If you are like most of us, you are
probably just a tad discouraged about now. You are in the thick of
homeschooling. Lessons are a little behind schedule, especially after the
holidays. The curriculum you chose just isn't working out the way you hoped.
Somewhere down the line, the organizational charts have disappeared and you
suspect that the dog ate them. Your kids have started to ask questions that you
can't answer, and you may feel very, very alone. Boarding school is starting to
look like an attractive option.
Cheer up! Homeschool convention season is
just around the corner!
Homeschool conventions are a great place
to learn what went wrong and to share the excitement of what went right during
your homeschooling year. You can learn how to get better organized, find new
answers to puzzling problems, grow encouraged, and do what homeschooling moms
love to do most-shop for new school materials!
Homeschooling conventions have grown tremendously
as the market itself has grown. Almost every state now hosts at least one
homeschool convention, with more active states hosting several. Vendors vie for
slots at these conventions, eager to display their wares. Speakers get valuable
exposure, while attendees benefit from the wisdom that they share.
According to Nancy St. Marie, Convention
Vice President for North Carolina Home Educators (NCHE), the true success of a
state convention is not measured in terms of its present size, but in terms of
its growth. "The 'best' conference is the one that meets the needs of the
homeschoolers who attend," she said. "The best measure of this is
that the conference is still going and growing. In North Carolina, we feel we are reaching a
large portion of the homeschoolers in our state, but we are always trying to do
By any measure, the NC state convention is
one of the largest and best organized in the nation. Last year, nearly 9000
people attended the huge event which is held in the largest convention center
in the state. Other large conventions include the Florida (FPEA) State
Convention, which had nearly 10,000 attendees last year, the Pennsylvania
(CHAP) Convention, which had nearly 7,500 attendees, and the California (CHEA)
Convention which had roughly 5,500 in attendance at its largest convention in Ontario
Whether large or small, homeschool
conventions offer a wide variety of events to help and encourage those who have
chosen the path of homeschooling. Conventions vary widely in scope and offerings.
Often these factors depend on the size of the homeschooling population in the
state, the structure of the state homeschool organization, and the length of
time a convention has been held in that state. Some larger conventions offer
graduation programs, talent shows, and special programs for school age children
and teens. Some conventions are broad in scope and present a wide variety of
ideas and approaches for attendees to explore, whereas others are focused on
certain ideals or approaches.
Convention organizers estimate that
between 20 and 30 percent of convention attendees are either new homeschoolers
or those considering the possibility. Most of the rest are veteran
homeschoolers who are looking for new ideas and desiring to increase their
knowledge. A few attendees are business people, there to connect with
publishers or vendors. The rest consist of the curious: those who simply want
to know more about the homeschool community.
Some of the convention terms may be confusing to
first time conventioneers. However, most conventions offer the following
activities, often expressed in these terms.
KEYNOTE ADDRESSES - Keynote addresses are typically speeches given
by a nationally-known homeschooling figure and deal with issues that are
relevant to most homeschoolers. They are often the most inspiring and
encouraging speeches given. Usually, these keynote addresses are scheduled so
that they are the only event offered in that time period. Announcements
pertaining to the convention are also usually made during this time, so it is
important to attend these sessions, if possible.
WORKSHOPS OR SESSIONS - These sessions generally run an hour in length
and deal with specific issues regarding homeschooling or family life. Usually,
several of these run concurrently and you have to choose the ones that suit
your needs. Most convention programs provide a brief description of the
workshop as well as codes that indicate whether the workshop is more
appropriate for moms of young children, moms of elementary or secondary-level students,
dads, teens, etc. This information will help you select the workshops best for
you. If you want to attend more sessions than are physically possible, tapes
are usually available for purchase.
VENDOR (OR EXHIBITOR) WORKSHOPS - These workshops are usually thirty minutes in
length and are sort of 'infomercials' for vendor products. Vendors generally
pay for this time in order to explain their products more fully to prospective
buyers and to answer questions concerning them. These sessions are a great way
to learn more about curriculum ideas that are new to you or to learn how to use
the programs more effectively. Often, you will meet the author of the
curriculum and can ask questions about how to adapt the program for your own
special needs. These are low-sales-pressure events and are usually purely
informative. If you decide to purchase the curriculum, you will usually buy it
in the vendor hall.
VENDOR HALL or EXHIBIT HALL - Vendors of curriculum and related homeschool
products gather here to display and sell their products. According to the The
Economist magazine, the homeschool market is now worth about $850 million a
year, so more and more vendors are turning their attention to the homeschool
market, creating products adapted to suit their needs. In addition, experienced
homeschooling parents are beginning to develop more curriculum products on
their own as they discover what works best for them and begin to fill needed
gaps in the market. Small conventions may have only a few vendors, whereas
large conventions may have 150 or more. However, you are sure to see some new
products wherever you go. Some conventions also offer a used curriculum area so
that parents can swap or sell their old books.
Perhaps you have heard of homeschool
conventions for years, but have never bothered to attend one. Perhaps this
whole idea is new to you. Or perhaps it has just been too difficult to attend.
It can be inconvenient for some families. Most conventions request that small
children not come, unless they are nursing infants. This is not an act of
callousness, but a necessary request where space is at a premium. Also, since
sessions are being taped, the possibility of noise naturally generated by
younger children is not welcome. So attending a convention may involve finding
an accommodating friend or relative to keep the young ones.
Therefore, you may be wondering why you
should go to all the time, trouble, and expense of attending a convention. What
benefits can attendance give you? Is it really worth it? Before you make a
decision, first look at the many great reasons you should attend a convention.
Here are some factors you may want to consider before you decide to join the
growing ranks of homeschool conventioneers.
The Wow Factor
"The first benefit is always the
"Wow" factor when someone arrives at the convention," explained
Cheryl Boglioli, State Chairman of the Florida Parent Educator's Convention
(FPEA). "It is an awesome experience to realize that you are not alone in
this endeavor and there are so many families of all walks of life with the same
"Awesome" is also how Scott
Adams describes his first convention trip to the North Carolina Convention last
year. Scott has four small children, but the concept of homeschooling is one
that is fairly new to him - an idea that he at first greeted with skepticism.
"I was surprised by the attendance. It was amazing seeing all those
families there and there were far more men there than I expected. It really
changed my view of homeschooling. It is one thing to hear about the numbers of
families that are doing it; it is another to actually see them gathered
The Encouragement Factor
Fearful new homeschoolers as well as
veterans near the end of their journey are both in desperate need of
encouragement. A homeschool convention with powerful and motivating speakers
provides enough encouragement for both. New homeschoolers come away feeling
like they can actually accomplish what they are setting out to do and veterans
are given the precious fuel they need to continue on the journey.
Kim Roper, Events Director for the
California Home Educator's Association (CHEA), explained how conventions
benefit both veterans and newcomers to the homeschool community:
"Newcomers often reignite the passion for homeschooling in seasoned
veterans. The veterans, in turn, often give timely wisdom and understanding to
new home educators who may be discouraged."
The Camaraderie Factor
No one among us likes the feeling of being
alone in our convictions. The homeschool convention provides an atmosphere of
camaraderie by sharing with large numbers of families the strong conviction to
provide for our own children's educational needs. It is revitalizing when we
realize that we are not in this journey alone.
In addition, homeschool conventions are a
great place to gather with others and discuss the successes and the failures of
the past year. Learning that someone else is having the same problem is almost
as beneficial as actually finding a solution! Since many homeschool parents
have little support from family or community, this is especially important.
"It comes down to support,"
explained Kim Roper. "The Scriptures tell us, in Hebrews 10:23-25, that we
should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but that we should
encourage one another. Obviously, Paul is talking about attending church in
this passage, but I believe the principle also applies to home educators. We
can be an independent lot and often forget that we can't do this alone!"
The Convenience Factor
So many product catalogs come in the mail
and you have so little time to read them! At a convention, large numbers of
homeschool vendors are represented and the opportunity to actually see their
wares is a great advantage over merely reading about them. Vendor workshops
often add the ability to learn how to use the products effectively in your own
"For vendors, the greatest part of
attending conventions is meeting the people," said Christi Patterson,
Events Coordinator of Alpha Omega. "Having the time to hear their stories
and helping them to find the perfect product for their students is a great
benefit. The face-to-face interaction that we have at conventions is
unparalleled. We have customers that specifically call and ask for reps that
they met at conventions because of the bond they formed in that little time
The Economic Factor
Though there are costs associated with
attending a convention, there are pay-offs as well. You will have the ability
to compare products and prices. You can ask others for recommendations and
advice that may help you avoid costly mistakes. In addition, some vendors offer
special discounts at conventions.
We introduce many new items at conventions
and super discounts are available," explained Tina Tatum, the owner of
Discount Homeschool Supplies. "It is also our best time to offer free
shipping and discounts for local orders."
owever, some vendors have a different
approach; it's an approach that they feel will also benefit customers
economically in the end. "Sonlight Curriculum does not offer special
pricing at conventions because we provide special pricing and benefits to all
customers all year long," explained Janice Hammersmith, Sonlight's
Curriculum Consultant Coordinator. "Choosing the right homeschool
curriculum for your family is a very big decision that takes time and research,
and we do not want customers to feel pressured to buy at a convention because
they receive a special deal," Janice added. "We want homeschooling
families to be able to take the necessary time to choose the best curriculum
fit. If customers find the right curriculum the first time they purchase, they
won't have to deal with the headaches of finding another curriculum in the
future and returning the curriculum that didn't work."
The Spiritual Factor
Oftentimes our hearts are convicted of a
certain road to travel with our families, but our minds are not totally
convinced. Conventions can bring the confirmation needed that you are
definitely on the right road and that you really did hear God's voice in your decisions.
Most conventions offer devotional workshops that serve to remind you that God
is the Source from which everything you have to offer your family flows.
I think one of the most important reasons
to attend a homeschool conference is that the Bible teaches, regarding
salvation, that those with shallow roots would not flourish,"
explains Melonie Young, whose husband serves as President of NCHE. "I
think this is true of homeschooling as well."
Over the years, the families that I have
seen succeed at homeschooling are those with deep roots - a strong spiritual
and philosophical basis for their homeschooling," she added.
"Convention is where you get that! Convention is like a spiritual retreat
where you can get away from the everyday cares of homeschooling and focus on
why you are doing this-and how you can do it better. The roots that you
will grow in response to the speakers and fellowship will help you weather the
storms of poor health, financial difficulties, struggling learners, and
The Connection Factor
Conventions are a perfect environment for
renewing old connections or for connecting with groups or organizations that
will help you on your journey. Memberships to national organizations as well as
local organizations are made available. You are given the opportunity to
reconnect with acquaintances or vendors and ask the questions that have been
burning in your mind all year. Staying connected can give you the strength and
support needed to keep going.
Conventions also give you the chance to
evaluate organizations such as HLSDA and your state homeschool organizations to
see if they will help your own family stay as connected as it should be.
"I was skeptical at first about the need to join my state
organization," said convention attendee Lynn Adams. Adams, who is
homeschooling for the first time this year, attended her first convention in
2003. "But when I saw all that my state organization did, all the services
they offered in keeping me informed, I decided that I wanted to be a part of
The Thinking Factor
Many homeschooling moms rarely get some
time off to really think through what they would like to see happen in their
homeschool. Time spent at a convention allows them the freedom and time they so
desperately need to process through all of their plans and ideas. A convention
offers parents a chance to gain a great deal of important information from a
variety of homeschool sources.
Speakers are a big part of this equation.
Homeschool conventions often gather the best and brightest stars of the
homeschool community who share wonderful ideas, provoke thoughtful discussions,
and make themselves available for consultation. "Our speakers care about
those who come to the convention," said Muffy Amico, the Convention Coordinator
for FPEA. "They give of their time, talent, and resources to help
encourage the attendees in this journey of homeschooling."
The Fun Factor
Homeschool conventions can be a time of
laughter and fun as we reconnect with friends and share experiences - some
wonderful, some disastrous, and some hilarious. Many conventions offer planned
activities for the children or workshops for teens, giving the moms and dads
time to shop or attend much-needed workshops or seminars themselves. Some also
offer family nights where everyone is invited for an entertaining evening.
Speakers and workshop leaders know first-hand the many tears and trials we go
through as homeschoolers. Therefore, they are often down-to-earth and funny and
can actually relate to what it takes to travel this road.
So by now, maybe you are thinking that you
should look up the homeschool convention in your state and check out the
possibilities. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and the homeschool
convention could just be the source of inspiration and encouragement that you
need. Despite the cost and travel involved, you will likely return home as a
better-equipped parent. As homeschool mom Lynn Adams explained, "We all
need encouragement, guidance, and ideas. Homeschool conventions have all that."
Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, renowned author and
homeschool conference speaker wrote an article entitled "The Boom in
Homeschool Conventions," in which he summed up their benefits this way:
"I could write a book about these wonderful homeschool conventions, the
families that attend them, and the fabulous entrepreneurs who offer their
products to parents who truly care about their children's well-being and
happiness. If you want to see the beautiful benefits of educational freedom, go
to a homeschool convention. You'll love it!"
Amelia Harper is a
homeschooling mother of five and pastor's wife.
She is the author of Literary
Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete one-year literature
curriculum for secondary level students.
She is also a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines. http://www.homescholarbooks.com. http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/MiddleEarthMom
Deborah Wuehler is the chief
contributing writer for Chapel, and Devotional Door/e-newsletter creator. She resides in Roseville, California
with her husband Richard and their seven gifts from heaven. She loves digging for buried treasure in the
Word, reading, writing, homeschooling, and dark chocolate! http://www.HomeschoolBlogger.com/DevDoorDeborah
Originally appeared in Winter 2005. Used with
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.