Reflections of a Homeschooled TCK

by Cara Robbins-Karan

Cara grew up in Congo, Cameroon, and Kenya (boarding school­—HS). She graduated from college a few years ago. I had Cara as a student my first year of teaching third grade in Cameroon, and the change from a scared little girl to a self-assured young lady has been fun to watch. We have talked several times about why her third-grade year was so difficult and what would have made it easier. Here are some of her thoughts. – lw

When I was six years old my family moved to a small town called Boundji in the Republic of Congo. There was no school there for me to go to, so my mother taught me first and second grade. I am very grateful to her for home schooling me instead of sending me to boarding school so young, even though she had very limited access at that time to information and guidance in teaching.

It was, however, a somewhat traumatic experience when we moved to Cameroon for my third- and fourth-grade years, and I went for the first time to a classroom setting. My third-grade teacher has told me she remembers me crying a lot in school. This was not because my teacher was mean; I was just adjusting on so many levels that I got overwhelmed. Not only was I adjusting to being plunged from village life into an expatriate city culture, but almost everything about classroom schooling was foreign to me. Furthermore, I was aware of my minority status among the other children in being unfamiliar with the system. I was unaccustomed to many basic classroom principles such as homework, studying, taking tests, and sharing the instructor.

While home schooling, I always did all my schoolwork when it was assigned during the lesson, and I never had tests or anything I needed to study for. For school my parents helped me adjust to doing homework by having me do it first thing when I got back from school before I went to play. But the concept of studying did not click for me until I was into my fourth-grade year.


I would frequently forget to bring home my books to study before a test, and grades, which were largely meaningless to me, were therefore fairly unmotivating. In my fourth-grade year I finally made the connection between studying, remembering what I learned, and the correspondingly higher grades on my tests. It started with a spelling test I aced after I had concentrated on and reviewed a list of spelling words with my mother beforehand. This was truly the first time I realized what studying was, how easy it was, and how much it improved my performance. Once I started getting good grades, it changed my whole identity. I went from being the stupid child to the smart child. By the time I was in fifth grade I was on the A honor-roll.

So take heart! If your children have just transferred to the classroom and do not seem to be performing well, there is a good chance they just need time to adjust. Incorporating the principles of homework, tests, and grades during home schooling will probably help your child a lot in the transition from home to classroom schooling. Teaching a lesson and then assigning work for them to do for the next day helps kids get used to the time frame and concept of homework.

For me, learning what it meant to study was the bigger problem. I strongly suggest giving tests. To practice for the test, teach your kids how to memorize by studying with them and having them repeat to you what they have learned. Giving grades, at least for assignments with straightforward answers like multiple choice and math, will help your kids learn there are right and wrong answers and will motivate them to study.

Sharing the teacher

Another major factor I had to adjust to in moving from home to the classroom was the idea of academic competition with all the other children and no longer having a personal instructor. What I found most difficult about not having a one-on-one coach was that it was harder to understand instructions or do my assignments correctly. My mother had always taken time to clarify any misunderstanding with an assignment and had worked with me to help me do it correctly. The distractions of a classroom made it more difficult to pay attention to the teacher’s instructions, and I often felt frustrated with the unaccustomed independence I was given to do my assignment, unsure if I was doing it correctly.

I suggest talking to your kids about the dynamics of a classroom setting. Encourage them to concentrate on directions and ask clarifying questions. I would also suggest talking to their teachers and asking if they would be kind enough to ask your children if they understand the assignment. I think frustration over not knowing how to do my work inspired many of the tears my third-grade year.

Being on Grade Level

Parents, I really encourage you to make sure your children are at the same academic level or higher in all subjects at their respective school before moving them into the classroom. I remember burning with embarrassment at times during my third-grade year when everyone else in the classroom seemed to take for granted information or do math problems I was unfamiliar with.

I would like to offer one more word of advice although it is not directly related to the transition from home schooling to the classroom. When my mother was teaching me to read, I remember her—the most gentle, patient woman I know—leaving the room in deep frustration during a lesson. She tells me she worried I was mentally delayed because she would tell me the sounds of letters one day, and I would not remember them the next. It was not until later that she understood that children must usually be told any lesson many times before they will remember it. So have patience with your kids and understand that it is normal for them to take quite a while learning their ABC’s.

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