How-To Guide for Surviving a Homeschooling Convention

This month we attended our first ever homeschooling convention. I was SO excited to go, but also very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, and looking at the clinic list and vendor exhibit list, I felt completely overwhelmed. I decided before we made the ten hour (yes, TEN HOUR) drive to Houston for the convention, I would create a game plan for myself to help me maneuver the clinics, workshops, guest speakers, vendors, and crowds with ease. I know myself, so I was afraid I might get into the exhibit hall and see so many shiny colorful wonderful tools and curriculum choices that I’d burn an entire debit card in one hour. A plan of action was a must. And I can honestly say, my plan worked beautifully! The convention was such a positive experience and successful kick in the pants for me that I decided to share my tips for saving money, time, and sanity at your next homeschooling convention.

Before You Go:

1. Plan Your Year

No, your planner does not have to be filled in hour-by-hour or even day by day, but before you go, you MUST have a broad idea of the topics and subjects you want to cover in the coming year. Think of the convention as a place for motivation and fine-tuning, not a place to decide what to teach your child this year. If you know what subjects you’ll be covering, what unit studies you want to explore, broadly what science experiments you want to do together then you can walk into the exhibit hall with a very specific list of things you might need. I knew we were going to study weather, so I looked for a good children’s book about weather, one that explained lightning and thunder without scaring my kiddo. I also knew we were going to do an art unit, so I looked for art supplies and art books. I wasn’t distracted by the other really fun things I found at the exhibit hall because I knew exactly what I needed for this year.

2. Set a Budget and Stick to It

I knew how much money I had to spend and that was it. I would also recommend pulling the cash before you go and not bringing your debit or credit card into the exhibit hall. One successful pitch from a curriculum company representative can blow your budget completely out of the water if you bring a check book or credit card in with you. So don’t do it.

3. Choose Your Clinics Early

Conventions will list the clinics, workshops, and guest speakers on their website anywhere from a month to a week before the convention. Print out the descriptions of the clinic topics and read over it with your spouse. There were several clinics specifically for dads that I wanted my husband to attend, so I highlighted those for him as well. Some clinics fill up fast, so you should plan to arrive about 20 minutes early for each clinic or workshop to ensure you have a seat. I went so far as making a list (nothing fancy, I didn’t even do it on the computer) of the times of each workshop I wanted to attend each day so I knew when I needed to get up, when I could work lunch in, and when I had time to go shopping during the day. It was extremely helpful having my list of pre-selected workshops in my bag when I arrived and found myself wading through thousands of lost people.

4. Pack a Convention Bag

Of course if you’re traveling out of town as we did, we had other bags and suitcases packed for the trip, but this tip refers specifically to the convention. I would advise you to bring a backpack with you. It’s easy on your shoulder, gives you lots of room to stuff freebies and convention swag, pamphlets, and purchases. Include a notepad and pen in your backpack so you can take notes at workshops and jot down things you may see that interest you in the exhibit hall. You might also include a couple of bottles of water (it got very warm in there with all of those people wandering around and the food service table was extremely overpriced) and some kind of snack like a granola bar.

 

When You’re There:

1. Make a Pre-Purchase Trip Through the Exhibit Hall

It’s very easy to spend way too much money at conventions. Many companies do offer convention discounts on their products, but that doesn’t matter if that product wasn’t budgeted for or necessary for your school year in the first place. It’s easy to walk into an exhibit hall for a homeschooling convention and react like a kid in a candy store. If you’re like me and you live in a remote or rural area with very few homeschooling resource stores, then finding yourself in a huge convention center with wall-to-wall homeschooling products can certainly be overwhelming. This is why I advise you to make no sudden movements with your wallet! Do a walk-through of the entire exhibit hall the first afternoon if you have the time. Don’t make any purchases this time. Walk around, explore the products, write down details of products you’re interested in, including price. Keep track of items that interested you by snapping photos of them with your smart phone or jotting down notes on a note pad.

2. Compare Compare Compare

I found an early elementary book about the major world artists at one vendor booth. I loved the book and thought it would be perfect for our art unit this fall. They were offering a 10% off sale at that particular booth. I jotted this information down on my note pad and then made my rounds. Across the exhibit hall, another vendor was selling the exact same book with a 25% off convention sale. If I had purchased the book at the first booth when I originally saw it, I would have kicked myself. I saved myself six dollars and walked away with the book I wanted. Compare prices before you make purchases. I attended a clinic with a well-known author and homeschooler. She recommended a book about building character in children that I loved. I wandered around the exhibit hall and found the book available at a booth. I jotted down the information including how much that booth was asking for the book. I went back to my hotel that afternoon and looked up the book on Amazon. It was $15 cheaper online used. I ordered it right away. If you feel guilty about not buying directly from the author or publisher, or really want to support their company, then by all means, purchase from them directly at the exhibit hall. I didn’t feel concerned about this so I ordered from a private seller online and saved myself quite a bit of money.

3. Take Some Suggestions, Leave the Others

I attended one clinic led by a well-known homeschooler. She’s an author and a mother with a large family (no, not Michelle Duggar, although she was at this convention too). I was very impressed with her suggestions for creating order and organization in the home with many small children, and took feverish notes. I attended another clinic by this same speaker and was caught off guard when she went off on her personal political opinions, which teetered on the brink of being anti-government. I really hate the extremist perceptions of homeschoolers, and I didn’t like her perpetuating this concept. However, there were some gems in this clinic outside of her short rant. I didn’t get offended by our vastly opposing political and social views. I wasn’t offended when she suggested we get rid of TVs in our house. We have TVs. We have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, you name it. I love TV. My kids watch TV. We obviously feel differently about this topic, and that’s okay. I was there to learn how to keep toddlers busy while trying to teach older kids. I took the good advice and ignored the stuff I didn’t agree with. You have to realize that personal ideology and one’s views on education are deeply interwoven and sometimes attending certain clinics may open a topic that you would rather not be lectured about. Take it or leave it, but don’t get yourself worked up over it. In that same clinic, I learned some fun toddler busy box ideas that I will certainly be using with my youngest.

4. Ask Questions

This is a wonderful opportunity to meet homeschoolers with much more experience than you. Take advantage of this chance to talk to others and don’t be afraid to ask questions! I have found that homeschoolers are very helpful. They’re eager to talk to you, eager to encourage you, eager to support you or give you tips. I was surprised at first by how kind and open many of the people I met were. But really, we’re in this together, and I want my child to succeed as much as I want other people’s children to succeed. I don’t want homeschoolers to have a reputation for failure or laziness, so if there’s anyway I could help someone exploring the idea of homeschooling, even with my very new and limited experience, I would do it.

After You Return Home

If you’re anything like me, when you get home (or on the way home) from a homeschooling convention, you’re going to feel energized, excited, and a little overwhelmed by the new information at your fingertips.

1. Get Organized

I attended one clinic all about organizing your time and finding the best day planner for your personal habits and style. I found several beautiful and detailed planners at the convention that were very pricey but also overwhelmed me. I don’t need my entire life in one book. Some people do. Some prefer that. I just need something I can flip to at a glance that tells me what today will look like. I did some internet research and found this perfect, simple daily planner on Etsy for only $3.33 from SimpleJoysofHome. You download and print as many times as you need to. It was perfect for me. Take the tips you received and start your school year off on the right foot. Put away toys, sort out old books, pull the ones you know you’ll use this year, get rid of old supplies, and get yourself in order. Take that motivation and excitement from the convention and pour it into something constructive!

2. Compile Your Notes

Don’t let all of those great notes you took during your workshops stay stuffed in a drawer {or left in your backpack until next summer}. About a week after we got back from the convention, my go-getter attitude was waning and I was losing the excitement and motivation I had the week before. I was overwhelmed with lesson planning and struggling to organize our school space. I you realized that I needed to compile some of those notes that encouraged me so much at the convention and print them out on one page that I could add to my planner for a boost of encouragement and a refresher. It gives me something to turn to anytime I start to feel tired or overwhelmed. One speaker said, “God gave you your children for a reason and a purpose. They were given to YOU to strengthen you, change you, help you, and bring you closer to the Lord. So remember that when you start to feel frustrated by a strong willed or defiant child.” I need that reminder printed out somewhere to read daily! You may have other gems from the convention that encourage you on a daily basis or help you stay focused when things get foggy throughout the year.

With a pre-formed action plan, your homeschooling convention can be a positive and enlightening experience. I left feeling so encouraged, motivated, and excited for the possibilities this school year holds. I realize how precious Kindergarten is, and I can’t wait to start this year with my boys! I hope this list helps you feel less overwhelmed when you attend your next convention. Let me know if it helps! 🙂

Blessings,

Kat@MommyPonders

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “How-To Guide for Surviving a Homeschooling Convention

  1. Nanny

    Excellent tips on organization. Sounds like you are looking forward to starting out the new school year!
    Good luck and God bless all of you, everyone!

  2. Cimarron

    I so wish we had known you were coming down! We live about 30min from the convention. It would have been fun to compare homeschooling notes. 🙂 hope y’all enjoyed your trip!

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