I’m a very organized conference attendee. I’m a pro.
Allow me talk to you about steps you can take the get the most out of your time. Let’s face it: you don’t get the luxury of time to think and focus, plus have people speak into your life very often. If every hour cost you $150, you’d pay attention to how you spent the time, right? Right. That’s how I want you to think about your time at a conference.
First, I highly recommend you spend time writing a vision statement for each child, for each grade. Spend time reflecting on:
- What God wants for your child this year
- What worked really well for your child last year
- What caused strife for your child last year
- Repeated themes in behavior or lessons
In my vision statement for my rising 4 year old, I have:
- purpose, including our family vision statement
- commitments of myself, my spouse and my son
- topics of study
- tempo of study
- methods of study
Use your vision statement as a way to measure how you’ll spend your time, who you’ll allow to speak into your life at the conference, and what materials in which you feel you should invest.
Second, get a schedule of what’s being taught. Narrow the list down to the 1-2 sessions you want to attend each hour of the conference. I narrow my list down by the process of elimination. I choose session based on topics for which I’m curious, and by which topics I enjoy the least, and the most. I choose to go to some sessions I don’t enjoy because I often find I don’t have a proclivity for teaching that topic, and need some alternative and creative ideas to get inspired to do a more comprehensive and better job of teaching it. I choose to go to the sessions I enjoy the most, because I’m more than likely pretty good at teaching that subject, and have a chance at becoming the better with ease. This makes me a better contributor for my co-ops and homeschool groups, and just as importantly, better for my children. If I am not gaining growth during one session, I leave quietly, and go to my second choice for that hour.
Third, I look at who is speaking before choosing my sessions. Sometimes the speaker alone is enough to make me attend, or avoid a session. If I know someone is firmly rooted in ‘the Word’, I’ll often go, because often, they have ‘life truths’ I need to hear. By the way, if you find that a speaker doesn’t talk your language during one session, don’t go back to another session they are teaching because more than likely, they still won’t be playing your music. In other words, you will make better use of your money attending the session of a speaker you love, even if they’re talking about a topic that may not be something you think you needed.
Forth, if sessions are really just advertisements for curriculum or books, it may make sense to just download a sample of the book, or a sample lesson plan from a curriculum, versus investing a whole hour to sit and listen to their sales pitch. You can also go by their booth in the exhibit hall instead, and talk to their rep directly, from whom you’ll often receive much more targeted answers, and even short product demonstrations.
Fifth, search online for customer reviews. Often, these reviews will tell you more about the practical use of a curriculum than you can simply envision on your own. Talk to other homeschooling friends, especially with moms who are nearing the end of homeschooling many children well, or who have turned out in a way that you would want your children to turn out.
Sixth, write down what booths you want to visit before you go. Looking at the glossy marketing websites often isn’t enough to really gain a sense of what’s included in curriculum. I write down whose booths I want to see when I need to get my hands on materials, thumb through, and compare ‘apples to apples’.
Seventh, you may want to write a reminder for yourself of what you definitely don’t want to purchase, because you may have material at home with which you can make better use than you did last year.
Eighth, when you’re at the conference, compare prices for books and resources to the prices listed online. Sometimes you will decide you love an item, but you want to find it second hand. You might even prefer a different format, as in an electronic book (ebook), or mp3 (audio file). Try to estimate a monetary value for an item before purchasing. I always try to think about what I have at home, what can be created DIY, and what can be purchased or downloaded for free before buying at a conference. Also, some items simply aren’t easily purchased outside of the conference – this is usually the case when the vendor is new or just decides to keep thing low budget and ‘off line’.
Ninth, try to avoid having to bring you children if possible. The exception to this rule is if you have a nursing baby, or can’t arrange safe childcare. Be honest. You love your kids. But they make it hard to pay attention and focus sometimes. If you have to bring your children, bring snacks and drinks for them, plus quiet activities for them to do. Be realistic about their ability to sit quietly for so long. Give them brain breaks to go out somewhere an run, play, vocalize, and be children for crying out loud.
Tenth, refuel. Make sure your body is well-fed, well-rested, and well-energized. It takes a lot of work to sit and focus for 8 hours or longer. Bring snacks. Bring coffee if you need it. Bring water. Use the restroom so you’re not distracted by your bladder during sessions. Brush your teeth. Splash water on your face if you need to wake up.
If you’ve done these things, when you get to the homeschool conference, you will know where you’re headed during each hour and you can share this with your friends and spouse – why not buffer in some time to socialize while you’re there? You can navigate the busy halls of the exhibitors without distractions and make the best use of your money. I encourage you to purchase items second hand if you can. Some items are just easier to afford second hand, and there’s not any downside to it. Most importantly, you’ll be homeschooling with the end in mind. Homeschooling with the end in mind is good practice. You’re homeschooling to get past the static phases of memorization and into developing the deep wells of logic, reasoning, knowledge, judgment and wisdom in your children.
Oh, and while you’re in your sessions, Take Notes! Don’t forget what was being taught that day. There’s too much information to absorb and remember. Take notes for yourself.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).