If you need evidence that homeschooling is a viable option for education, simply take a look at the number of conventions, conferences, and expos that are held each year to support it. If we at Demme Learning had the resources, we could be busy just about every single weekend of the year at regional, state, local, and specialized conferences.
However, no matter how much we love our customers and want to be everywhere they are, we don’t have unlimited time, energy, or money. Plus our team members would most likely revolt — something about being human and getting tired and wanting to see their own families. So we have to pick and choose how to spend our resources to provide the most benefit from homeschool conferences to the most people.
Homeschooling parents need to do the same when planning to attend a convention. Your time, money, and energy are all precious and limited, so you want to make sure you don’t spend any of them wastefully. If you’ve never been to a convention before, they can be overwhelming. Even if you go every year, there are always new, exciting things to see. (If you happen to have the secret to unlimited time, money, and/or energy, please let me know.)
When I was homeschooling, I went to the CHAP Convention in Pennsylvania with a friend (when it was still in the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg). So! Many! Books! And I wanted to see this speaker and this speaker and I simply HAD TO attend this workshop and I simply could not MISS the discounts from these vendors even though I didn’t use their curriculum and never ended up using it…(RECORD SCRATCH NOISE) Wait. There must be a better way than walking through the door and turning into a deer in the headlights, going home with a headache, wondering why I was broke and anxious and sadly disappointed.
Turns out, there is. It’s called “planning,” and, while it will probably never be my favorite thing, I definitely understand the value. With the counsel of some experienced, wiser homeschooling friends, I was able to go back to CHAP the following year and have a great time! I saw all of my must-see speakers, I purchased curricula that I intended to use (and did!), I attended workshops, I had a wonderful time socializing with other parents and vendors.
So here you go — whether you yourself are an experienced, wiser homeschooling parent or a total newbie, you can probably find a nugget of advice in this list of tips we’ve pulled together form some of our favorite homeschooling bloggers. If you have a suggestion we’ve missed, please add it in the comments. We hope to see you during conference season!
25 Homeschool Convention Tips
1) Research the Convention in Advance
“Carefully read the details in your email or on the convention website beforehand. Most convention groups spend hours of time explaining thoroughly in both their emails and on their website about vendor workshops, speakers, and enthusiastic exhibitors among other important details. Being familiar with the schedule of workshops, the layout of the vendor hall, and convention hours allows you to plan your visit and maximize the best use of your time.”
2) Register Ahead of Time
“It’s just one less thing to have to worry about once you arrive. You’ll have a shorter line to wait in, not to mention you can typically get a cheaper price if you register early. Depending on the convention you plan to go to, you may be able to get a good deal if you sign up to volunteer for a few hours during the convention.”
3) Bring a Rolling Cart
“This is one of those things that I often forget, but my husband actually bought our first rolling cart when we were at the Great Homeschool Convention in Long Beach. It’s super handy to have in the exhibitor hall unless you do not plan to shop.”
4) Set a Budget
“What I did: In my excitement, I ended up making a few impulse purchases…well, more than a few! I was like a kid in a candy store!!! Honestly, I came home with a bit of buyer’s remorse, because I had realized that I spent way too much money on products that I probably shouldn’t have purchased. To this day, there are still some materials that I purchased at my first convention that we have yet to use!”
What I should have done: I should have set a budget! If you are married, I suggest that you and your spouse discuss your homeschool needs and create a workable budget…and stick to it!
5) Review Speaker & Workshop Schedule Before You Go
“Most conventions offer a downloadable version of the convention schedule that you can go over before convention starts. Print it off, make notes in the margins and think about what workshops and sessions you would like to attend. You can narrow it down more when you get there.”
6) Plan Your Shopping
“There are a few benefits to shopping at the convention. First of all, many of your curriculum writers or publishers are in attendance. This is the perfect chance to get to ask how to award a high school credit for their curriculum or how to adapt it to use with gifted kids or a wide age-range. Many companies also staff their booths with long-time users as well. That way you also get a chance to chat with moms who have used the curriculum in their own homes.”
7) Take Snacks & Water
“Check the venue where you are attending to see about rules about what you can and can not carry in with you. You will likely want to have a snack and some water between sessions and curriculum hall browsing. If you take your kids, they will definitely want them.”
8) Bring a Notebook
“If at all possible, attend the speaker sessions and write down thoughts! By the end of the weekend you will have ingested so much new information that your notes will be very helpful as a refresher when you get home.”
9) Go With a Friend Who Has Attended Before
“Go with a friend who has attended before. This is one of the best ways to get the most out of a convention. A homeschooler who has previously participated will have inside knowledge of how to best navigate the event, capitalize on workshops and keynote speakers, and the most advantageous ways to spend your time. She will also have a “layout of the land” and be able to help you more efficiently get to the places you want to go within the timeframes you have available. Plus, it can be incredibly helpful and encouraging to have someone with which to discuss all you have seen and learned, and you can save money by sharing a hotel!”
10) Bring Cash, Checks, and Your Credit Card
“Many vendors will accept credit cards, however some smaller ones or used sales might only take cash or check so just be prepared.”
11) Wear Comfy Clothes & Layer
“More then one mom told me how the temperature can very from freezing to hot depending on where you are in the convention center. You will want a light sweater or jacket for the cooler rooms. Be sure that you have shoes that are comfortable and good for walking (pack a 2nd pair to swap out…)”
12) Get a Map at the Door
“Some venues are huge, and having some idea of where things are located will be valuable. Make sure you mark your favorite vendors on the map in order to find them easily.”
13) Pick the Right Sessions
“As far as the sessions are concerned, choose the ones that interest you the most. If there is a scheduling conflict, you can always purchase a CD or download the one that you don’t attend. Once you arrive, sit close to the front and take notes. Some parents take notes on a tablet, others with their smartphone. You may prefer the tried and true pen and notebook — they always work and don’t need batteries!”
14) Take Good Notes
“Although it may seem like you’ll never forget that clever idea or anecdote, chances are at the end of all the speakers and workshops chances are some pearls are going to get lost. Make sure you right down key points that spoke to you clearly, concisely, and (speaking to myself here) neatly. Then you and your spouse can compare notes on the workshops you both attended and look back on these notes in the upcoming year as you need the encouragement and wisdom.”
15) Take Advantage of Session Breaks
“There is some built in lag time between sessions. Use this to review and highlight your notes. You can also throw away flyers that do not interest or pertain to you. You will have a lot of stuff, so it’s good to pair it down when you can. You can also break out your phone so you can go ahead and follow your favorite speakers or companies on social media.”
16) Meet the Speakers
“One of the best parts of a convention is the self-education and encouragement you can receive by attending the speaker workshops. Usually there are an overwhelming number of options. This is why you have to do your homework and become familiar with the various speakers and their messages. Highlight the ones that fall within your focus for the year and plan to attend some of their sessions. Circle other sessions that sound interesting – even if you can’t attend, you can usually order copies of their session.”
17) Ask Questions
“Ask lots and lots of questions. The reason you are at the convention is to learn – so ask! Believe me, vendors LOVE to talk about their products!”
18) Pace Yourself
“Homeschool conventions have a LOT to offer but can make your head spin. We can’t see or hear or do everything! When it comes to workshops and keynote speakers, usually they will have recordings available for purchase afterward. Pop a CD into the car stereo system or insert the DVD into the video player on your own time. Interested in a vendor but don’t have the time to chat with them? Pick up their contact information and contact them later. If you’re new to homeschooling, this whole new world can seem overwhelming at times. Pacing yourself will give you and your family much-needed breaks. After all, you can nap at the hotel for a little bit if you really need the rest!”
19) Look Up, Smile, Meet People, and Share!
“Homeschooling conventions range in size. We attend the THSC Southwest Convention & Family Conference, and it is enormous. I make it a point to look up, smile, talk with people when I’m in line, meet people to the left and right of me when I’m sitting in a session, or ask people questions. This is one of the most fun parts of attending a homeschooling convention – being surrounded by tons and tons of like-minded parents. It is a tremendous experience!”
“Grab lunch with a friend and decompress from the convention noise. Sitting outside for a while can help you regain some clarity, and give you energy to tackle the next workshop or vendor hall.”
21) Window Shop
“Many a mom who was just curious about the “homeschooling thing” have gone to a convention only to walk away with a deep sense of purpose that this is the best option for their family. Window shop, see what is available to you. You are surrounded by people who all have at least one thing in common, they believe in some aspect of home education. Ask other parents while you are browsing, what do you like about this curricula? Ask vendors why theirs is the one you should be interested in, just see what is out there. Window shop the vendors, listen to the speakers, get a feel for this world, you will walk away enriched in some way, this is a promise.”
22) Come with a Skeletal Curriculum Plan
“I encourage you, folks, to attend, but leave your wallets at home. This will prevent you from buying many unnecessary items that you may/may not ever end up using.) A convention center filled with eager/convincing vendors can be quite overwhelming to anyone, especially someone who does not necessarily have a basic, working idea of what they are and are not looking for. I always come with a skeletal plan of what vendors I know I NEED to visit and which items I am considering for purchase. Not that I always stick to my plan like glue…I consider it very FLUID…and allow myself to have a change of heart. But, by having a basic plan, I do not get lured into buying “wants” as easily, and therefor stay closer to my pre-determined budget.”
23) Know What You Don’t Need
“Nothing helps reduce exhibit hall anxiety like knowing what booths you can overlook. Some stuff you just don’t need. One might be for children of different ages than yours, another might address a subject you don’t plan to cover, and yet another may not fit your approach to homeschooling. With a little experience, you’ll learn what products and services you just don’t need.”
24) Comparison Shop
“Many vendors carry the same products, often times at different prices. Shop around, your wallet will thank you! Don’t buy anything your first trip through the book fair. If you’re staying overnight, don’t buy anything the first day. Collect information from vendors, browse the products and then find a quiet place to process your thoughts and make your final shopping plan.”
25) Have Fun!
“After spending all day listening to the speakers and shopping for curriculum, take some time to unwind and make memories with your family at the special events! Whether you listen to a motivational speaker or laugh with the comedians, you’re family will enjoy reconnecting at the end of the day.”
Ready to Attend a Homeschool Convention?
Homeschool conventions are a wonderful resource, whether you’re just getting started on your homeschool journey or you’ve been doing it for years.
Demme Learning will be exhibiting at several conventions across the U.S. this year. Our knowledgeable staff is excited to meet you and answer any questions you may have about our products.