Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Homeschool Conventions - How To!

A couple weeks ago my older girls and I attended a large homeschool convention. I've been attending this convention for the past 6 years. So I thought, while it's all fresh in my mind, I'd share how I plan for and make the most of my time at, a homeschool convention.

The first year I attended, Lexie and Ashlyn were 6 and Little Bit was a couple of months old. At that point I very intentionally decided to not stress about "doing it all". I went and wandered the vendor hall and attended seminars, but mostly just got a good feel for it all. I strongly recommend taking this approach your first year. The convention I attend now offers free registration to parents of preschoolers the first year, how awesome is that!

Now we'll talk about how I do things now.

Starting a couple months before our convention, which for us, conveniently is right about the time when it feels like winter will NEVER end and we NEED something interesting to be thinking about and looking forward to, we start talking about next year's curriculum choices. We school year round so there's not a "next year" per se, but still, since one of the awesome things about homeschool conventions is getting to actually SEE curriculum options, flip through books, and sometimes find good deals on things, that determines when we plan out the next year.

We look at where we are in our current books, how much longer will we be using them? Do we want to continue with the next level, if that's an option, or switch things up? What isn't working that we need to scrap and try something new? . . . Now that Lexie and Ashlyn are older they are actively involved in choosing their own curriculum. They research options on their own. They ask their friends. Then we look at things together and narrow the options.

Once we know our "plan" for the next year, or perhaps have 2 or 3 options we need to look at in person to get a better feel. I make up our vendor hall list.

What do we want to look at?
What specific questions should we ask vendors?
What are the best online prices for things we know we want to buy?
For vendors whose booths we'll be stopping by, what are the prices on their website (to compare to their prices at the convention), and what are their shipping policies? (if there's no discount, in price or shipping, involved in buying at the convention it's much more convenient to have curriculum delivered to my door than to carry it around a huge convention center).

I also look at the vendor hall map, provided on the convention website, and list the vendors, with my questions for them, in the order that I'm going to visit them.

Once information about the speakers is available on the convention website, we peruse that as well.
Ashlyn and Lexie's first convention

I start by marking all the seminars that look interesting.

Then I go back through and note which ones will probably be just as good to listen to later on an mp3. Part of that comes with knowing the speakers if they're repeat speakers. If I know a speaker rarely using visual aids and/or their "hand out" (which our convention provides in .pdf format on the website) is actually just a copy of their powerpoint, then I know that's a speaker that I can enjoy later, by purchasing the mp3 download of their seminar. If I know a speaker uses lots of visual aids that aren't in their handout, that gets higher priority for attending in person.

Now that my older girls come with me, I also take into consideration things they will enjoy, or not enjoy. I'll admit, this year we attended several seminars by a speaker who, while I enjoy listening to, I don't learn tons from AND who rarely uses visual aids, so I could easily have purchased the mp3 of those seminars. BUT I knew him to be humorous and figured, correctly, that my girls would enjoy his seminars. Part of attending the convention with my daughters is bonding time with them, so that was a factor to consider as well.

For us, there's another consideration. Our convention runs Friday and Saturday. Our religious beliefs include keeping Saturday as Sabbath. Because it's a Christian convention, many of the seminar topics are religious in nature and I have never felt that we shouldn't attend on Sabbath. However, because we view Sabbath as a day of rest, it's not a day I choose to go shopping on. That means that we schedule our time at the convention to make sure we get all shopping done on Friday, and we plan to attend seminars all day on Sabbath.  It also sometimes influences which seminars I choose. On Friday, in addition to choosing shopping over seminars as needed to make sure we finish all our shopping, I also tend to choose seminars that give me practical information/advice about homeschooling. Things like how to keep records for high school and such. On Sabbath I'm looking for rest and renewal. That's my day to sit back and enjoy seminars on creation science, or different learning styles (which I find fascinating).

In planning out our Friday schedule, I usually plan to spend the first hour or so in the vendor hall. That gives us time to visit most, if not all, of the vendors on our list to look for specific things at. We might also get to browse through other booths that catch our eyes. During this shopping time I write down prices, other products that catch my eye, etc. By the time the next seminar is ready to start, I usually have prices that I want to compare, and things I want to look up on my phone. So I plan on attending a seminar in that time slot. It lets us set down and rest, and because I multi-task well, I am able to do my reviewing of notes, looking up additional information online, etc. during that seminar. For the rest of the morning I plan to alternate between seminars and vendor hall time, so that I can continue this approach of gathering information in the vendor hall, then sitting down in a seminar to do further research etc. For Friday afternoon it's harder to predict. So, I tentatively choose a seminar for each time slot but pre-warn the girls that if we still have shopping to do that will take precedence.

Once I've determined which seminars we'll attend I look back over the list of interesting sounding seminars and make note of which ones I'd like to buy the mp3's for. In the past, our convention sold actual CDs of the seminars discounted during the convention, so I tried to purchase those (call me old fashioned, but since the main place I listen to audio stuff is in the car, I find it much easier to pop a CD in than to hook up my phone as an mp3 player to play through the car's speakers). This year the only option was mp3s, but they were discounted if purchased (online) the days of the convention, so I needed to know what I wanted. If I haven't heard a speaker before, I try to attend one of their seminars in person to get a feel for whether I will want to hear more of their seminars. And/or I purchase one of their Friday seminars to listen to on the drive home that night or to the convention the next morning. That way I don't purchase several seminars by a speaker only to discover that it's not a speaker I choose to listen to. Likewise, if I attend a seminar and find the speaker not to my liking, I may adjust our schedule to not include any more by that speaker.

I leave the last hour or so at the end of the day on Friday to go back around and make all our purchases (except things from used book sellers, those I buy when I find them since they won't be there later). Books get heavy very quickly! The first couple of years that I attended this convention it was in a different part of the convention complex that was all on one level. At that time, I used a rolling crate to carry my purchases, and the first year when I had Little Bit with me (in a sling), the rolling crate was also a great way to carry the diaper bag. The area where the convention is held now includes multiple sets of stairs, so because I rarely buy huge amounts of things at the convention, and in most cases can purchase them right before we head back to the car (and I have 2 helpers with me), I choose to just use a sturdy tote bag and not have to mess with a wheeled cart on stairs numerous times during the day.

The other thing to consider is food. Our convention is held at a venue that strictly prohibits outside food being brought in. The food options they sell are overpriced and not healthy, and extremely limited for vegetarians. BUT the parking lot is huge and so far I've opted to purchase the overpriced food at the venue rather than have to hike all the way back out to the car and eat a sack lunch in the car. I have to admit, I sometimes second guess that decision, especially now that the overpriced food is being purchased for 3 of us, not just one. So weigh your pros and cons in this area. If the venue allowed outside food, I would pack a variety of healthy, filling snacks that we could eat while attending seminars and not have to waste time or money eating lunch, so check the rules of the convention you'll be attending to see if that's an option for you.

And that's how we do homeschool conventions in our family.

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