It's here - one of my favorite events of the entire year! And, yes, I know that makes me a total homeschool nerd... it's homeschool convention time!
Can I get a "Woot woot?!"
OK, so maybe you're not as excited as I am about homeschool conventions, but if you're not, it's probably because you haven't been to one. Or you've been, but you were overwhelmed because you didn't go prepared with these homeschool convention insider tips.
Homeschool conventions are like...
(well, I was going to say "an open bar to an alcoholic", but decided that might not convey quite the right sentiment)
a Thanksgiving feast to a starving man. Yeah, that's better.
Workshops on every imaginable homeschooling issue, more curricula than you could possibly think up, experts with fixes for your homeschooling headaches, creative ideas to catapult you out of your homeschooling doldrums, supplies and resources beyond your imagination, camaraderie with thousands of people who do things similarly to the way you do them...
Did I mention the unfathomable amount of resources?
This year, I consider myself a homeschool convention veteran. Yep. Been every single year for 5 years now, and I've got this whole thing down. I know the drill, know where to find stuff, and know how to get the most for my money. And I know how to have fun doing it all!
And it is fun! Homeschooling conventions are like the one chance, all year, to realize just how not alone you are in this journey! They catapult you into this world that you didn't even realize existed, before you attend one. A world of excitement and individualization and creativity and uniqueness - a network of people whose priority is their family and whose time, energy, and resources all go in a similar direction. It is powerful to experience it. The sum of the homeschool convention experience is much greater than the value of any of its parts.
You just have to go to know!
So for all of you homeschoolers just starting out with the convention experience, I thought I would offer a few homeschool convention insider tips. Here are a few things I've learned along the way on how to make homeschool conventions the best experience of your life:
- Go without your kids. Yes, many homeschooling conventions (including the one I attend - by the Home Educators Association of Virginia) have great activities for children. But if you have to be a parent even some of the time, you won't be able to concentrate fully on the convention and get the most out of it. There is something rejuvenating about being away from the kids, and having some time just for yourself, so that you can be renewed to better go back and serve your kids. So call the grandparents, find a sitter, or drop the little ones off with a friend, and make this a trip you do with no little people. You will thank me for it.
- Bring some homeschooling friends along. Yes, husbands can come, and there is some benefit in going with your spouse at least once. But, in general, I recommend going with a group of gals that homeschool, and getting a hotel room together. A huge part of the fun of the convention is being able to share about the different workshops you attend, get input on resources you find, discuss which keynote speaker was the best, boast about the "great deal" you secured, and just hang out with like-minded homeschooling moms. Let's face it - what other time do you go on an all-girl weekend away? And, no offense guys, but husbands are just not going to be able to give you the reaction you want on that perfect normally-very-expensive Level 5 English book you got at the used curriculum sale for just $1.99!
- Bring a pull cart. Or one of those smallish suitcases that have telescoping handles on them that you can fit into the overhead compartments on airplanes. Something that you can pull with you, and not have to carry in your arms, for all of the stuff you will inevitably end up buying. When you have to lug 75 lbs. of math textbooks, science projects, cool art supplies and workshop materials around for 10 hours a day, you will see the wisdom of this tip. Besides, it's what all the convention veterans do, and you want to look cool, don't you?!
- Print out the convention materials ahead of time and decide what workshops/keynote speeches you want to attend. It's craziness when you get to the convention. So many choices, so many options of things to do and places to be. There is a keynote speaker that looks great, but the used curriculum sale opens at the same time - and they both start in 15 minutes! What to do? If you know what workshops and events you're interested in ahead of time, you can get your convention game plan together and be sure you get to see the things that are most important to you, without feeling overwhelmed and rushed.
- Find out who the best speakers are, and go to those workshops. It's worthwhile to attend workshops that address specific areas of homeschooling in which you are interested, but I have found that even more important than the topic is the presenter him/herself. An excellent presenter will make a workshop that might even be on a subject that you didn't think was of interest to you worthwhile. Likewise, even if you attend a workshop on a topic that is particularly pertinent to you, if the presenter is not strong, the workshop will likely not be tremendously helpful or worthwhile. Talk to homeschooling friends who have been to the convention before, or who are familiar with the presenters, to find out which names are known as having the best workshops, and make those a priority.
- Know, before you go, what things you need to buy. Trust me on this. If you arrive with the attitude of "I'll just buy what looks good", you are going to end up spending a lot more money than you wanted to, and you will likely get a lot of things that won't be particularly useful. There are so many resources available to purchase, you can get a bit overzealous in buying things that look great (and no doubt are great), but that you aren't actually able to incorporate into your homeschool. I have long since learned that all of those really cool mini science kits are very fun, but end up at the back of my homeschooling cabinet until the next year's homeschooling convention, because I forget to use them (since they're not directly linked to our science curriculum). And that the "Learn your local birds" pamphlet I bought on a whim because I thought it would be oh so helpful for us to identify the flying creatures outside our window just gets stuffed behind the recipes in my kitchen. Know yourself, know your kids, and be intentional about the resources that you buy, so that you will actually use the things on which you spend your money!
- As much as possible, use the new curriculum exhibits for idea-gathering, and the used curriculum sale for buying. A good portion of what can be found at the new curriculum exhibits will be found, in some form, at the used curriculum sale - but for usually a third of the cost or less! The new curriculum exhibits offer wonderful opportunities for browsing and getting your hands on materials, so you can see if they are right for your child. But then, if you can find them, go purchase those items for a whole lot less a few rooms down at the used curriculum sale!
- Get to the used curriculum sale early! If you have specific resources that you know you want for your homeschool, as soon as you can get into the used curriculum sale, GO! Stop everything else - even that wonderful workshop you wanted to attend - and GET TO THE SALE. The best items are found early on when the sale opens, because homeschool veterans like me go through first thing, knowing exactly what we're looking for, and we snap up the best stuff. Keep in mind that many conventions open the used curriculum sales to convention volunteers first, before the rest of the attendees - so when it's your turn to get it, you want to make the most of it! If you aren't sure of any specific resources you need, it is not as important to get into the used curriculum sale early. You can take your time and just browse through the sale later, because buying specific things for great deals isn't so much of a priority.
- Attend the keynote speeches. Keynote speakers are almost always prominent, established persons in the homeschool community that are worth hearing. The very fact that they are featured usually means that they are persons whose advice, comments, and perspective have been demonstrated to be tremendously beneficial. I have, on a number of occasions, attended keynote speeches by individuals with whom I was not particularly familiar, and each time came away very encouraged and inspired. Think of the keynote speeches as the "big guns" of the convention, and make them a priority!
Put a homeschool convention at the top of your homeschool to-do list - preferably once a year! Take it from this convention veteran: It will bolster your home school in more ways than you could have ever anticipated. Do it for your homeschool, do it for your kids, do it for yourself. And then, once you do, go get some other uninitiated homeschool mom and bring her with you next year!
If you find yourself overwhelmed after all of the wonderful convention resources, learn how I deal with Post-Convention Stress Disorder.