Monday, May 11, 2015

10 Tips for Preparing for Homeschool Conferences & Expos

It's time to prepare for homeschool convention season. How many of you have already purchased your tickets?

Now's the time to start planning for next year and conferences, conventions and expos all assist in bringing new resources and ways of thinking to homeschooling families around the country. Here are 10 tips to assist you as you get ready to attend.

Tip #1: Know Your Family's Goals
What are your family's goals for homeschooling? Why are you homeschooling and to what end? What subjects and topics are important for you to cover with your children? What specific lessons will you be doing in the new year? These are just a few questions you should ask yourself to help you hone in on what you are doing with regards to homeschooling.

Attending conferences and conventions will definitely help you expand your ideas, but take time to know where you're beginning. Make a like of what's important to you, to your children. Talk it over with your spouse or partner. Make sure the two of you are on the same page. This one step will help you identify information and resources that will be meaningful to you and your family.

Tip #2: Know Your Children's Learning Style(s)
How best do your children learn? Do they prefer listening or reading? Are they content with sitting for a good bit of time working independently or do they like moving, talking and interacting with others? Do they like to manipulate and handle tools or do they like to mull thoughts over in their mind before responding and coming up with new ideas?

Learning styles are not clear cut, yet understanding how best your children learn will assist you as you listen to suggestions and browse through curriculum and resource options.  Why purchase something that doesn't match the way your children learn? It will be more of a headache for all involved and you'll end up wasting your money.

Watch your children. Pay attention to what brings them alive as you learn and work together. Take note of their interests, their strengths and challenges. Knowing these things before heading to a convention will guide you as you weed through the overwhelmingness of all your options and get right to what your family needs.

Talk with others during the conventions and expos to see what curricula works best for children who are auditory learners or more kinesthetic learners, etc. Listen to others who have found things that work for their children who learn similar to yours. Let the information you gather inform your purchases.

Tip #3: Have a Plan
Know your reason for attending. Are you going to look through curriculum options up close and personal? Are you wanting to speak with an author or publisher (or their rep) directly to better understand their methods? Are you going to hear a particular speaker? Are you going to meet other like-minded homeschoolers in your area? Are you just curious and want to see what all the hype is about?

Knowing your purpose for attending can assist you in remaining on track so as not to be overwhelmed at the larger conventions. It can guide you through the smaller ones too.

Tip #4: Have a Budget
This is key. Many a family has broken their budget because they didn't have one. If you're new to homeschooling, speak to an experienced homeschooling parent or two to find out just how much they typically spend over the course of a year.

Know for what you are looking. Research now the typical price points for the items on your list. Deals and discounts are often offered during conventions and expos--so they are typically the time to make your purchases. However, be wise about it. Can you find the same resource at a used book sale or online store? Does your local library offer a similar resource for free? Everything at a convention is meant to draw your attention and encourage you to buy it. By having a list of the items you're looking for along with a budget, you can leave with peace of mind with regards to your spending.

Tip #5: Go Ready to Learn Something New
All the previous tips focus on the importance of knowing where you and your children are and being willing to hold onto those things in a way that keeps them priority.  Yet, you will want to make sure you remain open to learning new ways for approaching and teaching the subjects and topics on your lists. This could be from a speaker/presenter during a workshop or from another homeschooling parent who is willing to share their experiences as your browse through convention halls.

Look and listen. Ask questions. There are many ways of homeschooling. In attending, you may be surprised to find out another way of reaching your children that may work better than what you'd thought or planned thus far. Be open to this. (Why not carry a notebook to jot down the suggestions and tips you receive for reference and review later?)

Tip #6: Take Your Time
Take your time--plan now to spend a full day (or two) so that you have ample time to browse, ask questions, get the answers to your questions and attend workshops. You don't want to feel rushed, as this often causes stress, especially to those of you who will be experiencing your first one this year.  There will be crowds, so you'll want to account for this. You may also have to wait to talk to a speaker or vendor. If you aren't planning to stay the entire time, you can sometimes miss these opportunities. Even if you end up leaving early, plan to use the time you do have wisely.

Tip #7: Bring a Rolling Cart/Tote
Rolling carts/totes are better to carry the items that you purchase. There is nothing like lugging a heavy tote bag on your shoulder through a convention hall. It will make for a much more pleasant experience, trust me on this. You can find rolling totes at most office type stores. You will be glad that you have it instead of having to use your back and shoulders.

Tip #8: Plan for Your Children
Homeschool Conventions and Expos can be a lot to take in. If you can attend without your children, plan to do so. You will want to take your time while browsing so you can accurately identify the resources that match your family's style and goals. It can be challenging when you have little ones, and even older ones, chattering at you.

This may not be feasible for everyone, so here are a few ideas on how to approach it:

  • Bring an older homeschooled child with you who can assist you with your children (like a mother's helper).
  • Some conventions/expos offer a children's program. Find out now about them and the costs. Sign your children up for them. They usually coincide with the workshop schedule.
  • Bring your partner/spouse and 'double team' the kids. When you want to speak with a curriculum rep, workshop speaker or another homeschooling parent your partner/spouse can manage the children and vice versa.
  • Plan to attend with another family and take turns with the children.

If you do plan to take your children with you, be sure to set clear expectations with them. But also, be realistic. Children should not be expected to be silent the entire time. Bring snacks and water. Bring activities they can do quietly while you attend workshops. Plan for necessary bathroom breaks and lunch. This will help both you and your children get the most out of the experience.

Each year I secure a babysitter and plan a fun day for my children at home while I attend conferences and conventions. Last year was my first time taking my older two to the second day of an expo. I wanted them to see what it was like and what I had been looking at purchasing for them. I allowed both of them to pick out something that went along with one of the topics we'd be covering. We had previously talked about what it would be. That experience went well and I will probably do it again this year.

Regardless of what you decide to do--plan for your children.

Tip #9: Bring Your Lists
As previously shared, knowing your family's goals and budget for homeschooling will greatly assist you in determining what resources you'll be on the look out for during conferences. Knowing how your children learn and what subjects you'll be covering will help you navigate all the information that you'll be presented with during workshops along with all the resources/curriculum you'll see in an exhibition hall.

I suggest making two lists.  The first should include what you're wanting to make sure do, find out about or look at prior to leaving the conference.  Here's an example:

  • Look for 6th Grade Science Curriculum
  • Speak with a rep from a college campus
  • Look for handwriting curriculum for 2nd grade
  • Attend a workshop about how to teach the writing process
  • Speak with [specific speaker] about how to implement a schedule
  • Compare prices of [specific textbook]; ask about discounts
The second list can include what you're looking to purchase based on their budget and research. It should also include the items you want to make sure you walk out with. Here's an example:
  • Handwriting paper for cursive writing
  • Specimens for dissection
  • Laminated wall map
  • 3rd Grade Math Workbook
  • Application for homeschool sports team
As you navigate through an exhibition hall, do take time to look, listen, ask questions and learn. However, don't forget what you're there for. Lists are a great way to make sure you've done what you've set out to accomplish. It will keep you on track.

Tip #10: Take a Positive Attitude
The final tip is simple and will assist you as you encounter others while attending workshops, maneuvering around crowded booths and browsing through resources.

As with pregnancy, you are bound to encounter unsolicited advice from a stranger or two. Take it in stride and be gracious. If you're able to be in a positive place, you may find something useful in what was shared.

Check out lines can be long. Having a positive attitude while waiting will come in handy.

Popular workshops can fill up quickly. Seats may be held for others who have yet to come in. You may have to stand in the back or may even miss attending one due to the overwhelming interest. A positive attitude is good to hold onto in this event.

But not only that, being in a positive space will allow you to offer your advice, tips and experience to others who may be feeling unsure, hesitant or apprehensive. You can give the reassuring smile or knowing look to someone else who may not be as prepared as you are and feeling overwhelmed.  Think how much they may appreciate your encouragement and positiveness in the midst of it all.

I hope that these ten tips will assist you in making this year's convention season a good one. Planning, of course, is key--knowing what you're looking for is important and being positive is essential.

What tips would you add to this list? Please share them below. 

Have you had any experiences attending conferences that would assist another parent in planning or being better prepared? I'd love to hear them as would my readers.

Thanks for stopping by today, reading and commenting.

Be well.

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