From my observation, homeschooling parents seem to fall into three categories as it relates to the homeschool convention …
There’s the “I wouldn’t miss it for the world” crowd, the “I already have my curriculum and don’t really need to go” folks, and then there’s the “I’d like to go someday, but probably not this year” group.
The majority of those who attend the annual homeschool convention tend to be “die-hard” fans who would be very disappointed if circumstance caused them to miss even one year—even if they’ve been homeschooling a long time and don’t need a lot of resources or workshops to attend.
So, what’s all the excitement about anyway? Why do homeschooling families around the country put such a high value on attending their state’s convention year after year?
I homeschooled our two daughters through high school. Our first exposure to a state homeschool convention was when our girls were very young and we were living in Minnesota. My husband, James, would stay home with the girls while I went off with a friend to explore the exhibit hall and enjoy a couple of days with the greater homeschool community.
In those early years, it never occurred to me to attend workshops—I was having too much fun comparing resources and shopping for materials to bring home to share with our daughters. As the years passed, I started attending some workshops as well. I was pleasantly surprised at how much information I got, and how inspired and encouraged I felt after sitting through various sessions.
One of the first things we did when we moved to Arizona was to join the statewide homeschool organization and find out about their convention. It was a little frightening that first year to drive downtown by myself in a new city and attend my first convention here without knowing anyone. However, because I had experienced the thrill of attending homeschool conventions back in Minnesota, I knew it was worth pushing through the nervousness about a new location and new people.
I knew, without a doubt, that I would find the same energy and excitement, the same opportunity to sit under excellent teaching, and a place to browse and shop for new things to add to our bookshelves and our plans for the coming school year. I was not disappointed!
So, what are the advantages of attending the homeschool convention and how can you get the most out of attending?
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing that can compare to being together with thousands of other parents who share the same conviction and passion for teaching their children at home. The atmosphere is charged when you get that many people together in one place, with one heart and one purpose. We are part of a greater community of parents teaching their children at home. It is invigorating and refreshing just to be there with so many of them!
One thing I have witnessed in serving on the AFHE Convention Committee since 2005 is how much thought and prayerful consideration goes into selecting speakers and workshop topics for the homeschool convention.
You will find a nice balance of workshops purposefully chosen to share vision, encouragement, and inspiration, as well as a variety of practical, “how-to” sessions packed with ideas you can take home and use to strengthen and enrich your family’s home education experience.
It’s important to understand that you are not necessarily going to agree with every point that every speaker makes. Go with the attitude that you are going to get all you can out of the teaching. It’s okay if you disagree or something doesn’t resonate with you. Just set that bit aside and focus on gleaning the gems. You’ll find plenty of great nuggets that will encourage and inspire you!
Be sure to read through the convention workshop schedule and workshop descriptions before you head to the convention. Highlight the ones you most want to hear in person and make a note of any that you’d like to purchase recordings of to listen to later. Planning ahead will help you avoid the stress of last-minute decision-making or the disappointment of missing a workshop you really wanted to hear.
You might choose to attend workshops together with your spouse. I’ve found that it’s very helpful to have my husband hear the information first-hand along with me, rather than trying to relate highlights to him later if I attended by myself. Another option is to divide and conquer with the wife attending one session while the husband attends another—covering twice as much ground. Find what works best for you.
If the workshops are recorded, it’s a great idea to purchase the recordings. You’ll get to listen to sessions you didn’t get to attend live as well as listening again during the year to workshops you sat in on. I’m always delighted to pick up new morsels of encouragement I missed the first time around.
In the exhibit hall, you will find a delightful opportunity to browse myriad curricula and resources in person, save on shipping charges, and often find a number of exhibitors offering “Convention Specials” as well. Even if you already have a curriculum that’s working well for your family, you may come across a few good books to add to your home library or a new resource that might be the perfect addition to your homeschool plans for the coming year.
Some people—especially first-time convention attendees—might find the exhibit hall to be a bit overwhelming because of the abundance of materials available. However, if you do some research before you arrive, and familiarize yourself with the most commonly used curricula and resources, you’ll find that it’s not so daunting to experience in person.
Talk to other homeschooling parents, especially those that have been homeschooling awhile; find out what curriculum they use and why they like it. Familiarize yourself with some of the most popular and most effective curriculum on the market by reading reviews such as those by Cathy Duffy on her website cathyduffyreviews.com and books such as “The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles” by Carol Barnier.
One suggestion to help keep you on track in the exhibit hall is to come prepared with a wish list or shopping list. By doing some research in advance, you can create a list of items that you want to look for while you’re at the convention. With the bounty of wonderful products and resources, it’s easy to get distracted and go home without the items you specifically came to buy.
For some, it can be helpful to make one pass through the entire exhibit hall to see what’s available before making any purchases. Then, after you’ve had some time to think through what you really want to buy, go back through again. Talk to the representatives, compare products, and ask questions.
Whether you have a little to spend or a lot, it helps to come prepared with a budget. It isn’t worth having that spectacular math or history program if it’s going to cause stress in your finances and your marriage!
Also, keep in mind that in many instances you are supporting fellow homeschoolers when you purchase materials from them. Many of the exhibitors are families who have created products or resources from their own homeschool experience, or homeschooling families who run a business together supporting the homeschool community by offering quality resources you can use in your home.
HAVEN’T DECIDED IF YOU SHOULD ATTEND?
So, what if you’re one of those people who fall into the second category I mentioned at the top of this article? The “I already have my curriculum and don’t really need to go” folks.
As a long-time homeschool mom myself who reads a lot of books and articles, has attended dozens of workshops, and listens to many workshop recordings, I can tell you that the need to come and be refreshed, re-energized, and refocused for the year ahead never diminishes. As long as you’re educating your children at home, there is always a benefit to this kind of experience.
For those in the third category, you may feel that the investment of time and money is too great at this time, but you’ve heard great things about the convention and hope to attend one day. It may be a wise decision to forego attending the convention this year, depending upon your financial situation. We serve an awesome God and He is well able to provide the encouragement you need through other avenues beyond the homeschool convention.
I would certainly never say that the homeschool convention is the only way to get refreshed, re-energized, and refocused for the coming school year. It is a unique, amazing experience, however—the only gathering of its kind and size in most states. I would encourage you to consider attending if you are able. Once you go, you’ll see first-hand what all of the excitement is about!
In this season of our lives having graduated both of our children, attending the homeschool convention for my family has changed. Now, our focus is on equipping and encouraging our fellow homeschoolers. But I can tell you that the thrill is still there and I am one of those “die-hard” fans who wouldn’t miss the homeschool convention for anything!
And remember, when you attend the homeschool convention hosted by your state homeschool organization, you are supporting an organization that serves homeschool families in your state all year long and that works hard to preserve the freedom to homeschool in your state.
Nancy Manos and her husband James live in Chandler, Arizona and homeschooled both of their daughters through high school. The Manos’ home education journey was a rich, rewarding, sometimes challenging experience, and Nancy is passionate about encouraging others in the homeschool adventure. Nancy and James served together on the board of directors for Arizona Families for Home Education (AFHE) for 13 years. In 2017, Nancy was hired as the Executive Director for the organization and is honored to get to continue serving parents teaching their children at home.