Homeschool Conventions Made Easy

Oh the things that you will read! Spring and summer are prime time for homeschool conventions, which means that those of us who go to a lot of conferences will see many people wandering the aisles, looking dazed. If you’re planning to go to a homeschool conference this year, I have a few tips to make it the highlight of your homeschool year, rather than a daunting challenge.

Decide Why You’re Going

If there are 500 vendor booths and 300 workshops, there’s no way you’re going to pack in everything, so you’ll want to start with a strategy. Consider what you most want to get out of the conference. Are you going for the purpose of:

  • Solving a particular challenge with one of your students
  • Learning more about the laws of your state
  • Researching or buying curriculum for next year
  • Networking with other homeschoolers
  • Getting better acquainted with various homeschooling options
  • Soaking up as many workshops as possible
  • Listening to a few special speakers
  • Enjoying a quiet weekend with no one tugging on your skirt
  • Having a romantic weekend with your spouse
  • Doing a bit of everything

Map Out a Strategy

Once you’ve decided on your top three reasons for going, you’ll be able to decide how to use your time while there. Go to the convention organizer’s website and download the lists of speakers, workshops, and exhibitors. Print them out and mark all the workshops and vendor booths that sound interesting. Get a rolling cart or suitcase if permitted by exhibit hall rules, as even a few books can be heavy to carry (and who leaves the convention with just a few?).

Choose 2-3 “can’t miss” workshops and vendor booths for each day you’ll be there, then schedule in at least a few hours of uninterrupted browsing in the vendor hall. Make sure that you get to your top priority speakers and vendors, but leave time for discovering new resources you’ve never heard of. Meeting and asking questions of the authors and creators of specialized curriculum is one of the best parts of a conference! You can learn a lot that way, and it will help you find resources that will fit your student.

If You Have More Than One Day

If you can attend the conference for more than one day (best way to do it if possible), spend the first day or evening walking through the vendor hall. Pick up catalogs and handouts, and just get a feel for the variety that is available. Use the floor plan you printed out to find the booths you most want to visit, and mark the ones you’d like to return to and spend more time looking at materials and asking questions. Take all the goodies you’ve collected back to your hotel room and browse through to see if there are things you need to go back and review in person.

State Organizations

The second day you’re there, go to your chosen workshops, then begin an organized trip through the exhibitor booths. Make sure to stop at your state organization’s booth and learn more about your state’s homeschool law. Sstate organizations usually devotes their time and resources to supporting homeschoolers, both privately and publicly. They monitor legislation, provide information to new and veteran homeschoolers, serve as a resource for mainstream media, and offer other valuable services. Joining a state organization is an excellent way to help keep homeschooling laws reasonable.

Convention Specials and Author/Speaker Consultations

Here's our booth at the Great Homeschool Convention in Greenville, SC.

Continue your journey through the vendor hall, purchasing what you need from your chosen vendors. If a curriculum author is selling his or her own books, there will often be a special convention price or  free consultation offered along with your purchase. If an author or small vendor spends a lot of time answering questions or otherwise helping you, it’s courteous to make your purchase directly from them, rather than accepting free advice and then purchasing from one of the big mega-dealers (the laborer is worthy of his/her hire).

If You Have Only One Day

If you can be at a large conference for only one day, the pre-conference printouts and game plan are doubly important. If the conference is located at a large convention center, you can usually print out a floor plan of the entire facility so that you can easily find your way from the workshop rooms to the vendor hall and back. Staple all these sheets together and tuck them into a folder so you can easily keep track of them at the conference.

What you need most– information or curriculum– will help you decide where to focus. The key to enjoying your day is to prioritize and to realize you have a lot of choices. You could decide to:

  • Purchase the MP3 of all the workshops (usually very reasonably priced) and spend all your time in the exhibit hall (that’s what I usually did).
  • Spend part of the day gathering catalogs and talking with vendors, then enjoy a few workshops as you think about what you’ve seen.
  • Visit the specific speakers and vendors you want to see, then either listen to a few workshops, or make an organized sweep through the entire vendor hall.
  • Make a quick sweep through the exhibit hall and and take advantage of convention specials on curriculum you know you’ll need; then spend the rest of the day in the area that interests you most.
  • If you are just getting started and truly don’t know what you need or want, purchase the MP3 of all the workshops, then spend the day talking with speakers, authors, and exhibitors who have resources appropriate for your children’s age. Gather catalogs and literature from everyone, and take it home to read. You can always order online, and some small vendors will even honor convention specials if you e-mail and tell them you met them at the conference but weren’t ready to purchase then.

Questions to Ask If You’re a New Homeschooler

You’ll find that almost everyone at a homeschool conference is there to help you and to answer your questions. I suggest beginning with the booth that belongs to your state organization, if it’s represented. It will usually be staffed by dedicated homeschool veterans who can provide information on the law, and often point you toward workshops or resources that can be particularly helpful. As you wander through the vendor hall, here are a few questions you might want to ask:
  • What age is your curriculum designed for?
  • What makes your curriculum special or different?
  • Is there a particular learning style that does well with this curriculum?
  • Basic learning styles are visual (learns by seeing/reading), auditory (learns by hearing/talking), and kinesthetic (learns by doing). Many children have a very strong inclination toward one of these, and working with it can make teaching infinitely easier and more effective.
  • Is this curriculum consumable (like a workbook) or can it be used by more than one student?
  • Can I adapt the lesson plans to fit my students?
  • Are you available via e-mail if I need to ask a question during the school year?
  • Answers to these questions will further your education as a new homeschooler, and you’ll be more easily able to sort through the hundreds of options and make wise decisions. Remember that you rarely have to make decisions while you’re at the conference, so regard your time there as a time of learning, and enjoy it.

    Practical Items

    Remember to stop and eat at regular intervals, and take a water bottle you can refill so that you don’t become dehydrated. A small bag of plain, raw almonds and dried cranberries or cherries can stave off hunger and keep you from relying too heavily on salty foods from the concession stands. Bring a rolling crate or suitcase for your purchases (make sure the conference permits it), as books get heavy very quickly!

    If your children are with you, be sure to bring snacks and drinks, and plan for a few breaks. If it’s possible to leave children with your spouse or parents, it’s usually a very good idea, as you’ll be able to stay focused and learn what you need to know. The conference can even become a cherished annual husband-wife weekend get-away.

    Beauty will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe
    My husband and I have been going to homeschool conferences for over twenty years– first as learners and buyers, and now as a speaker/author/vendors. Even though our boys are grown, we still enjoy them and are grateful for the opportunity to meet and share with younger homeschooling families. And thanks to the Circe Institute booth and other classical homeschool vendors, I usually come home with something amazing to read. This year it was Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David V. Hicks and Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age by Gregory Wolfe. I couldn’t decide which to read first, so I’ve started both!

    We are blessed to have the opportunity to live in a country where it’s possible to gather with others and make alternate education choices for our children. I hope you’ll take time this year to visit your nearest homeschool conference and gain new vision, insight, and hope. Enjoy!

    Our April Conferences

    The first two conferences are part of the Great Homeschool Convention series, and are packed with amazing speakers and hundreds (no kidding!) of exhibitors of homeschool products. The conference planners, Brennan and Mary Jo Dean, have worked hard to provide homeschoolers of all levels with a conference experience that meets their needs.

    You’ll find a Worldview Teen Track, a Creation Apologetics Track, and even special tracks for Parenting, Children, and Support Group Leaders. Governor Mike Huckabee will deliver the opening address in Cincinnati, and speakers such as Chuck Colson, John Stonestreet, Andrew Pudewa, Cathy Duffy, and many more will be at both conferences.

    April 12–14: Mid South Homeschool Conference at the Memphis Convention Center in Memphis, TN.
    April 19–21: Midwest Homeschool Conference at Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, OH.

    My speaking topics for these conference are (you can read descriptions of these at the Everyday Education site):

    • Teaching Language Arts The Easy, Natural Way
    • Evaluate Student Writing
    • Homeschooling Through High School
    • How to Build a High-School Transcript
    • Charlotte Mason, Meet Thomas Jefferson: How to Implement the Eclectic Curriculum

    April 28 – 29: Get Prepared Expo at Springfield, MO Fairgrounds

    The Get Prepared Expo will feature a wide variety of home-centered workshops and exhibitors, with a focus on preparedness, entrepreneurship, and homesteading skills. My speaking topics are:

    • Crisis Homeschooling: How to Educate Your Children with Simple Resources
    • Do What Matters, Make it Pay: Microbusiness for the Self-Reliant Homesteader

    After these, a couple of weeks at home, then off to California, ICHE in Illinois, and Hartford in May and June. In July, I will be attending an entrepreneur conference in Portland, and would love to be at the Circe Conference. I look forward to meeting some of you this season!

    1 Response

    1. educator says:

      Very good advice. I also tell people to wait until the last day to make purchases, so you have room to change your mind if need be.

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