(Matt and Amy will be attending their first homeschool conference as vendors in late May. As “seasoned” homeschoolers, Amy felt this would be a good opportunity for her to share some tips that helped them to make the most out of their conference experiences as attendees.)
“Why should I attend a homeschool conference? I’ve been homeschooling for years and everything is working out great – I don’t need it.”
“I don’t need to attend a conference; I’ve already gotten my curriculum planned out.”
“My kids are little; I won’t need to attend a conference until they are getting ready to go into high school and I have to worry about transcripts.”
These are just some of the comments I’ve heard when talking with various homeschoolers over the years. For the most part, their reasons all boil down to one main thing – they think they don’t need it…they don’t see the value in spending two or three days in a convention setting focusing on homeschooling. Can you homeschool without ever attending a homeschool conference? ABSOLUTELY! Anyone who has asked me homeschool questions will tell you that one thing I’m passionate about telling people is to run away from anyone who tells you that you MUST do a certain thing, or use certain curricula in order to homeschool. So, no, you don’t HAVE to attend a homeschool conference – however, I think that most homeschoolers would benefit greatly from attending a conference.
So, what are some of these benefits? Similar to most experiences, the benefits are going to be a little different based on many factors. Where you are in your homeschool journey, the age(s) and uniqueness of your child(ren), and who you are attending the conference with will shape your conference experience. Here are some of the biggest benefits that our family experienced attending conferences over our 18 “official” years of homeschooling.
One of the main reasons to attend a homeschool conference is the speakers. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear some outstanding speakers sharing on a wide range of topics that relate to homeschooling. In addition to having Keynote sessions that are often encouraging, motivational and leave you with a challenge to continue to homeschool with excellence, most conferences also have sessions that serve as “breakout” sessions where you can choose the session you would like to attend. You may have the opportunity to choose from workshops on: Writing your Child’s Transcript; How to Incorporate Art when teaching Literature; How to Help Struggling Readers; Preschool Science; Homeschooling as a Single Parent; or Living Books as Text Books. While the options differ by conference, the ones I have attended have not repeated the same workshops within the same year, so over the course of the weekend, there might be 50 (or more) different workshops – in addition to the keynote sessions. The great thing about that is that you can choose the sessions that will be beneficial to you at the season you are currently in – or you can choose to attend sessions that help give you a preview of the next stage of homeschooling.
While some of us love to hear the speakers, I know some homeschoolers who only attend a conference for the vendor hall. For some of us, the vendor hall is better than an amusement park. Here, you can actually hold and look through all those books that you’ve seen in catalogs and on the internet. You can see how that math book is actually laid out and if that high school science book is really written in a way that your student can understand without you having to read it yourself to explain it to him/her. There are supplemental materials – books, videos, games, art supplies, dissection kits…so many things to look at and consider. In addition to giving you the opportunity to preview curriculum that you’ve heard about, but hadn’t seen, sometimes you’ll run across materials that are completely new to you. Not only will you have the opportunity to look through the materials, but if it’s an author or publisher booth, you’ll have the opportunity to speak with someone who can answer your questions about those materials. Some of the vendors also do vendor workshops, which are more specific to their materials. Keep an eye out for those if you have specific materials you are going to purchase because sometimes a vendor will offer a discount to people who attend their specific workshop.
While the speakers and vendors are the main reasons most people attend a homeschool conference, one of the biggest benefits is the attendees themselves. While a speaker can give you statistics on homeschooling, being in a room filled with other homeschoolers will help you SEE that you are not alone in this adventure. All of those other people in the room are also homeschooling their children. They have similar concerns and questions about what they are doing – but they are also making similar decisions you are facing… which math book to use next or and whether or not they should put their child in a co-op science lab or send them to the community college for dual enrollment. Asking another attendee who is using the same book you are considering can really help you make a decision if you are really not sure if it’s going to be a good fit for you and your child. While you are talking to them about that book, they might point you to other great resources as well. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to talk with other homeschoolers who have “been there, done that.” It’s often said that experience is the best teacher, so your best resource might just be that homeschool mom sitting next to you in one of the sessions.
If you are a homeschooler or a prospective homeschooler, I hope you’ll consider attending a homeschool conference. I think you’ll leave encouraged and with some new ideas and ready to start planning your next school year!