Homeschool conventions can be either a blessing or a blight to home educating families. Notoriously expensive to attend, what with registration, transportation, and hotel fees, many families find that the cost to merely walk though the convention door can amount to hundreds of dollars. Is it worth it? How can you get the most out of a homeschool conference?
Homeschool conferences offer two enticements: speakers and vendors. You will be miles ahead in making a financially prudent decision by knowing who is attending. While we can’t speak impartially to the value of attending just for the speakers – we have heard both engaging and disturbing presentations – as a vendor we do have a few tips for making your trip worthwhile. Knowing how to organize yourself ahead of time, and how to manage your experience while there, will help make the most of any conference you attend.
Before the Conference
The extensive collection of exhibit booths can be overwhelming if you walk into a conference unprepared. But for conference-goers in 2011, pre-conference preparation is considerably easier than it’s ever been. Before any homeschool conference, get on the website and scan the vendor list. Some conferences make it super-easy by hot-linking to the exhibitor’s website. Use those links to get an idea of what that vendor has to offer.
Make a list of the types of materials you will be looking for to meet the instructional needs of each of your children. Then refer back to the exhibitors list to identify the exhibitors that stock those items. If there is a critical component that you would like to examine, consider contacting the vendor a few weeks in advance and asking if that product could be there for your hands-on evaluation.
Before you leave for the conference, write down questions you want to have answered. It’s easy to forget things when you’re rushed or excited.
Think about what supplies would make your life easier at the conference; return-address mailing labels to use in filling out forms, note pads, post-its, pens, pencils, highlighters, a permanent marker, paper clips, rubber bands, and a calculator can all prove helpful.
If you want to maximize your opportunities to meet and socialize with other homeschoolers, book your rooms at the conference hotel. Being on the premises increases the number of casual encounters you could benefit from. Some of the best conversations can be had in a hotel lobby or breakfast nook. Conference hotels will be a budget-stretcher, but the chance for fellowship and the convenient location make this appealing.
Finally, make sure you know exactly how to get to the conference facility and what on-site parking is available. The driver will very much appreciate your efforts.
At the Conference
Perhaps one of the more intimidating parts of any conference is navigating the Exhibit Hall. This can be either a frustrating or rewarding experience as you learn about the companies and their products. Taking a quick lap around the trade show floor will help you get your bearings, but be sure to double back. Slow down and engage as many vendors as is feasible. The most interesting, useful, and educational moments are often these informal chats with homeschool vendors. Most of us are homeschool veterans and we know what works and what doesn’t.
If you have questions, please don’t be too shy to ask. We are so thrilled that anyone is looking at our stuff, much less asking questions, so ask away! And if you find that the answers are not what you expected, ask for recommendations. If we know of another vendor’s program that would be a better fit for you, we will tell you. We want your homeschool experience to be successful, so ask lots of questions!
Ask about the show specials. With today’s skyrocketing shipping costs, most vendors will be offering specials that you will never see again, because when they don’t have to pay shipping costs they are free to discount deeply. Plus, many of our suppliers who will not let us discount our prices via our website or catalog have authorized us to discount for conferences only. In most cases, the savings you realize by making your purchases at the convention will more than pay for your expenses being there.
Some attendees like bringing a basket on wheels, but our experience has been that many such contraptions are akin to toddlers – rarely going where you want them to go without a fuss. And they can quickly sabotage other shoppers, so many conventions do not allow them. A better alternative is a strong teen that can shuttle purchases to the car – if you have one available to you, take advantage of that blessing!
Finally, look for demos. Not only are they fun to watch, but you can see actual products at work and judge for yourself how useful or interesting they will be for your family.
Exhibit Halls can be an outstanding place for you to examine a great variety of home education materials and engage in personal and insightful conversations, all in one place. So relax and have a good time; we hope to see you there!
Are you the checklist type? Here is a summary for you!
- Check out the vendors online and get familiar with what they offer.
- Make a list of what you need to find for each of your children
- If you really need to see a particular title, contact the vendor to make sure they will be bringing it with them.
- Write down questions you’d like answered.
- Pack supplies like return address labels, etc.
- Consider lodging in the conference hotel if possible.
- Pack driving and parking directions in an easily accessible place.
- Once you reach the Exhibit Hall, take a quick lap around to see what is there and get the lay of the land.
- Now go slowly and systematically. (If it is crowded at the front of the hall, consider making a beeline for the back and starting your circuit there.)
- Take the time to talk to as many vendors as is feasible.
- Ask questions!
- Ask vendors about their show specials.
- If possible, recruit a strong teen to shuttle your purchases directly to your car or room.
- Keep an eye out for demos.