Great Conference!

The Thrive! Homeschool Conference is over and we had a wonderful time! It was so nice to see friends we’ve known over the years and a pleasure to get a chance to meet and speak with many new people. If you met us for the first time this past weekend – thank you so much for coming by and introducing yourself! We hope that you left the conference encouraged in your homeschool journey!
Now we are repacking and getting things ready to head to the MidSouth Nostalgia Festival in Olive Branch, Mississippi that will take place June 8-10. If you enjoy classic tv shows and movies, come and check it out! The list of special guests is on their website, but expected guests include cast members from CHIPs, western stars Robert Fuller, Darby Hinton and Buck Taylor as well as stunt double Diamond Farnsworth – just to name a few. We are also looking forward to seeing friends and familiar faces that we’ve become aquatinted with in previous years.
One last thing I want to mention – Amazon is going to be raising their prices on our books in mid-June. We just wanted to give you a heads up in case you are planning to order any of our materials from Amazon.
Thanks for your support and we look forward to seeing you somewhere down the road!

Preparing for a Homeschool Conference – Part Two

(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!

Preparing for a Homeschool Conference – Part One

(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.)

You’ve decided you want to attend a homeschool conference and you’ve already registered. If you are attending one that isn’t nearby, you’ve already figured out housing arrangements (hotel, rental, staying with friends/relatives). That’s all you have to do, right? Technically, yes, but if you want to get the most out of the weekend, you probably should do a little planning. You are investing time and money in this conference, so if you are anything like me, you are going to want to get as much out of it as possible. Taking some time to look ahead can help make the weekend go a little more smoothly and might keep you from overlooking something you didn’t want to miss.

The first thing I like to do is check the schedule for the conference. In addition to making sure I’ve got the correct dates on my calendar, I look at opening and closing times. Registration lines can get really long – and even if you’ve pre-registered, you’ll probably still need to check in, so if you are counting on browsing the vendor hall before the first keynote session, you’ll probably want to get in line earlier than the conference registration officially opens. Check out all session times as well as the hours for the vendor hall. The hours for the vendor hall may vary by day, and while it might be open later the earlier days of the conference, the last day they might close earlier. There also may be other evening events that you want to attend that coincide with those “later” vendor hall hours, and you’ll want to know that so you can plan accordingly.

I’m a ‘paper’ person, so I print out all of the schedules and put them in a folder or a binder when I attend a conference. I want all of my information in one place, and I don’t want to be at the mercy of cell phone reception or a wi-fi signal – both of which can be an issue in some convention spaces. If you are more of a digital person than a paper person, I would highly suggest having PDFs of the schedules on your phone and/or tablet. You might even be able to download the conference booklet prior to the conference. Often these booklets have maps of the convention space as well as all of the schedules and descriptions for the various sessions. If the convention you are attending posts speaker handouts for the sessions, I would also suggest that you download those, as well. Even if it’s a session you don’t think you’ll attend, some of those handouts will have resources listed that you might want to reference. Occasionally, I’ve changed my mind on which session I’m going to attend based on those handouts.

Now to decide what your ‘personal’ schedule will look like. If you are attending with your spouse and/or your older children, everyone should look at the schedules and workshop descriptions and decide what interests them the most. How do you decide? I like to start with marking every session that sounds interesting or sounds like something that I might need to hear. That may mean that at first, I’m going to have marks by 5 different workshops that are given at the same time. After you’ve each had a chance to go through all of the sessions at least once, sit down with your spouse and older children and talk about what sessions everyone wants to go to. One of your children might have been watching YouTube videos by one of the conference speakers and really enjoys hearing him or her. Or maybe that session you are really considering right after lunch on Friday is a speaker your spouse heard last year and spoke in a monotone the entire time…so maybe that’s not a good one for you to attend at that time. If your conference records the sessions, you might decide that it might be better to purchase breakout session A so you can attend breakout session B in person. While making out a tentative schedule is wonderful, be flexible with it! You might find that one of the speakers is very engaging and you want to hear all of his or her sessions. On the flip side, you might realize that a speaker you thought you wanted to hear all of their sessions just isn’t that interesting to you. Something to remember: There will be some sessions and some speakers that just are NOT for YOU! If a particular session or a particular speaker doesn’t resonate with you, that’s fine! Just like there are so many different approaches to teaching history, and they don’t all ‘fit,’ neither will all of the sessions and speakers. If you get into a session and need to quietly leave because it’s not a good fit, that’s fine – just do it quietly 🤫

Now that you an idea of the sessions that you want to attend, you need to think about making the most of the time you’ll spend in the vendor hall. I like to start with a spreadsheet shopping list. Start by listing the curricula you know you are going to use, and then add any known supplemental books and supplies for each curriculum you’ve listed. Next, add in any materials that you are interested in checking out while you are at the conference. Now it’s time to do ‘price checks’ on those materials. Have a column for each of the online retailers that you might purchase from and heck the websites for each of the items on your ‘shopping list’ and note the prices on the spreadsheet. (I would typically have 3 or 4 sites I would use when checking for curricula.). Now when you are browsing the vendor hall, you’ll know if the prices you are seeing are ‘bargains’ or not. Don’t forget to check on your science materials as well as art supplies! It’s not uncommon to have vendors at the conference with “kits” that include the supplies you need for a specific science curriculum. Having a list of what supplies come in various kits you priced online will help you know if you are making an apples to apples comparison. Side note – Amazon prices might fluctuate, so if it looks like they are running a really good sale on a particular book, do something to note that you might want to check that price again the week of the conference.

It’s time to look at the conference schedule again! Check the schedule to see when you want to visit the vendor hall. You’ll probably want to visit it multiple times so that you don’t get overwhelmed, and while one of those visits might be late in the conference, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll knock out all of your shopping during the last hour or two that the vendor hall is open. If you do that, don’t be surprised if the vendor with the best deal is already sold out of that grammar book you want to use and the science supply booth doesn’t have any more test tubes.

Some homeschool conferences have “special” events or offer “extra” services that you might also want to include on your schedule. At some conferences, these “extras” take an additional ticket. They might be offering a special concert or a dinner or luncheon that you will need to purchase tickets for either during or after registering for the conference. Other conferences will have special activities and events that are already included in your registration. They might have a talent show or a choral concert given by homeschool students one evening. There might also be special activities for children or teens with a different schedule. I’ve attended conferences where there were evening events for the teens ranging from a dance to game nights. If you are attending a larger state or regional conference, check to see if they are having ‘region specific’ gatherings. There might also be special gatherings for homeschoolers that fit into certain categories: single parents; working parents; grandparents; homeschooling children with special needs, etc. Some conferences even have a mentoring table that you may or may not have to reserve a time slot. If any of these things are of interest, build them into your schedule for the weekend.

Now for the most important thing to put on your schedule – REST! It’s going to be a busy weekend, and you might already feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. Look at your schedule and decide on a time each day of the conference when you can decompress. You’ll have a lot of information to digest and a lot of items you saw in the vendor hall that you want to think about, but you need to take some time to relax and refresh before you have to do it again. Maybe you need to take some time at lunch to gather your thoughts before going to the afternoon sessions – do it. Our family would typically go out to eat dinner somewhere and chat about whatever we learned or saw that day, and maybe talked about changing which sessions we were going to attend the next day, and then when we got home or back to the hotel, we were able to get to sleep because we built in that time to decompress.

If possible, build in some time to rest BEFORE the conference. I know it’s not always possible to lighten your schedule on the days leading up to the conference, but if you can, it’ll help. If nothing else, try to make the night before and the morning of the first day a little more ‘low key’ than normal. Your conference experience can go more smoothly if you take some time ahead of time and do some planning and get a little rest.

Why Attend a Homeschool Conference?

(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!

It’s the Holiday Season!

As the holiday season arrives, many of us are looking forward to a time filled with “glad tidings of comfort and joy.” For most all of us, the current year has been filled with bad tidings, discomfort, uncertainty, and personal loss. In addition, with the cancellation of every convention on our agenda, we have missed being able to personally connect with friends old and new. Like all of you, we are hoping for a chance to renew those connections in 2021.

Meanwhile, we continue to work on new books in the activity book series for both Matt’s Wild West Discovery Series and the Records of History World War Two Series. Earlier this summer, the first two titles of the World War Two series – “Forgotten Heroes” and “The Homefront” – were published. We are now happy to announce the newest title in the Wild West series has just been published.

In Westbound Trains: Matt’s Wild West Discovery Series Volume Five one can enjoy activities that provide a fun way to learn interesting information about the railroads and interstate roads that are so vital to western commerce. (For example, did you know that the point of lowest elevation for the interstate system is located on I-8 at El Centro, California?) As with all the books in the series, the cowboy code of a western star is featured – in this volume it is Wild Bill Hickok’s Deputy Marshal’s Code of Conduct.

While more western volumes are planned, we are currently in the early stages of developing the next book for the World War Two set. This book will highlight the various entertainment options enjoyed by folks during the war years. Content will include activities related to movies and movie stars, popular radio programs, comedians, music, books, and much more. Stay tuned!

I hope you can join with us in choosing to look forward to the next several weeks with a spirit of hope and good will, and that we can all experience the peace and joy associated with the holiday season.