GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A HOMESCHOOL CONVENTION
Ahhh, the homeschool convention! There's nothing like it.
To some, it's an oasis of learning opportunities, and like-mindedness, listening to some of the top homeschool leaders in the country, basking in the glow of curriculum, and discovering new learning aids and other resources. Go ahead--thumb through those workbooks! Fan yourself with the breeze of all those new textbook pages flying through your fingers, and take in the intoxicating aroma of fresh ink on a newly printed page! I said it before; I'll say it again--ahhh! This is the homeschool mom's version of heaven on earth.
But if this is your first homeschool convention, your first steps inside the door of the convention hall--especially the vendors' hall--can strike a little fear and confusion in your heart and put a tremble in anyone's step. How will you EVER decide what will be best for your family? How will you ever navigate your way through this place?
What you need is to listen to the advice of someone who is a veteran of many conventions, someone who has held many hands and directed many homeschool paths. I just happen to be able to introduce you to such a person.
Wanda Gibert has been involved in state leadership, serving on the board of Illinois Christian Home Educators (ICHE) for ten years. She has been an organizer of ICHE's state homeschool conventions not only by serving on the speaker committee but also by supervising the vendor hall. Wanda is a homeschooling mother of six, and she, along with her husband, John, hosts the Minority Resources Web portion of ICHE's website.
TOS: Wanda, let's get down to the basics. What are the first steps we should take once we arrive at the homeschool convention? What are some things we can expect to do and see?
WANDA: Attending the state convention is the highlight of my school year. Upon arriving at the convention, you can expect an atmosphere charged with excitement, enthusiasm, and numerous opportunities to fellowship with other homeschoolers. However, a multitude of decisions also greet you.
A little preparation helps to minimize the sense of being overwhelmed.
Before the convention, I usually assess where our children are in these four areas: spiritually, academically, physically, and emotionally. I also determine if they are developing their spiritual gifts and natural bents or talents.
Then I evaluate my own weak areas that were exposed over the last year. For example, if I'm experiencing difficulty with my 7-year-old being disruptive, is it because I haven't provided enough creative options for him? Or is it because he is in need of mothering? My husband and I spend time talking and seeking the Lord for guidance. We secure our babysitter and make plans to attend the convention together. I have found homeschooling is not only for the children, but it is a vehicle which the Lord uses to promote spiritual growth and development within the entire family.
After identifying these areas I list them in my notebook. Then I check to see if I have any resources (books, CDs/tapes, games, manipulatives, etc.) that I can use. If not, I make a note to check at the conference and choose workshops that will address these concerns.
If this is your first year of homeschooling, this will be a year of transition. Don't be overwhelmed by making major decisions at the convention. Take the time to develop relationships within your family. Your family is unique with its combination of different personalities and giftings. At the convention, attend workshops that will help you build a strong family foundation.
On the day of the conference wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Don't forget a jacket or sweater, because it can be cool in some of the air-conditioned buildings. If you are physically uncomfortable you won't be able to enjoy the convention. Remember to eat a good breakfast and schedule rest periods throughout the day.
Bring your tote bag, admittance ticket, map of the facility, return address labels (for mailing lists), cash, debit or charge card, spiral notebook, extra pens and paper . . . and an open heart.
TOS: Okay, now that we've gotten there, are comfortable, and are ready to learn, how do we decide what to do next?
WANDA: After we arrive and receive the convention schedule, we choose what keynotes and workshops we will attend together or decide if we need to divide and conquer (workshops designed specifically for dads, moms, etc.).
In order to find each other later, we decide on a time and meeting place to discuss our next move. Our cell phones come in handy!
At times a particular speaker will really minister and challenge us, so we change our plans and may attend all of her workshops. Over the years we've learned to allow the Holy Spirit to change our agenda.
I've found it helpful to find a "quiet place" in the midst of the convention so that I can regroup and make wise decisions.
TOS: Once it's time to go to the vendor hall, what's the best way to navigate? Would you recommend taking a list of items that we would like to see? Compare prices?
WANDA: The vendor hall is another facet of the convention that needs to be properly understood. It can appear overwhelming! Don't allow yourself to be driven by the abundance of resource materials.
The best way to navigate through the vendor hall is to study the vendor hall map. This alleviates a lot of stress. Decide which vendors you would like to visit first and then work your way through the vendor hall, stopping to browse and take advantage of the knowledge bank that each vendor possesses. Take time to linger and ask questions, handle manipulatives, scan books, listen to sample tapes, and see if they comply with your family goals.
TOS: Wanda, what would be the best advice, something that you wish someone had told you, that you could share with our readers about making the most of their state homeschool convention?
WANDA: One of the best tips I could share with TOS readers is to purchase speaker tapes/CDs. This is an important key to staying encouraged and refreshed throughout the school year. When I was younger, I couldn't wait to get home from the convention and implement all the new teaching tips and spiritual nuggets I had gleaned. But I soon recognized that my excitement didn't transfer to the rest of my family so easily. Learning how to gently implement new ideas and teaching methods into our home without overwhelming everyone with expectations of instant change became necessary to maintain family unity.
My husband and I decided to listen to tapes/CDs again (sometimes multiple times) and decide what we wanted to implement. We then met with our children and discussed our new "family goals." Sometimes we would have the children listen to the tape/CD, especially if it pertained to character issues, family unity, or issued a challenge in spiritual growth. This helped all of us to work together.
I found that it's more productive to implement only one or two MAJOR ideas into your home or homeschool per year. This way you can focus on one thing at a time and master it.
TOS: You have been involved in the homeschool community for quite a while. How have you seen the importance of the state homeschool convention grow over those years?
WANDA: One of the critical components to the long-term success of homeschooling is the state homeschool convention. State leaders who network with international leadership to safeguard the freedom we have to homeschool organize the state homeschool convention. The homeschool convention is the platform by which the home educating community receives its vision, maintains its unity, and gains encouragement. Families are instructed and inspired by nationally-known speakers and are given the opportunity to meet and network with other families that help build a strong homeschooling community.
This is key due to the large influence the Internet has had over the past five years. Some families are opting to develop "virtual friends" rather than take the time and energy to invest in other families. If you have a well-designed website, declare yourself as an "expert," or stamp "official" on your webpage, you have generated a virtual audience of unsuspecting homeschoolers. Some of these websites are hosted by people who have very little homeschooling experience or, worse yet, aren't even homeschooling.
It's very important that our families and especially our children "see" themselves thriving within the homeschool community. If not, they will lose hope and fail. It's up to us to pass a rich, exciting, thriving homeschooling community along to them. So let's support our state organizations and build a strong future for us all!
TOS: Thank you for all that you do for the homeschool community.
Wanda and John Gibert are the parents of six children. Wanda is a vivacious speaker who shares at women's retreats, support groups, conferences, and various churches. Her passion for ministering to others from her home is clearly shown through the ministry of hospitality. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Kim Wolf loves living in a small Ohio town with her husband of 21 years and their two teen daughters. They have homeschooled since 1993 and are very active in the music ministry of their church. She is a Miami County homeschool coordinator, a freelance writer, speaker, and Ohio coordinator for TOS.