Saturday, March 12, 2011

Planning for a Homeschool Convention . . .

It's that time of year . . . it seems that everywhere I look (amongst homeschoolers, that is) people are talking about, thinking about, and planning for homeschool conventions . . . 5 years ago I didn't even know there WERE such a think as homeschool conventions! When we lived in MD, some of my homeschooling friends raved about one they went to, but the idea I got (perhaps inaccurately) was that it was just a big . . . store that you had to pay to shop at. All I heard about was all the great curriculum that was for sale. But my girls were still preschoolers, we were having fun with art and nature studies and such but nothing that required any expensive curriculum, certainly not enough to justify spending money to go shop for said curriculum. . . so I smiled and agreed that it sounded great, but not until my kids were older . . .

When we moved here, I'm not sure how I ended up hearing about our statewide Christian homeschooling convention, but I did, and I looked into it, and I realized that it wasn't just a shopping spree, it's also an amazing two days of information OVERLOAD about every aspect of parenting, homeschooling, marriage, you name it, there's a session that covers it!!

This May will be my 3rd year attending our homeschool convention. And I wouldn't miss it for the world! Ok, if money were really tight (so that we couldn't afford the gas, parking and entrance fee), or if I couldn't find someone to watch the girls (I could bring the big girls with me if I had to, but they wouldn't enjoy it, and it costs extra to bring them. I took Little Bit with me the first year (she was 2 months old! She slept and nursed in the wrap all day), but last year was my first time leaving Little Bit, and it definitely worked better than having a toddler along, so that's what I'll be doing again this year). I would miss it, but if at all possible, I'll continue to attend every year.

So what do *I* love about homeschool conventions? I LOVE the seminars. Each year it seems like God handpicks speakers that *I* need to hear! And then makes sure that I make it to THOSE specific sessions. I also enjoy the chance to look at and touch many products that I otherwise would only be able to see online. In all honesty, I don't usually buy much at the homeschool convention, but I love being able to see and touch things and make notes on things that I might want to buy in the future! And I love the fellowship. I love being able to talk to other homeschoolers . I love being with people who have some of the same beliefs and challenges that I have. I especially treasure this right now when I haven't found any local homeschoolers near me (I still have awesome homeschooling friends in MD and WV, and have some equally awesome non-homeschooling friends nearby, but still . . . ).

Pitfalls? Ummm . . . do you know how many millions of dollars I could happily spend at a homeschool convention if I had it to spend? It is SOO important to take a serious look at our budget, and discuss it with my husband BEFORE I go. And then keep track and stick to what we can afford!

My priorities for what I spend money on? First is obviously the entrance fee (that I pay ahead of time, it's cheaper if you sign up during the "early bird" time frame), and parking and food. Unfortunately the convention site doesn't allow outside food. I do bring some snacks that I can eat in the car, but I also budget to be able to buy the (outrageously priced, completely unhealthy, not very vegetarian-friendly) on-site food in case I'm too busy going to sessions &/or shopping the vendor hall and don't want to take time to JUST eat (I can buy on-site food and eat it in a session, I'm all about multi-tasking LOL).  Ok, so after that, I make sure to budget to buy the CD or mp3 of the sessions I don't get to. I plan out ahead of time which sessions I for sure want to hear, and calculate out how many of those I'm NOT going to be able to go to (overlapping time, plus wanting SOME time in the convention hall) and budget accordingly. The first year the best deal for me, was to purchase the CDs on-site. They had a buy x get 1 free deal going, and that made it the best deal for the number that I wanted. Last year I realized that it was gong to cost about the same to buy the CDs I wanted *or* purchase a flash drive with mp3 files of *all* the sessions. So I opted to purchase the flash drive. The downside was , I didn't have the instant gratification (had to wait for them to mail it to me), *but* it lowered my stress. It meant that if I was going slower than I'd planned through the vendor hall and was going to miss a session, that was ok, I didn't have to weight the cost of an extra CD vs. the extra time in the vendor hall.

Our convention also has a used curriculum sale (and a couple used book vendors come to the vendor hall as well), so I budget to have money to spend on "bargains" at these vendors, as well. Also some vendors have great sales at conventions, so it can be cheaper to purchase some items at the convention instead of ordering them later. . .

The key to purchasing things at a convention is to know your prices ahead of time. One reason I'm already planning our curriculum choices for next year is in preparation for this year's homeschool convention. For subjects that we'll need to purchase additional books for next year, I'll arrive at convention with a list of the books we need, or might want, as well as and prices for the products to compare to convention prices. I'm also thankful for my smartphone. If I see a product that I didn't think to research ahead of time, I can usually do some quick searching on my phone to determine how good a deal it is.

Something new I want to do this year is to bring along a convention notebook! I'd never thought to do this before, but I'm loving the idea!! In the past I brought a clipboard with paper for notes and a pocket to add papers I received while there, but this year I'll be even more organized!! I haven't put the pieces together year, but I plan to use my handy-dandy pro-click binder to make my convention notebook.  My convention notebook will include (most of the forms came from my  2010 TOS Schoolhouse Planner):

  • A "to do list" showing where I plan to be at any given time (which seminar session, or the vendor hall, etc)
  • my list of books/resources we need, or just want, for next year
  • In April the convention website will have printable handouts for the seminars, so I'll print those out for the sessions I plan to attend, and include blank "convention note forms" for any that don't
  • A blank wish list form where I can write in cool things I see that I might get in the future
  • a pocket or empty page protector to put brochures and business cards in
  •  a handy form for recording websites that I want to visit once I'm back at home
This post is part of the TOS Blog Cruise. You can visit the TOS Crew blog on Tuesday to see what other Crew members have to say about Homeschool Conventions.

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