I’m back again for this month’s Sonlight Blog Party. May’s topic is Share your best homeschool convention tips and experiences.
I am always amazed when I talk to homeschoolers who have never attended a homeschool convention. Maybe it’s my love of learning, or perhaps it is my fear of failing that drove me to attend the HERI Homeschool Convention before I embarked on this educational adventure. (And boy am I glad I did because that was where I learned of Sonlight!) Since that first convention I have attended MANY conventions, mainly as a Sonlight Curriculum Representative, and that experience has given me some insight in how to have a successful experience. My tips in no particular order…
1. Leave the kids at home (unless you have a nursing infant).
It flabbergasts me when I see how many people bring their kids to conventions. You cannot concentrate, make good decisions and make it through the long day of shopping the vendor hall and listening to workshops if you have your kids in tow. My advice is to make this a get-away weekend: with hubby so you can make decisions together, or with girlfriends for a much-needed time away from the kiddos. The first few years, before I started working the conventions, my husband and I brought a babysitter (thanks Ali!) to keep the kids for a good chunk of the day while Michael and I attended the convention together. When he became saturated, he went back to the hotel and took over kid duty while I persevered. The next time, we just left the kids at home with family. I have good friends who shared a room – four to a room – at the fancy convention hotel, splitting the already bargain basement price, making it affordable and fun – like an old fashioned slumber party! They would share their finds at the end of the day, processing all they discovered and learned.
2. Bring your own food.
Most conventions do not allow you to take outside food into the venue. I recommend taking a break and heading back to your hotel room or even out to the car where you have your healthy and much less expensive food. This way you avoid long lines, expensive, and usually unhealthy food (think burgers and pizza). You can get refueled, feel great, and get back in the game quickly. Throw in a few healthy snacks like a Quest bar or mixed nuts into your bag for a little pick me up later, and don’t forget a bottle of water!
3. Take notes.
I’m a note-taker by nature (it’s been trained into me) so I always bring a notebook or a clipboard along on which to take notes. Trust me, that great idea/product/curriculum you hear about will be forgotten after your brain reaches saturation point. So go ahead and jot down that website or curriculum you’ll want to check out later, in the vendor hall, after the workshop, or even after the convention is over.
4. Buy the CDs!
If there is a talk that really resonated with you, buy it. You can listen to it later and learn even more the second time through. You can also take fewer notes and pay closer attention during a workshop because you’ll be able to listen to it later. Also, if there are two workshops that sound appealing but are offered at the same time slot, go to one and buy the other. Try to pick the one with fewer powerpoint slides to buy since it’s frustrating to listen to a talk that is very visual. In fact, I will often listen to them on my drive back home while I’m still in “convention mode” and still have quiet time to myself.
5. Bring address labels.
If you have the free ones that come in the mail, bring those (hey, free!) but if not, print some up that includes your name, address, phone number and email. That way you can quickly (and legibly!) sign up for newsletters and catalog mailing lists. You are there, after all, to gather information so go ahead and gather all you can. You can always unsubscribe later if you find that you are not interested in that product/company, but don’t hesitate to share your info with vendors. These are legitimate companies with information (and coupons/discounts!) to share with you. Take advantage of that! You paid to get that information! Take it!
6. Wear comfortable (but not frumpy) clothes.
You can be comfortable without wearing yoga or sweat pants! Also, please, do not reinforce the “homeschool mom” stereotype of denim jumpers or other frumpy clothing. Go for jeans or other long pants such as chinos, something that you don’t mind sitting on the floor in. That means no white jeans or short skirts. Sometimes a workshop will have standing room only, or you’ll want to take a break and there are no available seats so you’ll need to sit on the floor or even the curb. You’ll be much more comfortable in a pair of jeans or long pants. Also the rooms are often cool so bringing a cardigan or lightweight jacket will help ward off the chill. Layers is always a wise choice, even in Florida! Do dress nice but don’t wear impracticable shoes. Leave the stilettos and platform wedges for another event. We are talking ‘marathon’ here folks! Comfy flats or sandals are what I’d recommend as footwear.
7. And finally, Go!
Even if you know what curriculum you’re going to use, it’s still a good idea to attend a convention. You need the break! It also serves as a Pep Rally of sorts. Conventions are either in the Spring or Summer, which means it’s nearing the end of the school year which is right during burn-out time. So going to a convention and listening to inspiring, motivational talks, walking the vendor hall and taking in all the options you have, chatting with friends and catching up on much needed “girl time” is just what you need to get pumped up for another year of homeschooling! It is well worth the cost and the hassle of finding someone to keep the kids! Don’t know if there’s one near you? You can start by checking out Sonlight’s convention page. (For more great tips download their free Survivors’ Guide!) Or you can Google “homeschool convention in (your state).” If this is your first year, you might want to start out with a smaller convention like the HERI convention in Jacksonville rather than a huge one like the one put on by FPEA or Great Homeschool Conventions. Then once the shock of how many options you have is past, you can “graduate” to one of the biggies the following year.
I’d love to know if you’ve ever attended a homeschooling convention, which one and if you liked it. Won’t you tell me in the comments below?