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One week from today the first of the homeschool conventions and curriculum fairs in my area opens. It's the MACHE (Maryland) curriculum fair - no workshops and speakers and seminars - just the vendor hall. Next month is CHAP, the "big time" homeschool convention and curriculum fair in Pennsylvania. I attend the MACHE fair every year, and have attended CHAP numerous times. I've also been to a Teach Them Diligently convention. This year I have plans only for the curriculum fair, and I've got a few practical tips for surviving the season!
For new homeschoolers, and even for veterans that haven't been to a fair or convention, it can be overwhelming and intimidating. But if you do a little homework, you can save yourself some stress and make sure your convention experience is encouraging.
Plan to be inspired and encouraged.
Especially if you're attending a conference with some great speakers, you can expect to hear great ideas and challenging messages about being the best you can be at educating your children. There's a flipside though - homeschool moms can easily fall into the trap of thinking that if we can just do it like this or that expert says, then we will be successful; or if we don't do something the way so-and-so recommends, then we're doing it wrong. Go into any speaker's session with the mindset that you will glean what's most useful and appropriate for you out of what you hear, but not feel guilty for not applying every piece of advice. It's just like all the well-meaning advice you get when you're a brand-new parent - listen politely, evaluate what will suit you, and leave the rest.
Manage your time and energy.
This is hilarious advice, coming from me, because I'm not usually good at it. But I have learned how to plan my time at homeschool conventions. Prioritize. Are you there for the speakers, the vendors, or both? Which speakers are most important to you? Check the schedule and block out those chunks of time. Two workshops on at the same time? Most conventions offer recordings of the workshops, so if you're faced with this dilemma, you can probably get one of the workshops on CD or download. Check the map as well. If the speakers you want to hear are on the 3rd floor at 1pm and 2:30pm, with only a half hour break in between, it's probably not going to work to go down to the vendor hall on the first floor during that half hour. You'd probably be wiser to take that half hour for a bathroom break, a snack, and a bit of a relax.
Know why you're in the vendor hall.
Make a list and check it twice.
With the ease of online shopping, why would we want to buy from the vendors at the convention? Well, a couple of reasons come to mind. One is event pricing. Sometimes there's a discount or sale price offered as a convention special, and it's not unusual for vendors to waive shipping fees if you order from the convention. Another reason is being able to really see what you're getting. Personally, I like to be able to flip through the book, and read a little here and there. A third reason might be the personal touch. Many of the vendors are small, family-run businesses, and the chance for them to interact with their customers and potential customers is valuable on both sides. Sometimes I like to stop at the table of a favorite vendor and be able to speak directly to an author to tell them how much we appreciate their materials.
So if you know exactly what you need to buy for next school year, make your shopping list. Do some research before you go, so that you know what the online prices are, including any shipping or taxes. That way you know whether the convention prices are better or not. If there's anything you're not completely sure about, plan to pick it up and hold it in your hands and ask questions about it at the convention.
My strategy for the MACHE fair has often been to attend on Friday evening with only my shopping list in hand. I have all evening to browse and jot down ideas and prices in my shopping list notebook. Then I can go home and think and pray, maybe get some input from my students, and do a little more online research. On Saturday, when my time is usually a little shorter, I stop by the fair knowing exactly which booths to visit again and what I will purchase when I get there. This has saved me from paying too much or making snap decisions on a number of occasions.
Keep an open mind.
A few of our favorite resources have been things I found at a curriculum fair that I would not have considered otherwise. There is always something new to consider, even for those of us that make it our business to blog about homeschool products! Some notable examples from our homeschool include Practical Drafting from Insight Technical Education. I noticed this book and Graphic Design while browsing through an art supply vendors books. I would not have known about it otherwise, and it has turned out to be most useful for my boys.
This past year Kennady has been using Visits to Europe from Simply Charlotte Mason. She knew she wanted to study the geography and culture of Europe, but we hadn't found a curriculum at her grade level that covered the material she wanted. I happened to see these books at the Simply Charlotte Mason booth at TTD last year. The very helpful lady at the booth offered to answer my questions, and I had a ton of them! It turns out that I was talking directly to the author, who was ever so gracious and kind, and the book turned out to be almost exactly what we had in mind.
Y'know... even Life of Fred... I pretty much figured this might be what would work for math for Kennady, but I felt much better about purchasing the first couple of books at a curriculum fair after being able to page through them.
Go with a friend.
If you have to travel, share the ride and save on gas money. So that's practical! If you're with a friend, you can also divide and conquer when it comes to speakers. I'll go hear this one, you go hear that one, and we'll share what we each heard over lunch. And the advice of a fellow homeschooling friend can be the voice of reason when you're torn between this science text or that one.... hmmmm...
And of course, it's just more fun with a friend! I've also had the opportunity to meet up with friends that I've made online while at homeschool conventions, which is pretty exciting!
What are your survival tips for homeschool conventions? Or what are your questions about conventions? Leave a comment and let me know!
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