Make the Most of Your Next Homeschool Convention
The homeschool convention is almost here! Are you ready?
Whether it is your first convention or your fifteenth, the annual homeschool convention can be an overwhelming event. With dozens of workshops, over 100 vendors, and thousands of new and used books, it can be a challenge to know what to do first. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your convention experience.
Before the Convention
In order to maximize your time and money, start planning well before the day of the convention. Pre-registering online is amazingly convenient, and it will save valuable time when you arrive at convention. Members of the sponsoring organization often receive a generous discount on full registration, and pre-registering by the early-bird deadline can save even more. That is extra money to spend on something that will make your homeschooling easier!
First, know why you are going to convention. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to:
- Find out about homeschooling in general?
- Learn techniques for teaching toddlers or teens?
- Gain encouragement for educating your special-needs child?
- Get a hands-on preview of new curriculum?
- Stretch your dollars by buying used curriculum?
- Hear encouraging truths from veteran homeschoolers?
- Make a few dollars by selling your used books?
- Give back to your homeschool organization by volunteering for a few hours?
- Save shipping costs by purchasing your textbooks?
- Attend an inspiring graduation ceremony?
You can do all this and more at the convention if you plan your time wisely! If you spend time thinking through your goals for the coming year, and deciding what you need from the convention before you go, you are well on your way to making the most of this exciting weekend.
Make Your Lists
The sponsoring organization maintains a list of workshops and vendors on its website, and the preliminary workshop descriptions are usually included in the latest issue of the newsletter. Use these resources to plan your time at the convention. As you study the workshop schedule, you will begin to see workshops that you absolutely want to attend. Check them off on the preliminary program, and begin to prioritize.
Inevitably, there will be more than one workshop per session that you would like to attend. This is not a problem! Virtually all the workshops are recorded, and you may purchase tapes or CDs at convention and listen at your convenience later. This way, if you decide to spend all your time in the curriculum hall or the used book sale, you will not miss out on all the encouraging and informative workshops that are scheduled.
Plan for Children and Teens
While convention weekend is a wonderful opportunity for some special “couple time,” the convention is family-friendly if you prefer to bring everyone. A glance at the program will reveal many workshops that are of special interest to teens. These teen-track workshops may include topics such as “Technology and Computers,” “Creation vs. Evolution,” “College Options,” and many more.
Children ages 5-12 may have the opportunity to enroll in a special children’s program, where they can enjoy skits, songs, stories, and crafts focused on the development of good character qualities. The children’s program usually runs for the entire convention, except for meals, for which your children may join you to talk about all the things they’ve learned.
If you are new to homeschooling, or are entering a new phase of home education, such as high school, you may want to do some reading before you arrive at the convention. You may wish to order books such as The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell, For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macauley, or 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy. There are many other wonderful resources available, and whatever you read will help you prepare for the convention, as well as for the coming school year. Ask a veteran homeschooler for her recommendations, and she’ll probably be happy to share some of her favorites.
Make a List
If you write your shopping list on a business size or 7×9″ envelope, you will be able to place all your receipts in the envelope as you make purchases. You can jot notes about what you see on the back of the envelope, and keep a running total of what you spend on the inside of the flap. Just be careful not to lose your envelope!
At the Convention
When you arrive at the convention, you’ll receive a program booklet and a bag of literature from vendors. The program will contain a map of the convention hall, speaker and graduate profiles, listing of vendors, and a final schedule of workshops. It pays to sit down for a few minutes to get acquainted with this valuable resource. First, check the workshops you want to attend and verify the time and location. Second, locate the bathrooms, concession stands, bag drops, and other conveniences, and locate the booths of vendors or speakers you particularly wish to visit. Now you are ready to plan your day!
As a point of courtesy, if you spend a lot of time with an author or vendor who patiently answers your questions, please remember that it would be very rude to go across the aisle to save a couple of dollars on the same curriculum from a vendor who has not given so generously of his or her time. Most authors and vendors are at the convention, not only because they truly want to help other homeschooling families, but also because they need to make a living.
If This Is Your First Convention
If this is your first convention and you are able to come more than one day (I highly recommend coming for the whole time, if at all possible), don’t buy anything until the last few hours you are there. Use your first day, or first few hours, to attend the introductory workshop sessions offered for new homeschoolers, then browse the curriculum hall, picking up catalogs and brochures. If you know you have a bag full of information, and will be able to order anything you see later, after you have had time to make a careful decision, you will not feel pressured to decide too quickly on anything you see.
Take all the literature you have gathered back to your hotel, or out to lunch if you are there for only a day, and look through it. Focus on things that fit your needs now – elementary curriculum if you have young children, high school curriculum if you have teens. Get acquainted with some of the things that are available, so that when you return to the curriculum hall, you can go directly to the items that seem most interesting or useful to you. Write down questions you would like to ask different vendors, and do not forget that the homeschool organization probably has a table is staffed with veteran homeschoolers who would be happy to answer questions for you. Remember that you do not have to make any quick decisions, but that you may order virtually anything, including workshop tapes, after the convention.
If You Are A Veteran Homeschooler
If you have been homeschooling for years, but have not been to the convention in a while, prepare to be astonished and delighted by the amazing array of high-quality curriculum options that are available. You will find many resources for the high-school years, as well as a great deal of information on helping your student make the transition to college, the military, or a career. There are encouraging new books and resources, as well as workshops and vendors that can answer many of the questions you may have as your students grow older.
Veteran homeschoolers are probably also aware of the many opportunities available for volunteer service at the convention. The convention takes place only with the help of the many volunteers – both new and veteran homeschoolers – who donate a bit of their time to make it happen. You may choose to help in the exhibit hall, graduation, security, hospitality, registration, publicity, used curriculum sale, or as an office volunteer or speaker host. As a special thank-you, volunteers often receive special privileges such as first admission to the used curriculum shopping area, or a free workshop recording.
After the Convention
When you reach home after the convention, you will have much to digest. Make time to read the books and catalogs you bring home, and listen to the workshop tapes you have purchased. As you put all you have learned into practice, you will be thankful you took time to learn more about home education. Your new knowledge will help you experience joy in the journey!
Janice Campbell, author of Get a Jump Start on College! A Practical Guide for Teens, Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler’s Guide to High School Paperwork, and the Excellence in Literature series, has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980’s. She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, using the principles she now shares in her books, her blog, workshops, and her free e-newsletter. Sign up for it today.