(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.)

In the previous post, I talked about speakers, sessions, conference schedules, and the importance of rest. In addition to these things, there are some other things you can think about and do that will help make your conference experience go more smoothly. For 15 years, our family attended our state conference which is held less than 30 minutes from our home. Because it was local for us, we were able to attend without worrying about a hotel – however, we treated it almost as if our home was our hotel room for the week. With the exception of one year when there were extenuating circumstances, we would leave for the conference in the morning, and not return to the house until after dinner or the latest evening activity that someone in our family wanted to attend. By approaching “Conference Weekend” this way, we were able to get more out of the conference than if we had tried to “fit it in” among our “regular” activities.

As conference weekend approaches, one thing that you’ll want to consider is your budget. No one wants to think about it, but if you don’t, you may be sorry by the end of the weekend! You might be purchasing your curricula at the conference, or you might find that it’s less expensive to order it when you get back home. Either way, you (hopefully) have already decided what you are planning to spend on your “base” curriculum. That amount can be included in your conference budget, but in addition to that, you’ll want to budget for other conference purchases. There will be plenty of things in the vendor hall that you will want to purchase – supplemental materials, books written by speakers that are in attendance, videos, etc. Building in some ‘wiggle room’ for extra purchases is always a good idea. You never know what you might find! If possible, find out ahead of time if the conference records the sessions and how much those recordings cost. Think about how many of the sessions you may wish to purchase and include them in your budget. Knowing that our children would also find things they wanted to purchase in the vendor hall, we would give them a “Conference Allowance.” We also gave them some ‘parameters’ to go along with this allowance – at least 50% had to be spent on books (that percentage might have been higher based on the amount of their allowance, but it was never less than 50%). This gave them some spending money and ‘control,’ without us having to worry about them asking us to buy things for them constantly. When thinking about your budget, don’t forget to budget for food! Even if you bring snacks, you might want to be prepared to purchase a bottle of water or a snack. While many places take credit and debit cards, be prepared with some cash just in case.

In all of the excitement, don’t forget that you are going to need to eat throughout the day. Food vendors may be on site, but hours may vary and the lines can be extremely long. I have a few food sensitivities and have a history of migraines, so bringing my own snacks is a must. When we would attend our state homeschool conference as a family, the day it started, I would set out the available snacks. Sometimes we would have purchased individual serving sized bags of snacks available, but often I would have larger packages and divide up the snacks into snack or sandwich sized ziplock bags. Each morning of the conference (or the night before), each person would choose the snacks they wanted for the day and put them in their own backpack. It was a ‘win’ for me because I didn’t have to carry everyone else’s snacks – everyone was responsible for their own…even our youngest who was 4 when we took him to his first homeschool conference.

You know your budget and have your snacks – what else do you need to take? Remember the schedules, workshop descriptions, and handouts that you either printed or downloaded? The shopping list that you spent time compiling? You don’t want to leave those at home! If you printed them out, put them in a folder or 3-hole punch them and put them in a binder. I like to use a 3-ring binder with pocket inserts or slash pockets. I put my shopping list in one of the pockets, and after using a 3-hole punch on my other printouts, I put them in the binder along with some blank notebook paper so that I can take notes and keep them all together. The binder along with ink pens goes into my backpack. While some will have other types of bags or maybe a rolling cart to keep their stuff together, my personal preference is a backpack because it allows me to be ‘hands free’ when I’m looking at things in the vendor hall, and I can still have space to store some purchases until my husband takes them to the car for me. If I knew I was attending a homeschool conference alone and was planning on purchasing curricula for our kids while I was there, I’d probably buy one of those rolling carts. Other items I put in my backpack include gum, aspirin, other medications/vitamins, chargers and/or a portable battery pack, and maybe a book I’m reading (or one I purchased in the vendor hall).

There are a couple of things that conference centers have in common. The first is that they are spread out. There might be quite a hike from the vendor hall to the space where the keynote session is being held, and chances are that if a space doesn’t have carpet it’s probably the vendor hall…which is where you will spend the most time standing. Comfortable shoes are a must! Your feet and legs will be so grateful that you wore those tennis shoes with thick soles instead of those cute shoes that have no support and rub your heels when you walk in them. Temperature extremes are the other thing conference centers have in common. You can walk into one space and you feel like you are going to freeze to death, and then leave to go to another space where it’s not only hot, but feels like the air isn’t circulating at all. It’s hard to know what to wear because you could (and probably will) experience both extremes, so dress in layers. Taking a jacket, sweater and/or a sweatshirt is usually a good idea – you might not need it, but why take a chance?

These tips I’ve shared are just a few things that helped me feel more relaxed and confident before a conference and helped the weekend go a little more smoothly for each member of our family. If you are a homeschooler and have never been to a homeschool conference, I hope that these posts have helped you realize the value in attending one, and even if you have attended a homeschool conference, hopefully at least one or two of the tips that I’ve shared will help you get more out of the next one you attend!

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