Why should you attend a homeschool convention or conference this year?
- Conferences provide in-person camaraderie. When you're part of the tiny minority of people choosing home education, it's uplifting to be with other parents who are making the same choice. For a day or a weekend, you're not the only one making this non-mainstream choice.
- Conferences provide homeschooling information for new homeschoolers. If you are a new or prospective homeschooler, you'll find that many conferences are designed to help you get started. Look for sessions at conferences that explain the legal requirements in your state. Many conferences offer sessions with practical ideas for homeschooling certain academic subjects. Conferences also frequently have sessions that explain the various approaches to homeschooling—you may find that Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, unit studies, unschooling, Montessori, or an eclectic approach could be a match for you and your kids.
- Conferences help you clarify your homeschooling philosophy. Homeschoolers hear things at conferences that either resonate with them or not. As you attend workshops and sessions at conferences, you'll hone your own thoughts about your philosophy of education. Are you homeschooling primarily to address learning issues? Is family time an important reason you homeschool? Are you homeschooling primarily because of intractable problems at school that were not being solved? What do you think about this "learning style" information you are hearing in a session? Are you more interested in having children cover essential curriculum or build their own understanding of the world? As you absorb and react to the information you hear, you're clarifying your thoughts on what you hope homeschooling will do in your own family. This clarity will help you make many smaller decisions over the coming years of home education.
- Conferences help you with new stages. Long-time homeschoolers often feel that when their kids reach a new stage, they need new information and support. For example, parents of high schoolers are often interested in ideas for preparing kids for independent living, developing a trade or vocation, or admission to college. Other parents are seeking support for a new stage of their own lives -- perhaps a parent has to return to work or begin caring for an elderly relative or new baby. Some homeschooling conferences have sessions that are rich in ideas for homeschooling through life changes and new academic challenges.
- Conferences provide networking opportunities. Homeschoolers talk at conferences, and they find people in the homeschooling world who also have kids in the dance world, the soccer world, the robotics world, or the fencing world. They find people who are interested in forming a social or academic co-op. They find people who know about second language resources, community college programs open to homeschoolers, or biologists who are offering summer programs for kids. They find people to trade with—"Hey, I could teach writing to your kids, and you could teach chemistry to mine!"
- Conferences have shopping opportunities. Conferences frequently feature a vendor hall where you can buy curricula and resources. Some conferences also have a used resource sale, where books, educational materials, and curricula have been donated or are offered on consignment. These sales can provide really reasonably priced learning materials for your family.
- Conferences provide cultural and academic opportunities. Some vendors at conferences may be from museums and community educational centers in your region. They frequently have hands-on displays and sometimes offer special prices for future admission to their venue. Some of these museums are small gems you may not have heard of, but when you see their exhibits at a conference, you realize this is a great field trip destination. You may also find vendors who are businesses, individuals, and organizations that offer tutoring and classes.
- Conferences can be valuable for the non-homeschooling parent. If your family has a traditional "breadwinner and at-home mom" structure, your husband may not get as much exposure to homeschooling as you do. A conference that welcomes dads will allow your partner-in-homeschooling to see other families who are making this work. There will be reassurance that people take homeschooling seriously and that there are resources for homeschoolers. I've always found that at conferences where teens are present, dads who are new-to-homeschooling are particularly glad for the opportunity to see capable high school age homeschoolers volunteering or hanging out with friends.
- Conferences frequently support vital work to protect homeschooling. Organizations that sponsor conferences are often non-profits that use any proceeds from the event to fund programs that protect and support homeschooling in your state. Even conferences sponsored by individuals or small businesses are often giving financial benefit to people who are vitally invested in helping other homeschoolers. The conferences are part of the way they make a living and afford to give back to the homeschooling community. Check the sponsoring organization or business if you want to make sure that your conference dollars are going to an organization with a mission that is consistent with your own.
- Conferences can be great for kids. The conference I attend most frequently has a talent show, a display night (art, projects, exhibits by the kids), children's sessions (educational and fun ones), and a party for teen volunteers. At some conferences, homeschooled kids have a great opportunity to share their talents and interests, to learn more, and to meet new homeschooling friends.
- Conferences help you adjust your course and recharge your batteries. If you need to refine your homeschooling style, find new curriculum or resources, or re-consider your children's needs, a homeschooling conference can provide the stimulation you need to help you figure out how to tweak and improve your homeschooling life. You'll also have a chance to re-charge your own batteries; hearing informative speakers and being surrounded by other homeschooling families can inspire and refresh you.
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