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How to Survive a Homeschooling Convention

By Tammy Montel

I love catalogs and I'm sure you do to. I've also researched both of the major homeschool curriculum guides (Cathy Duffy, Mary Pride) as well catalogs from homeschool companies such as Elijah Company, Timberdoodle, and Small Ventures. I've poured over the homeschool magazines (Teaching Home, Homeschooling Today, Practical Homeschooling). I've been investigating everything I can about education on the Internet, and I'm overwhelmed!!! And I'm overwhelmed in my own home. Just think what would happen if you went to a homeschool convention in your state where everyone is competing for your hard earned curriculum dollars? Yikes!!! Would you even get out alive, let alone with any good choices that are going to further your educational goals for your children?

The keys to surviving your first or 15th homeschool convention or bookfair are not hard and fast rules. They are based on my experiences volunteering in a state convention exhibit hall and probably include some my own perfectionist tendencies for organized common sense! Let's just say that these survival techniques are really just one person's observations, mine! If you find them helpful, great!

I think the first key would have to be PLANNING! You need a plan and not just a made up agenda on the spur of the moment on the 2 hour drive to the city where it is held. I mean homework, ladies. Here's what I do:

  • Make an ongoing list of items you'd like to check out. They sound and look neat but you don't have access to them at a hs bookstore or library. I keep this list either in my head or on paper but shortly before I go to a convention, I update it and put it down in writing like this:

    • Math Curriculum for Andrew (Math-U-See, Bob Jones)
    • Math games
    • Manipulatives
    • Science activities/lab stuff

    I might be specific about each list item from the magazines I've read or curriculum guides I've seen. Or maybe I might leave it intentionally ambiguous. I may stick to this list but I don't have to. I'll explain later.
  • Get a map. If your state makes a schedule and exhibit hall map available ahead of time make good use of it. The schedule should tell you what seminars or classes they will be offering, a map of the convention hall and a map of the exhibit/vendor hall showing where every vendor is located. Study that before you go. Determine which talks you just have to hear in person. Which ones can you listen to on tape? Which ones can you say no to? Don't get me wrong, I like convention speakers. But if I have only one day to spend at a three day convention and I need school materials, the speakers will have to wait. If you have only one day to spend...spend it in the exhibit hall. (The few exceptions to this rule are if you are a homeschool veteran and you buy all your stuff through the mail and need motivational talks more than stuff. The other would be if you are brand spanking new to hs and haven't a clue what you're doing (most of us at one time or another). In this case I'd advise going straight to the help table and getting yourself a homeschooling guide to escort you through the convention.) Most of the time many of the vendors in the hall are also speaking in the seminars. Meeting them at their booth is a lot more interesting anyway and you can ask all the questions you want. Get their talks on tape if you feel you must and if Mary Leggewie is speaking at your convention...go see her in person.
  • Plot your course. Use the same strategies that people use to vacation at any theme park in America. Go to the back of the hall first and work your way to the front. If you have the map ahead of time find out where the vendors are which you'd like to visit. Go see the ones that have the items on your list first. I know it is tempting to stop at every booth but don' least on the first go round. Make a beeline for the stuff you need, the stuff you want will still be there on the second pass.
  • Make use of a parcel check in service. If your convention has a box/bag -check make use of it. This would be a place not unlike a coat check where they store your stuff and give you a number to retrieve it. If your convention doesn't have one of these nifty let's-use-the-teens-in-our-midst-service, then take a trip to your van and dump it in there. After you buy something take it and store it. This will not only save your shoulders but will save you from trying to read all the flyers and junk they give you at check-in. If you have only one day to get this done, save the reading until you get home after you show your darling husband or children what you've purchased.
  • Leave the kids at home. Except the nursing ones, that is. Now we all love our kids, but if you want to be the most efficient Proverbs 31 woman that you can be, you'll give yourself a break and leave them with Grandma. Many hs conventions don't even allow anyone under 13 or not in a stroller or sling in an exhibit hall. Homeschool convention exhibit halls are like the candy aisles at the grocery store, lots of things to play with, touch, eat and destroy. Again, an exception for every rule: if you have teenagers and they have a say in the curriculum choices made for them, by all means let them attend with you.
  • Decide how much you want to spend but be flexible for last minute deals. I believe that you can teach your child very simply and without much expenditure. However, I also hold to the theory that if you are going to be the best teacher you can be, you shouldn't limit your child to only garage sale leftovers. Invest in your children. Nothing bothers me more than a homeschooling family who doesn't at least attempt to provide the best teaching resources they can afford. Trying to save a buck is good as long as it is tempered with choosing quality that will last but costs a little more. Which brings me to another point:
  • If you talk to a vendor and they give you helpful advice, buy from them. This is their livelihood. These people, some of them, make their entire living from conventions. It's just bad manners to ask questions from the mom and pop who have been homeschooling their children for 18 years and then go down the aisle and buy from the discounter who has never homeschooled their kids and just wants to make money. Again, there are exceptions, like Saxon math. Everybody and their brother sells it. Buy it where it's the cheapest, but if you ask questions or happen to have the Saxon folks at your convention support them. Support those who help you.
  • Go with a buddy. Either your hubby or a friend. First, this makes it easier to objectively evaluate your purchases. Second, it gives you someone to talk to. Third, I always hate to go to McDonald's alone! Plus it's just plain more fun with a friend. They are looking for different things than I am. They have a different family. Sometimes they have insight on books or stuff that I've never heard of. One caution...don't neglect your own planning (see above) in favor of theirs. You might spend some time by yourself at first and meet up later. If the fair is more than one day and out of your city area, stay overnight if you are able and can afford it. It is a great getaway and will allow you to be less stressed out than trying to cram the viewing of every homeschool curriculum on the planet into one day. We go as a group (3-4 to a room) to cut the cost. It's like a Mommy sleepover! Plus a soak in the hot tub will help you reaffirm you love for homeschooling and your children. (Just stick you feet in if you are pregnant.)
  • Volunteer if you can. This is a great way to attend a convention/fair more cheaply and get to know some great homeschooling folks in the process. All State/Local homeschooling organizations NEED workers. Some conventions even have pre-convention hours for workers where you can check out the vendors in advance. If you can't do that, most conventions have short shifts for workers (2-6 hours) and you can still have most of your day to peruse.
  • Be flexible. Chances are when you get to that big convention, with those big names in homeschooling, you are going to; one, forget everything you planned to buy, do, or see and run or two, learn to be flexible. Flexible as I see it is: after all your planning and research you find something for your child that is essential (now the item ought to be extremely good for you to get this far) to their education but it's not on your list. If it is in the budget...go for it. Flexible is taking time out of your very busy I'm-at-the-homeschool-convention-don't bother me-day and spotting the newbie homeschooler and sitting down with her to help her get the deer-caught-in-the headlights look off her face. Flexible is going to the convention full of wants and coming away with a set of magnets and two coloring books because what you needed was not there. Flexible is realizing what you really need is a break and not more books, conversation not curriculum, encouragement not exhibits. A homeschool convention will not be the answer to all your homeschooling problems. Knowing the mind and will of our Heavenly Father is. So....
  • Pray before you go. Ask the Almighty for guidance in this endeavor. Pray that you would be true to the call of homeschooling your children. Pray that you wouldn't be swayed by the marketing or attractive presentations but that His wisdom would guide you towards His best for your kids. And above all thank Him for giving you the desires of your heart: your children.

See other articles to support your homeschooing efforts.

About the author: Tammy Montel is wife to Dean, a project manager in the computer field, and mom to 4 children ages 10 months to 10 years. She has been homeschooling for 5 years and her children have not been to "traditional school". They live in the wilds of Colorado where they like to watch birds, do theatre, read, play Legos and attend numerous church activities. Tammy serves as the Drama Director for a large non-denominational church in her precious spare time. Tammy has a degree in Telecommunications and Theatre from Indiana University. She encourages you to take her advice with a grain of salt.