this new insight, I actually decided to stop teaching Spanish this year. I may do some more cutting back, as well, but we will see.
There is no Science until after the student completes Calculus. Wait, what? No stages of matter? No solar system? No simple machines? Well, not exactly. To make up for not having a true Science program, parents are encouraged to have an extensive "library" of educational texts, encyclopedias, and reference books. The reasoning behind this choice combines a few concepts, one being mentioned above, that anything aside from the core, or Three R's (reading, writing, arithmetic), takes away from the core learning. The second reason Dr Robinson shared was that in order to understand Chemistry or Physics, to truly grasp them and function at a high level using them, one must have a good grasp of Math. How true this is! I had a very weak understanding of Math throughout school, and because of this, when I was in Chemistry in college, I was not able to keep up. I had to repeat the class, and even the second time around I only barely passed. I can see that by offering only an interest led learning approach in Science until High School, you allow your children to get a solid foundation in Math so they can face Science head on.
Math is two grade levels ahead of age standards. This is mostly alarming to a late-comer to the RC program, as gauging where a student should be would be more difficult. It could also be harmful because you are expected to run on a certain schedule when it comes to all of the subjects, so if you do come in later in the grades, you will play a bit of a catch up game. The expectancy is that you begin 4th grade Math at the age of 7, and finish all Math through Calculus by age 14 or 15. However, on the flip side, this is a great thing for students who begin in Kindergarten, as they will get an academic advantage when it comes to Math. The emphasis in RC is learning the fact tables inside and out, forward and back. I believe this is done by the time they are 7 and begin the Saxon Math books (but don't quote me, this was what I got from all I have read). I immediately started using flash cards to check the efficiency of my kids' retention of facts. It is very important for kids to know their math facts, and I think this is one thing that should be enforced strongly in the public school system, but isn't, and it is something that I honestly never thought of putting so much focus on until now. I'm glad that I caught it early enough to be helpful as the kids are coming up.
Daily essays. Writing daily encourages many things, penmanship, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, as well as proper writing skills. By having the children write an essay on a topic (either read about that day, or a possible topic of interest), you reinforce all of these things and more. I went to college with zero writing skills whatsoever, and this was a huge impairment to me in my first English Comp class! Although I have always had a love for the written word, I had no idea how to put my thoughts to paper in the proper manner. By beginning this process early in life, you are enforcing a lifetime of benefit. Communication is one of the most important skills one must have in life, and being able to properly communicate your feelings about something is imperative. This aspect of the RC is something that I feel I should be enforcing whether or not we decide to go with the curriculum. It also helps the kids to get a better grasp on research, earlier on, with the lack of computer usage, it breathes life into the forgotten art of books and library research! What a valuable lesson, in this day and age when so much of the information on the internet can be fabricated and mass distributed as truth!
Vocabulary based on both the books being read in the program, and 6,000 words that have been used on past SAT exams. One of the ways that the curriculum is used is the kids read through many classic books, using the information inside to grasp concepts in history, geography, science, but eventually someone wrote a vocabulary list for each of the books on the list. In addition to the words from the list, Dr. Robinson researched past SAT tests and compiled a list of 6,000 words to use in addition to the book vocabulary. If you work through the books form start to finish, you will have done all 6,000 words and the book vocabulary, which is a pretty impressive endeavor. I have always loved the idea of a word journal, something that some elementary teacher of mine had us do at some point; reading any text, you have a journal at hand to write any words you don't know so you can look up and write the definitions later. This is a much more organic way of learning, which is, I think, the whole point of RC. So, being that the words are taken directly from the text you read, it lends itself to a very natural way of noting something you don't know, and using that as a basis of desire of knowledge.
"Oral Learning" is emphasized. I was very impressed with this concept, as it feeds into the learning styles model that has made its way into learning these days. When asked about kids who may have trouble with memorization, Dr. Robinson shared a method that a couple of his children had used, where they formed a paper on a topic, and then read it out loud, as if teaching a class. I believe this method reaches all of the learning types, as you can pace and move, you are saying it, seeing it, and speaking it. What a concept! I honestly never thought of this! I believe this is something I would love to implement right away!
Now outside of the realm of actual learning, there are three aspects that are monumental to the RC, No television, no sugar, and self-led learning.
The Robinson household had no television set at all. Extensive research has been done in regard to television's effect on the mind, especially of children. Many people believe that tv is fueling the ADD brain, that it leads to promiscuity and violence. I agree. I can't tell you how many times I have let my kids watch a show that they later quoted, only to find that the most prominent things in their minds were the bad things. Now, at this point, I have not made a full change, but I have made some minor tweaks. I decided that the obsession with electronics (tv, ds, computers/internet) was far too strong on my children. There are days that my kids refuse to go outside to play because it is "boring" out there. I can't imagine the outside being boring! I spent my childhood split between reading and playing outside. Once attention was drawn to the television thing, it confirmed my own internal voice that had been warning me about the same problems. I thought about this lack of creativity, the fact that the kids almost seem too lazy to think for themselves, and I considered what type of adults they would become with that ailment. As adults, the people who think "outside the box" are the ones who rise to the top, but if a child is not raised in an environment that nurtures unrestrained creativity and logic, then those opportunities will pass them by. I realize that I want my children to be exceptional, and creating a limiting education for them, as well as allowing them to absorb the trash that the world is throwing at them, is only holding them down. What a wake up call!
No sugar. To me, this sounds like the premise of a horror movie, but in actuality, the opposite is the horror. It has been scientifically proven that sugar affects the brain in the same way that an addictive drug such as cocaine or heroine does. It spikes the feel good receptors in your brain, and once your body has used it, it creates a drop in feel good, creating a desire or withdrawal. Sugar causes the brain to lose its focus, and causes the body to be hyped up, unable to sit comfortably in your own skin. I know that personally, if I have too much sugar, with not enough food to absorb it in, my hands tremble, and I'm unable to hold steady. Imagine how much more it affects a child's body! There is much more research on this matter that goes into the technical terms, and I have linked articles at the bottom of this article relating to all of the subjects that I have mentioned. I have not cut out sugars yet, but I plan on it, not just for the drug-addled brain aspect but for health reasons in the whole family, as well. Currently, I don't buy "junk food" or sodas in the house. We don't go to fast food. I'm working to implement a fresh foods only household (but this is a drawn out process that will take time!)
The largest factor in the Robinson Curriculum is that of self-led learning. As utopian as it sounds, it must be hard to implement! All learning is done in the presence of a parent, but done without the direct involvement of said parent. Robinson said that if his child asks a question, his answer was always, "Go find the answer." It would actually take some restraint on my part to let this occur, which shows how helicopter-mom I am! I idealize the thought of getting work done, quietly, for five hours of a day, yet faced with the possibility, my mind goes berserk thinking of reasons it won't or can't work! Ok, chill out lady. The idea is that kids have been taught to remember for a test, forced to learn for the sake of moving up and advancing, but this curriculum enforces learning for the love of learning. Learning how to learn, he says in a description of the technique. What a beautiful concept! I love to read and learn new things all of the time, as does my husband, but I've noticed in at least one or two of my kids, from time to time, an outright defiance of learning. It would be a learning curve for all of us (pun intended) to attempt this process. The outcome, though, would be worth the struggle to implement it- imagine, children who think for themselves!
I am very much looking forward to some feedback from families who are or have used Robinson Curriculum, as I would like to see how these points I've mentioned have worked out for your families! I'm seriously thinking of using RC next year, and in the meantime, I'm applying some of the principles the I find most helpful for the health and mind of my kids.
For further research:
Robinson Curriculum Homepage
French College With No Teachers
Sugar Is A Drug
Television Causes More Harm Than Help