The Single Most Important Investment

This was our turning point. The exact moment when I went from aimlessly trying my best to research and provide the best education for my children at home, to confidently thriving in navigating our homeschool future. 

I went to the Great Homeschool Convention mainly because my close friend invited me to tag along with a group of other moms that were going. They had room for one more in their  hotel room, and a spot in their carpool. 

My husband gave me $200 for the hotel, food, parking, and gas. We both thought it might be tight but manageable.

What I found at the convention was more than I could have imagined. The parenting tracks, struggling reader sessions, and exhibit hall filled me to an overwhelming overflow of inspiration, encouragement, and tools that carried me home with such a passion for what we were called to do. I shared everything with my husband, and we quickly decided that next year – he should come too. 

I heard from friends that the first year is always the best, and after that you may be disappointed. But that wasn’t the case for us. We went with a lot more money to spend, treating ourselves to many more dinners out, and with the intention of purchasing our next year’s curriculum. (This is how we save money – and sanity – during the back to school rush.)

Again, we were changed, inspired, and motivated to carry home all the tools we had learned. We were richly rewarded for our investment of time and money not only into preparing for our children’s education but also our own. We learned things about homeschool rights, the constitution, parenting philosophy, and dyslexia that we wouldn’t have learned elsewhere.

This is why I always highly recommend that anyone (whether currently or considering) homeschooling attend a homeschool convention – at least once.

Below is a post that I originally published March 30, 2015 and I have updated the dates and links below to reflect 2016 dates and locations. To see the original post click here.

How to Prepare for a Homeschool Convention:

This will be the 4th consecutive year I’m attending the Great Homeschool Convention, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned on preparing for such a convention.

The first year, the only thing I did to prepare was print out the schedule. The day I was to leave: I packed my bags, happened to grab a blank notebook and pen, and the schedule. I actually brought multiple books with me – I thought I would have time to read!

I did have one preparation in mind for my choice in sessions – to go to as many parenting tracks as I could. And these sessions proved to be very beneficial to me and met my needs as a mom and teacher at this stage in my growth.

The second year, I followed most of the guidelines below, and for my 3rd year I included a few more points in order to streamline my efforts and get the most out of this experience as possible – without being paralyzed by feeling overwhelmed at the amount of options.

Months in advance:
  • Set aside time to make a list of your goals and priorities for your time, marriage, children, and home – research experts, curricula, learning styles, and lifestyle advice that encourages those goals and priorities.
  • Doing this step first will save you from wasting time and money on advice and products that aren’t suited to help you accomplish the work you’ve set out to do.
  • Make a list of all the learning resources that you’re curious about and measure the worth of spending your time finding out more about those versus investing your time growing deeper roots in the philosophies and methods you already use.
Weeks in advance:

How to prepare for a homeschool conference highlight

  1. Start highlighting of all the sessions that are interesting to you, don’t worry about picking 2 or more sessions that are in the same time slot, just make a note of all interesting people, topics, or curricula that you are already interested in.
  2. After highlighting the sessions of most interest to you, take note of the person or company leading the session and ask these questions:
    • Is this session selling a product? If yes, is this a product I’m interested in investing in?
    • What teaching philosophy does this session promote?
    • What are the qualifications of the person leading the session? What is their experience and expertise?
  3. Now go back to each time frame, find any sessions that conflict, and prioritize based on the answers to the questions above along with the information you recorded from the month in advance.
    • Some conventions record the sessions and provide order forms for purchasing the sessions on CD, but this is usually an in person only opportunity. If you miss a session that you know you will want to hear then don’t put off purchasing the CD.
    • If you’re attending the convention as a group or with a friend, be willing to swap notes on the sessions.
Days in advance:
  • Make your final decisions for each time frame – taking into account how many times the presenters you’re interested speak.
  • For example, last year I had a presenter that I definitely wanted to hear, but I felt like all of their topics were interesting. So when a session included that presenter but they were in conflict with another presenter I made the decision based on whether I could go to the same session again at another time slot.
  • Pack an empty book bag to be able to collect interesting information from presenters and/or vendors.
  • Pack a notebook and pen of choice.
Know limits and physical needs:
  • The convention I will be attending has 3 levels with stairs, elevators, and escalators. It’s important to know that this facility is large and difficult to navigate.
  • There is only 30 minutes between session times. Packing my own snacks and having a water bottle is important for my blood sugar needs. There are places within the facility to purchase food and drinks, but the time required to make such a detour is more than 30 minutes.
  • Pack good walking shoes.
Map out the exhibit hall:

How to prepare for a homeschool convention choose

  • Included with registration there should be a map of the exhibit hall, or you may need to go directly to the facility’s website and take a look at the overview there.
  • When planning to learn more about specific companies or resources, it’s important to enter such a large arena with a plan. It’s easy to get distracted by the hundreds of “good” things while on your way to find the best for you.
  • Use the booth numbers in the registration pack to highlight the map and plan to visit in a logical order.

My first year, I tried to go up and down all the aisles – knowing that eventually if I stayed on this course I would see all the booths and have experienced a little bit of everything! But sadly, it took too much time, I got distracted by littler booths that had nothing to do with my overall goal, and I spent more money than I had planned.

How to prepare for a homeschool convention map

To avoid overspending and over-thinking session choices please take my advice and decide in advance what the purpose for the convention is for you. Will you spend time getting hands-on experience with different curriculum choices? Research new teaching methods? Gain tools and insights for parenting? Get educated on the legal side of homeschooling? Choose a record keeping system that’s right for you?

Answer one or all of these questions before looking at the schedule of sessions and speakers to choice from. Then based on what you most want to gain from the investment of your time, energy, and money – make a schedule that best suites you.

You may leave the convention hearing from friends or strangers that they saw “So-and-So” and it may cause a tinge of regret, but I promise that if you go into the convention knowing what answers you are there to find you’ll be better off than if you spent all your time tracking down the big name “So-and-So.”

Here is a list of upcoming homeschool conventions in 2016:

The Great Homeschool Convention

Teach Them Diligently

INCH (Information Network for Christian Homes)

Do you have anything to add to this list? I would love to hear it.

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