I absolutely LOVE homeschool conferences. I’ve literally been to dozens over the years.
I was invited to my first conference before my daughter could even walk. At the time, I was living in Florida and I had taken up a side gig of evaluating my friend’s children for their annual homeschool assessment.
They kept asking me for suggestions and recommendations about curriculum that I really couldn’t answer. So they pooled together and bought me a ticket to go with them to the convention. I have to admit that I was smitten. For me, there is nothing more fun than fellowshipping with other homeschool moms, meeting real live homeschool authors and speakers, and, of course, the smell of crisp new school books. Oh, I’m just giddy writing about it.
But I’m very aware that not all moms feel quite so giddy about the prospect of attending a homeschool conference. In fact, many are overwhelmed with choices, frustrated with academic barriers, and just plain tired. I know this to be true because I sat at a table full of these women at the last Teach Them Diligently conference. As we went around and talked about our struggles, the same story was repeated over and over again. Tired. Overwhelmed. Discouraged.
This homeschooling journey isn’t always easy and we desperately long for the support of our homeschool convention each year. So, how can we get the most value out of the experience? I’m so glad you asked because I’d love to share some tips with you on how to survive a homeschool conference (and actually love it)!
Truths to Remember before the homeschool conference:
Before we get started, let me remind you of a few truths that you will want to keep in mind through this process.
1. We can make plans, but God will direct our steps. Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Don’t get sidetracked with sticking with your own plan. Let God lead you off the path if He desires! Be ready and enjoy the adventure that He alone has chosen. It’s going to be good!
2. Seek out information you need or encouragement that will change your homeschool; don’t worry about “who you should hear.” There is not one single speaker at the event who will meet your needs better than the one God has picked for you at this particular time. This was a huge temptation for me early on. I had to learn that it was more about getting the help I needed than it was about hearing an author or blogger I really loved. (P.S. you can always buy the audio of their talk!)
3. Buy stuff from the vendors because it supports their families. I’m guessing you don’t know this, so I feel compelled to share it here. Yes, I know that we all want to save money. Trust me, I am right there with you. However, sometimes saving that 50 cents or $1 isn’t worth it to me when I could truly bless someone else.
Let me give you an example. I love Hal and Melanie Young. They are fantastic speakers and have written a book to help raise boys that has really blessed my home. If I buy their book or another product from them, they get the maximum profit after their cost. Which means more food and clothes for their family. If I buy it off of Amazon, they make pennies in comparison. So maybe I would save $1, but I would miss the opportunity for their family to be blessed so much more.
What to do before you go to the homeschool conference:
Pray a lot. I mean, a lot. Ask God to guide you and help you to know how you need to grow this year and what you need to know more about. I promise you, you will not leave a conference having learned whatever you came in after. God always has other plans for us! Be ready for what He has for you.
Plan to stay as close as possible. Every time I talk to someone who drives in from a friend’s house 30 minutes away, they regret the choice. If you can at all possibly swing it, stay at the hotel where the event is being hosted. You will need the extra time that you wasted finding your car, driving, and relocating each day to process what you are learning. This is true for me after so many conferences. I need time to unwind at night and even sometimes in the afternoon. I want my hotel room to be right there.
Evaluate your current curriculum. If you are already homeschooling, make a list of everything you are using this year. I typically make columns for each child. Then, note how you feel about it and how your child feels about it. Is it working? Does it need to be replaced? (Hint: you can do this in our free convention notebook below.)
Make a wish list of items to see. Note the word “wish.” This is your golden opportunity to get your hands on some of that curriculum that you’ve never seen in person. If you make a list, you will be far less likely to feel so overwhelmed by the possibilities. Oh, and be sure to include in your list any items that you determined should be replaced when you evaluated your curriculum.
Make a very tentative list of sessions to attend. I want to emphasize the word “very” here. Planning is a good thing as we mentioned above, but be prepared to lay aside what you thought you wanted to attend once you actually get to the convention. It’s ok to change your mind. There might be a speaker that you desperately need to hear again. Or there might be a topic that God lays on your heart once you get there. Go ahead and adjust the schedule. And know that you aren’t alone in doing that!
Once you get to the homeschool conference:
Relax and enjoy this. God is going to do the work here. All you had to do was show up. You’ve done that, so now soak it all in. Don’t let the enemy whisper “I can’ts” into your ears. Don’t give in to the idea that this is too much information and you cannot possibly process it all. Just take notes and come back to it later. Oh, and beware of that nasty comparison monster. Your homeschool is different than others. Refuse to compete.
Get there early and stay late. This goes with the soak-it-all-in theory. Take advantage of every moment that your ticket buys you. Some of the early and late sessions will be less full, giving you more time to talk to other moms and/or the speaker. It’s always a blessing to glean from a small crowd!
Don’t try to change your whole homeschool on a sudden whim. If you are listening, God is going to speak to you at this convention. Be ready. But don’t feel like you have to change your entire homeschool in one swoop once you get home on Monday. Stop and soak in what you are learning and slowly make a plan for changes. Remember, write it down. You can come back to this later.
Talk to people. For the most part, every single speaker or vendor at your conference came to this place to talk to you. Otherwise, they could have stayed home and sold the product online. So please don’t be afraid to ask your questions. Take the time they are offering you! Learn about their specific curriculum or about the methods they might suggest for your situation. Don’t buy the lie that they are too busy or bothered. They want to talk to you! I promise.
Oh, and on that topic, talk to the other moms and families you see walking around. You never know what kind of encouragement you can offer each other!
In the spirit of practicality, I have created a printable homeschool conference notebook. Included are the pages that you need to do each of the steps that I outlined above. I prefer to keep the pages in a 1-inch binder. I can add the convention program and details to my binder.
Tip: Bring a few empty page protectors to store handouts, flyers and other items that you will get at the conference.
Your printable homeschool conference notebook includes:
1. Assessing Current Needs Worksheet
2. Browsing Wish List
3. Curriculum Plan for the New Year
4. Session Notes
5. Changes I Want to Make
6. Topics to Pursue in the Future
Each page is decorated with an encouraging verse to help you keep your mind focused on what is really important!