by Kathy Kuhl Once I heard a convention center employee ask another what people do at a homeschool convention. The second said he guessed we bought textbooks. That’s like guessing people go to the beach only to swim. It’s not the whole story. Homeschool conventions are not bookstores, just as the beaches I love are not swimming pools. A homeschool convention can feature anywhere from dozens to hundreds of workshops, products, cool educational toys, kits, and fellow homeschoolers to meet and learn from.
[Don’t underestimate that last point. Nearly everywhere I speak, I have the privilege of connecting parents homeschooling kids with similar challenges. Once at the Midwest Homeschool Convention, a mother lamented to me that she knew no one anywhere in her county who homeschooling a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. But, providentially, the other mom visiting my booth had just told me a similar story. So I introduced them. Twenty minutes later, they were exchanging hugs and phone numbers, planning to meet.]
Not homeschooling yet? You’ll be astonished how cheap admission is, how many different kinds of products are sold, and what a wide range of people homeschool.
Here’s how to make the most of your time.
Prepare Ahead of Time
- Plan ahead which workshops to attend. Read the workshop list, the descriptions, and the speaker biographies. Some speakers are so good you will want to hear them, even if their topics aren’t dearest to your heart.
- Look at the schedule: Did the organizers allow enough time for shopping? Some hours you may want to skip some workshops in order to shop, especially if talks are being recorded.
- Notice which booths you don’t want to miss. Mark them on the vendor hall map.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring a water bottle.
- Bring a comfortable backpack, a rolling cart, or wheelie suitcase if you may be buying curriculum. A tote bag full of books gets very heavy, and dashing out to your car may take 20-30 minutes.
- Consider bringing your spouse to the convention. You can attend workshops together or split up to cover more ground.
- Plan an easy supper for when you return home.
Maximize Your Experience
At the convention:
- Go up and down every aisle in the vendor hall. (Yes, even in Orlando and Cincinnati—though I wouldn’t walk all those aisles at one time.) You never know what you’ll see!
- As you go up and down, mark up your vendor hall map. Note the booths you want to return to.
- Some things sell out early. Don’t wait until the last minute to buy, especially if you want a Time Timer from me.
- Come by my booth and say hello! See below for where I’m speaking and selling this year.
If you’re taking along a child with sensory issues, or if you personally find conventions a bit overwhelming:
- Pack a lunch in a cooler and retreat to your car for a break, if the weather and distance from the parking lot permit.
- Take a break outdoors, or find a quiet hallway to regroup. I like to review my notes and map, and think over what I’ve been learning.
- Take earplugs to reduce the noise if your child or you are sensitive to noise and you are attending a very large convention. (This can be helpful in any public place for some of our children.)
- Go with a friend (or your spouse) and give each other breaks. Take the kids to the lobby for 30-45 minutes while the other shops, then trade.
- Bringing a sitter or an adult relative and paying their admission may be worth it. (Alternatively, would grandparents keep the kids for the day?)
- A few homeschool conventions (THSC and HEAV for instance) have Special Buddies programs to give your special child extra help. Check the convention websites for details—or create your own by bringing along a trusted babysitter or relative.
Like a particular vendor? Want vendors to come back? Say it with cash.
You may save a few dollars buying curriculum used, but vendors spend hundreds getting to each event, renting the booth, and paying for their hotel and food. No matter how professional they are and how great their products look, you’d be surprised how many are small family-owned businesses with tight margins. That $150 curriculum may not give them much return after they pay for printing, travel, and shipping the unsold copies to the next convention.
Every year, some vendors decide they can no longer afford to go to conventions. When you buy at a convention, or order from the vendors afterwards, you encourage them to come back. The Internet’s a good way to shop, but there’s nothing like holding the books and materials in your hands.
So, plan ahead and bring the right gear. Pace yourself at the convention, and make special preparations if you or your child are going to find the busy atmosphere tiring. Consider supporting those who produce good materials by buying directly from them.
Have a great time at your homeschool convention! Got more tips? Share them in the comments section below, please.