Our family had the pleasure of attending a homeschooling convention in Fort Worth for three days last week. I truly enjoy attending these conventions, exploring curricula that I’m considering, being encouraged by the various speakers, and gaining new ideas.
The way my husband and I experience these conventions has changed a lot over the years. When we attended our first one twelve years ago, Grandma babysat most of the children, except a nursing baby. My husband and I needed to stay in a hotel, because the convention was several hours from our home. It was a rare and exciting getaway for us, and we looked at it as a romantic “date” weekend. Yes, folks, if the baby can not speak yet, it is an official date in our minds.
At that first convention, I remember being amazed by the sheer number of people who attended. We were new to homeschooling, and as it was not nearly as popular at the time, we were personally acquainted with only one other homeschooling family. I remember once, one of my children asked, “Mom, are we the only people in the world who homeschool?” :) Feeling alone in our journey was difficult, so simply being in the presence of others walking the same path was encouraging.
Also at that time, I had so much to learn, and I was thirsty to grow in knowledge. With multiple speakers during each convention time slot, I had so much trouble choosing which to attend. I would pick one, and bought CDs of those I missed so that I could listen later. I soaked it all in like a sponge.
In the short half hour periods between listening to speakers, I scrambled through the exhibit hall with determination, a list in my hand, exploring the multitudes of curriculum that I’d read about online and wanted to see in person. Evenings, I poured over my notes and made decisions as to which curriculum I would buy before the convention was over.
At the end of the weekend, I went home exhausted, but encouraged and excited, the trunk of the car filled with all of the curriculum purchases for our first year of homeschooling and my mind spinning.
For several years, not much changed. I anticipated the homeschool convention with enthusiasm each year, appreciated as many speakers whose sessions I was able to squeeze in, and poured through the exhibit hall on an intense mission. Each year I left the convention exhausted, but prepared and renewed.
Over time, as I gained more homeschooling experience under my belt, I began to feel less like a novice. I was no expert to be sure, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever feel like I’ve “arrived.” Our homeschooling experience changes too much from year to year for me to ever gain that sort of confidence. :) Not unlike parenting in general, I might add.
But, I had seen God work to produce fruits in our homeschool, and I had gained enough experience to give me some amount of confidence in what we were doing. I felt less of a need to listen to every single speaker, and having used a variety of curriculum and teaching methods, I began to know what I wanted, freeing me from the need to get my hands on every single item in the exhibit hall. We stopped going to conventions annually, and started attending only every two or three years.
We’ve attended two conventions in the nine months since moving to Texas, simply because they were so close to home (no hotel rooms! Yay!) and because each convention hosted speakers that we did not want to miss. In both cases, we brought all the children along, which in itself dramatically changed the experience!
First of all, we can not whisk little ones from one session to another. Even with coloring books and quiet toys on hand, they can’t be still and silent for very long. My husband and I found it better to take turns attending our carefully chosen talks, while one of us sat out, walking with the youngest children or letting them play in the halls. For a few of the keynote speakers in the largest auditoriums, we would attend together, and one of us would pace the back of the room with a toddler.
This meant that we attended only two or three speaking sessions each day instead of six or seven. But, we found, we didn’t really mind. The list of speakers and topics that we truly cared about was significantly smaller than in years past.
The more relaxed pace allowed us to make a side visit to the Fort Worth Water Gardens. Ten years ago, with my need to cram in as much as possible, we never could have done that.
I didn’t make a single purchase in the exhibit hall, although one of my children did. While discounts and “no shipping” has its appeal, and is wise if I KNOW I will be making the purchase anyway, I now typically find that I spend less and make better selections if I wait to think about it a while.
The older kids went to a lot of speaking sessions on their own. They mostly attended teen track sessions, but occasionally would go to hear other speakers of particular interest. Our oldest attended as many talks on the topic of writing as she could, and we listened to most of the keynote speakers as a family. After every session where we were separated, we would meet “under the hats” (the lone star of cowboy hats, which you can see at the top of this post), and then we’d chat about what we heard and where we would go next.
The children adored the whole experience, even the very young ones. From their level of excitement, you would have thought they were at Disney World. Seeing in person their video teachers or authors of their books, they felt as though they were meeting celebrities. Steve Demme (of Math U See) joined us for a snack/dinner at a concession table, which was great! We discovered that he lived very near our former hometown, and learned a lot about him. He was a very personable man, and he told the children a lot of jokes.
The children also enjoyed visiting the vendor booths. We saw a lot of unique toys and great books, which is always fun for them. Young Mike bought a few Jim Weiss CDs to add to his collection, and Mr. Weiss kindly signed one for him, and told us an interesting story about when he did that particular recording.
Yes, conventions have changed a lot for us over the year! In some ways they have become easier, in other ways harder. In all cases, it is still rewarding. :)
How do you approach conventions? Is it a cram session for you, a relaxing “get in what you can” weekend, or something in between? What do you like most about conventions?