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Homeschool Conventions: A Guide For Attendees

No matter how long you have been homeschooling, or if you’re brand new to home education, you should attend an annual in-person homeschool convention this year.

Family at a homeschool convention
Dr. Wile with some users of his textbooks at the Peoria Area Association of Christian Homeschoolers 2019 convention

Are you a homeschooling parent or interested in one day making the jump into home education? The decision to educate your children at home is not new. Parents today are seeking a more personalized learning approach for their children.

Homeschooling is quickly gaining a large following due to the freedom and flexibility it provides both parents and their children. 

What is the best way to learn more about homeschooling?

The best way to learn more about home education is to attend a homeschool convention. 

This guide will help you pick the best convention for your family. Plus, you’ll get some help with getting the most out of your experience. Using this guide, you can achieve the goal of a successful and rewarding homeschooling convention trip.Couple talking to author at a homeschool convention

Attending an in-person homeschool convention is like earning an unofficial “crash course in home education” certificate.

To renew this unofficial certification, attend each year to keep your knowledge of laws, requirements, and the latest curriculum! You will learn much from attending whether you’re a new homeschooler or a veteran.

First Things First: Research Conventions In Your Area

Do a little research. Read over what conventions are offered in your area.  The state you reside in may have one or more homeschool organizations which offer annual events.  There are also conventions put on by groups specializing in multiple conventions across the country.

Take a look at the list of speakers and workshops to see if the topics seem interesting. Do any of the session summaries tackle your burning questions?

Once you determine which convention is your best fit, buy your tickets. Make hotel reservations and travel arrangements if needed. 

Most home educators benefit from a general homeschool convention, preferably in their home state.

A state-sponsored convention will keep you updated on current state laws about homeschooling. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to meet new homeschooling families from your area.

Budgeting Both Time and Money at the Convention

Conventions cost extra money and time. You may need to set aside an entire weekend to attend. Hotel reservations, travel, and dining out can be expensive.

In this world of streaming entertainment and one-day shipping, is it worth it to use your valuable time away from home? 

The short answer is yes.

You will have greater success as a home educator if you carve out enough time to attend a convention in person.

Remember, most businesses provide training to their employees.

If you treat the responsibility of educating your children as a career, you will need some instruction and camaraderie as well! 

Investing in your training is easy to overlook as a homeschool parent, but neglecting your education leads to Burnout City. You don’t want to end up discouraged and frustrated living there with your children! 

Scholarships and Volunteer Opportunities

For many families, money is a struggle, but there are many ways to attend a homeschool convention without paying a cent!

If money is a concern, including a convention in your budget may seem out of reach. Yet, the discounts and further education you receive make the experience worth the expense. 

There are attendance scholarships available for parents who need further help to homeschool their children. Another option? Volunteer a few hours at most conventions.

State organizations often offer discounts or free attendance if you are a member of the organization.

There’s So  Much Information At A Homeschool Convention! What Should Be My Focus?

homeschool convention exhibit hall
South Carolina Homeschool Convention 2021 courtesy of Great Homeschool Conventions

An essential list of your state’s homeschool guidelines can determine what you will need for each child for your school year.

This is the most valuable piece of information to keep in mind as you prepare for the homeschool convention.

The required courses will provide structure around which you can plan the rest of your student’s studies.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed By Comparing Yourself To Others

In the words of a wise homeschooling mom, keep your eyes on your own homeschool.

Don’t try to keep up with the homeschooling Joneses.

Grab some paper and begin by brainstorming. Describe your ideal homeschool day. 

Remember, no two families are alike. In the same way, no homeschool will look precisely like yours.

Using a clean piece of paper for each child, list the subjects they will be studying next year with curriculum ideas. It’s time to take some notes while you learn about your kids and their preferences.

Study Your Children Before Attending A Homeschool Convention

Time to watch your students.

What motivates them?

Look at their favorite subjects and books. Are they colorful? Is the text easy to read and visually stimulating? Ask your kids! You know they have an opinion, so use their honesty to benefit your research.

Why is their favorite subject their absolute favorite? If you are willing to ask, be ready to completely change your mind if necessary if you learn something new about your child. It won’t be the first time your child teaches you something new. 

After talking with your students, go back to your papers and then to the internet for research. 

Is there a curriculum that presents your student’s least favorite subject information in a manner similar to their favorite topic? Write down your findings.

The more you educate yourself on your students’ needs, the more effective a home educator you will be.

Open-minded and curious teachers create lifelong learners. 

I Found A Great Curriculum, But I Want To Look At It In Person

Is there a curriculum choice that you keep returning to online but were hesitant to purchase because you couldn’t interact with the curriculum before deciding?

When you get to the convention, make visiting these booths a priority. 

The perfect way to decide which curriculum will benefit your students the most is by holding it in real life.

  • Look through the table of contents.
  • Check the topics covered in the book. Are the illustrations engaging or distracting?
  • Did the publisher leave enough visual white space for your child to process the information presented?

These questions may seem trivial, but all play a vital role in the curriculum’s usability for your student.

The greatest reward of a well-planned convention trip is a smooth sailing school year.

If you were online, you would probably stick to your original plan. A slight deviation from your plan and discovery as you shop for listed items is an excellent balance.

In-Person Conventions: Better By Far Than Virtual

 

While it may be more convenient to seek online assistance, using the internet as a general research tool before attending an in-person convention will be a much better use of your time than trying to answer all your homeschool questions online. 

Save some time. Take your questions to the convention and seek out the people that can quickly clarify your questions and help you plan your best school year yet! 

It’s hard for most people to feel the friendliness and solidarity of an in-person convention behind a computer screen.

Dr. Jay L. Wile at Homeschoolers of Wyoming convention in 2014
Dr. Jay L. Wile at Homeschoolers of Wyoming convention in 2014

Face-to-face interaction levels the playing field between you, the homeschool consumer, and them, the homeschool suppliers and experts.

Virtual interaction can be highly one-sided as it unintentionally positions the speaker to appear superior to the audience due to the limitations of a virtual teaching platform. 

This vertical approach limits the engagement between the speaker and the listener. Also, the mind wanders or can get caught up in the inevitable distractions no matter how entertaining the speaker may be!

There is less wiggle room to bounce ideas around or ask a speaker questions virtually with time delays, technology glitches, and presentation-focused instruction. 

Dr. Wile’s Opinion Of In-Person Conventions

Dr. Wile speaks passionately about the importance of in-person conventions.

As a scientist, he understands the value collaboration plays in reaching a deeper understanding of any topic. Meeting real people in person makes your home education journey so rich.

Group picture of kids and the author of their science textbooks
Dr. Wile with students at the South Carolina Homeschool Convention in 2015

It seems obvious, but with the online world connecting us so well virtually, we often forget the tremendous benefit of face-to-face interaction. 

The Value of Organic In-Person Conversations 

The conversation is not organic online. Tone and inflection are challenging to interpret via the world wide web.

Dr. Wile believes spontaneous conversations between families, vendors, and students are the most valuable part of any homeschool conference.

Dr. Jay L. Wile and Inge Auerbacher
Dr. Jay L. Wile and Inge Auerbacher, holocaust survivor,  at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in 2015

“You meet the most interesting people face-to-face.” Dr. Jay Wile

These horizontal conversations offer excellent opportunities for the student interactions he’s enjoyed over the years. Conversations outside the online classroom are enriching for both instructors and students alike.

Often, these interactions uncover an interest or fresh idea the student has that the instructor would not have known without this in-person exchange.

Conversations overheard around café tables often reward the new homeschooler with golden nuggets of information from veteran homeschoolers.

These opportunities are the perfect time to ask questions and get answers real-time. Remember, networking is a two-way street.

In-Person Conventions Can Foster Lasting Friendships

Do you want to meet other homeschool mothers? Online conventions are not the best place to foster lasting local friendships.

While online support bridges the gap during the long school year for home educators, relying primarily upon it year-round is not ideal.

Use the yearly in-person homeschooling convention to make local connections for your family.

While you’re there, ask about local co-ops and regular gatherings.

If you have homeschool acquaintances, attend the convention together for even more direct support.

Making the Most of Speakers and Classes At A Homeschool Convention

There will be descriptions in the program guide next to every seminar, session, workshop, demonstration, or class offered during the homeschooling convention.

Take advantage of these experts and gather the information you need from the learning opportunities available.

However, be flexible. You will not be able to attend all the exciting sessions because there are simply not enough hours in the day, nor duplicates of you.

Prioritize The Sessions You Most Want To Attend

Then, attend the sessions you have prioritized.

Things to remember:

  • Focus on keynote speakers and anything of serious interest to you.
  • Build your schedule around the speakers that are the best fit for your needs.
  • Ask yourself: Which sessions do you think will foster the most interaction between speaker and listener?
  • Think about the speakers you would most enjoy having a conversation with. 
Homeschool speaker
Special needs speaker at the Indiana Association of Home Educators 2018 Convention

If you and a friend want to attend similar sessions and workshops, divide and conquer. Attend separate sessions, then trade notes at the end of the day.

And remember, most sessions are recorded and will be available for purchase. You can listen at your leisure after the convention, but you won’t have the advantage of in-person follow-up questions.

If there is any speaker you want to interact with, make a point to go to their session.

Even if they do not open the floor up for questions, often they will remain at the front for those wishing to continue the conversation.

If they must hurry back to their vendor booth, follow them! (At an appropriate distance, no stalking.)

When they are available at their booth, ask your burning questions. They will be excited that you attended their session and want to chat more.

Convention Sessions Or Vendor Hall?

Also, be willing to walk away from a session if you need more vendor hall time. The hall will be less crowded during daytime speaking engagements.

If you need quiet time to think and shop:

  1. Use this time and purchase the mp3 recordings of the sessions to listen to at your convenience at home.
  2. Use this precious time to speak with vendors about your concerns and questions.
  3. Give yourself time to learn, digest information, and make informed decisions.

Lighten Up At Night

The nightly entertainment is light on information but heavy on entertaining!

The convention reserves one night as a mom’s night out, and the other night is a family fun night.

Both nights are equally enjoyable. The nightly entertainment is usually an additional cost, but it is worth the price to relax at the end of a day chock full of information and learning.

Let your mind rest, sit back, laugh, and relax.

Mom’s night out can be the first or second official night of the convention.

The most inspirational of the keynote speakers will deliver a message directed at homeschooling or motherhood.

Sometimes chocolate is involved, but there is no guarantee every convention will have chocolate. Bring your own if necessary.

You will most assuredly find laughter, encouragement, and time to visit with other homeschooling mothers. Take the time to strike up a conversation with another mom. 

Finding A Community Of Likeminded Friends At A Homeschool Convention

Finding a community of friends is essential at every stage of our lives, and the season of homeschooling our children is no different.

It is always better to have others walking alongside you.

What you haven’t discovered in your never-ending pursuit of the perfect curriculum, another mother might have discovered.

But keep it in perspective. There is no perfect curriculum.

There are always more beneficial choices and less helpful choices based on your student’s learning style.

Women who attend these “extra cost” break-out sessions to meet friends and hang with the girls always come back laughing!

The other night of the convention will be a night to bring the kids or bring the whole family.

All ages will enjoy a comedian who keeps you in stitches with good clean humor.

Other conventions will feature a children’s storyteller. No matter what your literary preference, these talented performers will astound you. You will be on the edge of your seat, captivated by their fascinating tales.

Some conventions open the stage up to family talent as well. The amount of hidden talent in the audience at a homeschool convention is impressive. Bring your talented family, or come ready to enjoy the talent of other newfound family friends! 

Bringing The Kids To A Homeschool Convention

If your children travel to the convention with you, they will have a fabulous time.

There are programs for children, teens, and some have childcare available.

If you have babies, they are welcome as long as they are not disruptive.

But there is no need to fret; these parents know the challenge you face.

  • Smile and look around.
  • Get your babies settled.
  • Have your items organized during the session in case you need to make a quick escape.  
  • Rest assured, most of the moms there have been exactly where you are now.

Children’s Programs At Homeschool Conventions

The volunteers and convention staff organize the children’s program to run like a well-oiled machine.

Vacation Bible School-style learning units will fill your elementary student’s day as you take care of needed planning.

Teens are encouraged to volunteer to help out during the convention if there is no set program for them.

Assisting at the convention is beneficial to both your student and the convention. These service hours can be logged as volunteer hours for their transcript!

If you have a child with special needs, choosing a large convention will give you the option of assistance during set times of the convention. You can attend sessions or shop knowing that your children are cared for by well-trained volunteers.

Remembering Why You Homeschool

 

A refreshed mindset will allow you to approach your school time with renewed energy and perspective.

Attending a convention gives home educators the confidence to approach another year without fear.

They find continued excitement planning the year ahead.

Some years are plain hard, and it is difficult to cross the finish line at the end of the school year.

A weekend away will benefit your children’s future education and bring you headfirst into an exciting adventure of learning together with your children!

You should take the time to attend a conference if your plans for the next year include homeschooling your children.

Bring a flexible attitude, a smile, a friend, and something to carry your purchases- rolling is best.

It will be great to see you there in person.