Since I posted a couple of summers ago about our decision to use Robinson Curriculum in homeschooling, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments both here and via private email. I LOVE hearing from you guys and hope I’m able to answer your questions, but I thought a little update on how we’ve been doing and what we’re planning this coming year would be helpful.
If you’re new to Robinson and haven’t yet read our simple explanation of how we homeschool, this post might make more sense if you read Why We Chose Robinson Curriculum first. To summarize, RC is a self-teaching curriculum that strongly focuses on the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The typical RC day starts with a self-taught lesson or two in math, which the student corrects themselves. This is followed by an essay, on any topic they chose to write, of various length depending on the student’s age, that is then corrected by the parent/teacher. They finish their school day by reading for several hours from the RC booklist.
That’s it. The reading list material is meant to cover all other subjects.
“Reading is the most important, since it is the primary means by which human knowledge is communicated.”~ Art Robinson, Robinson Curriculum
As mentioned in Why We Chose Robinson Curriculum, we decided to begin using Robinson Curriculum, but continued to use our English books from Rod & Staff. I felt that English had ‘rules’ that need to be followed, like math, and learning how to write properly needed more attention than what RC gave it.
So our typical RC day looked like this:
4. Reading (for history, science, geography, health, etc.)
Overall the year went well, but about half way through the year we had an experience that gave me pause.
In the first post I exclaimed how one of our sons had gone from C’s to A’s and B’s. I was ecstatic his grades had improved so drastically and was totally convinced it was the self-teaching and the ‘don’t use mom as a crutch’ approach that made the difference. Can a 36 year-old-mom to five children still be naive? (My sisters are not allowed to comment.)
Our son’s grades improved because he was cheating (this is shared with his blessing). It took me some time to catch on, and in reality I should have seen it sooner. But, I didn’t. However, dishonesty tortures the soul and it wasn’t long after I became suspicious that he confessed. The responsibility to self-teach after having mom’s help for so long made looking in the answer book a temptation he gave into. A heart-wrenching hour of soul-searching concluded with his acceptance of our punishment. He had to do the entire quarter of school over.
Every. Single. Lesson.
A harsh punishment? Perhaps. But how would he be able to continue in his lessons the following year? His cheating had cheated him out of understanding the concepts taught that school year and would only make the rest of the year, and the following years, harder.
But that situation made me ask myself: Was self-teaching helping or hindering our children?
In the end, we decided to continue with RC – with a few tweaks I’ll mention below – because of this simple truth: having students ‘self-teach’ prepares them for life as an adult. I can’t hold my children’s hands through college courses, and I can’t go with them to their first job. Self-teaching teaches responsibility and accountability. It teaches life-long study habits and forces them to think things through on their own.
What we’ve added and changed with Robinson Curriculum – and why
1. Oral learning
After the cheating incident, we changed our approach a bit. One of the ideas I’d forgotten about in the RC Course of Study (available with the RC disks) was oral learning.
In oral learning the student has to learn the subject (or lesson) so well that he’s able to teach it out loud to an imaginary class, or in our case, his teacher. Instead of having him read his Math or English lesson himself and working on the problems right away, I have him explain the lesson to me first. If he can’t explain it to me, I have him reread it. And if necessary, he rereads it several times. This helps us both know he understands the lesson fully before he begins.
There are occasions I do need to clarify the directions, but for the most part this is working very well and his grades (which I now correct myself) have steadily improved to the A’s and B’s we’d hoped for in the beginning.
Another area I wanted to change was the essays. RC has the students write an essay on the topic of their choice. They do this each day because there isn’t an English ‘curriculum’ as part of the program. But since we’d decided to continue using Rod & Staff English curriculum, I felt an essay each day was overkill. We changed it to once a week.
The photo above is the schedule I created last year in a simple notebook while helping Travis in the fields. As you can see, the topics were still fairly broad – for instance in February we focused on the human body and health. I listed ideas for them, but they were able to chose what part of the body or what health-related information they wanted to study and write about. The boys preferred having a set topic instead of carte blanche – and I felt better knowing we were covering specific topics.
RC suggests that science consist of extracurricular books until they’ve learned enough math to understand science correctly. We continue to read the RC booklist and use our own library of extra curricular science books and encyclopedias to study and write essays in the months we chose to focus on science. However, we’ve also continued to use Switched On Schoolhouse (for Science only) at a leisurely pace.
History is similar to Science. We continue to read the RC booklist while supplementing with our own collection of history books we’ve gathered over the years, including the history/government curriculum we’d previously purchased from Christian Liberty Press.
Again, by doing this I feel we’re covering the areas I want to make sure the kids read about. We take the chapter tests in the history curriculum books, and occassionally I have them write an essay at the end of each chapter.
We use both RC’s spelling and Rod and Staff. The reason for this is because Mr. Robinson himself says spelling is an area he isn’t very strong, and like English, I feel there are definite ‘rules’ to grammar and spelling I want to cover.
For spelling, RC arranges it so that as your student is reading through the books on the booklist, he occasionally has a spelling list to study after finishing a particular book. The spelling list uses words from that particular book.
Not all books have spelling lists to follow them, however, so we leisurely continue to use Rod & Staff spelling, though we don’t do everything in their books either as I sometimes feel they have too much busy work in that regard.
For what it’s worth, we still follow RC loosely, but I’ve found that just like any other curriculum I’ve tried to follow, I still end up tweaking it to fit our family and what the kids and I prefer. I still highly regard his program, and as such we continue to incorporate a lot more reading than we had in the past.
If I could sum up our two-year journey with RC so far, I’d say Mr. Robinson is right. School should focus on the 3 R’s and everything else can be supplemented to follow. The way I supplement may not look exactly like his, but it fits our family.
That’s the beauty of homeschooling.