It’s homeschool convention season!
March to June isn’t just spring here in North America, but its also homeschool convention season. If you’ve never gone to one, it can be a bit overwhelming. And if it’s been a while, this post will refresh your memory. Here’s a quick guide on what to expect, how to prepare, and what you may want to bring with you –and what you can’t!
Most homeschool conventions will let you pre-register or purchase your tickets online ahead of time. This not only lets you get in faster when you get there, but you’ll get your package earlier, and be able to plan your day. With the bigger conventions, you’ll be able to reserve your seats in the seminars and workshops you most want to go, without fear of missing out on something that turns out to be popular. Pre-registration also lets you take advantage of any early bird rates for ticket prices. In some cases, new-to-homeschooling families will get their tickets free or at significant discounts. Spouses and teen children are also often given free or discounted tickets with purchase of one full-price admission.
Check online with your local, state or national group for links to the homeschool convention of your choice. If you’re travelling, you may also want to make reservations for accommodations, and start planning and budgeting for your needs over that time period.
When you get to the convention, you’ll enter through the main doors and approach the registration table. Like any other convention or trade show, you’ll be asked for name and given your informational package. If you’ve pre-registered, you’ll simply have your name checked off a list, and be given a name tag — and that info package if you didn’t already receive it. If you haven’t pre-registered, you’ll need to fill out your information and pay your entry fee.
Your registration package will include information on the various speakers, seminars and workshops, as well as the times and locations they are being held. You get a map of all the classroom locations, and a map of the vendor hall too. Review the vendor hall list, so that you know what booths you don’t want to miss when you are exploring. That info package will also include a list of contact info for your local groups, so you’ll be able to connect later on. You may even get discount coupons for vendors, prize information for door prizes, and special offers for homeschooling-related products or events.
Most homeschool conventions don’t allow children under 12 to attend the conference. Usually this is because of insurance liability, and maximum occupancy laws for the venue. So plan on needing childcare for any of your younger children. Nursing infants are usually the exception to that rule. However, generally strollers and bulky car seat carriers are banned for lack of space. So plan to baby wear or use a backpack carrier — or plan to carry your baby with you!
Some conferences may offer classes or workshops for teens. Check your registration package for details.
Seminars and Workshops
Most convention seminars, classes and workshops are an hour or less in length. They will be limited in seating and space, depending on the venue and the format of the conference. You’ll want to make sure you have notebook and pen for taking notes. You may also want a water bottle for dry, air-conditioned/heated environments.
Do use the restroom before or after the seminar, if only to avoid missing out on information. And do try to arrive early for each class you want to attend, especially if seating is limited. Sit near the front, so you can hear the speaker better — don’t be shy! If you have a babe-in-arms with you, try to sit near an exit, in case you need to soothe a fussy little one.
Most speakers will offer a question-and-answer period following their presentation. If they mention something you want to know more about, write down your question in your notes to take up afterwards, or research for yourself later. That way you won’t forget in the flood of information you receive in these classes.
Do expect to feel slightly overwhelmed by all the information you’ll get at a convention. If you take good notes, you’ll be able to review them later on and process everything. Don’t worry if you miss some things, however. This is a learning process, and you can’t know everything at once! Most speakers will offer contact info or a handout, so grab a copy, and include it with your notes. Then you can contact them later if you want to discuss their topic in more detail.
Depending on the type of convention you are attending, lunch may or may not be included in your ticket price. If it is included, you’ll have gotten a voucher for your lunch with your registration package. You should be able to redeem that, or purchase your lunch in a cafeteria located in the venue. Check your map for details.
If you plan ahead, and lunch wasn’t part of your ticket price, you may want to bring a lunch along, along with snacks. Do be aware that outside food may not be permitted in the venue, so check ahead of time for that. If you are allowed to bring your own lunch, you may only be permitted to eat in designated areas. Generally, food or drinks other than water aren’t allowed in classrooms or the vendor hall, for obvious reasons.
Also, check for regulations regarding allergens when bringing your own food. Many conventions are held in universities or high schools, so they may have peanut free facilities that you need to respect.
If you’ve ever attended a trade show or convention, you know that a vendor hall can be loud, chaotic and noisy. Homeschool conference vendor halls are no different. In the vendor hall of your convention, you’ll find booths and tables, usually filled with books.
Use your map included in your registration package to help you navigate the vendor hall. If you’ve never attended a homeschool convention, walk through without stopping, to familiarize yourself with the variety of options and exhibits. Then go back and look at the tables that caught your attention on your walk through. Flip through books and ask questions. Most vendor representatives are more than happy to chat with you, even though its a busy time. You may even get help from other homeschooling parents as you wander through the tables.
Since most vendor halls are limited in space, strollers and large carts aren’t usually permitted. If you plan on making a lot of purchases, you may want to bring a backpack or small wheeled suitcase. Those books get heavy!
Be aware that many vendors may only accept cash for purchases, though credit card options are increasingly available. If you didn’t bring cash, (or not enough), chances are you’ll be able to place orders with free shipping through most vendors.
Ah parking. This is the most common complaint for most conventions, homeschooling-related or not. Generally, parking is limited and restricted to certain areas. Conventions tend to block off the lots closest to the venue for vendors (with their large, heavy inventories) and for people who need accommodations, such as wheelchairs. If you can at all, carpool with fellow homeschoolers. There may also be priority parking for new-to-homeschooling families and first-time convention attendees. Check with your registration package or convention website for details.
Homeschooling convention preparation
Whatever convention you attend, whether one-day or multi-day event, being prepared can make the difference in how you enjoy your time. Limit how much you bring with you to the absolute necessities, as it is a long day. Mentally prepare yourself for a flood of information and sensory input. Relax, and go with the flow, and don’t try to do everything!