In the spring and summer, homeschooling content creators call this "convention season" and it's for good reason. There are so many homeschool conventions, conferences, expos, and days scheduled all over the country during the spring and summer that it warrants its own season.
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What does this mean for you, a homeschooler? It means that if you have any question about homeschooling, there will be someone at a homeschool convention that can answer that for you. If you're thinking about changing curriculum, you can browse, look through curriculums--even talk to the curriculum creator in a lot of instances.
Here are nine reasons why homeschooling families should attend homeschool conventions:
The first reason is the large variety of homeschooling speakers who pour out their expertise in sessions that are designed to help you and your children. There are keynote speakers that have been homeschooling for years (sometimes decades) and are fighting for you and your children on the national level. They have more encouraging knowledge in their little fingers that most have in their whole hand.
Last year's Teach Them Diligently in Pigeon Forge saw Kirk Cameron on stage, then Heidi St. John, and other powerhouse proponents of homeschooling. In smaller sessions you have homeschool content creators, curriculum writers, bloggers, and other homeschoolers who know what they're talking about, and give you that knowledge--and are often free right after the session for a few minutes or available in their booths to talk one-on-one with you. I know that after my session on special needs children last year at Teach Them Diligently-Pigeon Forge, I had a number of parents come to my booth to ask me specific questions about autism, ADHD, and other learning difficulties. They walked away with not only helpful information but also my card for further assistance. Many speakers are like that--or have resources that will help you in your homeschooling journey.
Tip: Bring a notebook to write notes, ideas as they come to you in sessions, questions to ask, booths to visit, etc. When you meet another homeschooling family and your families click, use your notebook to write their contact information down.
3. Phenomenal Sessions
Every homeschool convention company works tirelessly to bring in speakers who know what they're doing, and have something to say about it, and because of that, participants enjoy phenomenal sessions about a wide range of topics--from Homeschooling 101 to homeschooling special needs kids, to discussing government interference, and everything in between. You literally can gain a wealth of knowledge about homeschooling, and so can your kids. There are many sessions that relate to teenagers, such as choosing a college, or developing your high school transcript (your teens should go to these!). Every convention is different and offers a different slate of topics from which to choose.
3. Exhibit Hall
Here's where it gets fun -- and sometimes, overwhelming. There are so many booths exhibiting curriculum, curriculum helps, books, toys, opportunities--that it can get to be a bit much. Take your time, go through each aisle, making note of booths you want to come back and visit later (preferably, by yourself, while your husband or wife watches the kids out in the reception area).
I encourage you, if you and your spouse go to homeschool conventions together with the children, to give each spouse an opportunity to wander the exhibit hall alone. Last year, while I worked my booth at Teach Them Diligently-Pigeon Forge, my husband wandered the hall. He came back with a newfound love of homeschooling (yay!) and a lot of resources for our homeschooling daughter.
Also, go through the aisles with the children, too. They may see something that encourages them. Plus, it's great to see other homeschooling children and know they're not alone.
TIP: Wear very comfortable shoes. Leave the cute heels and flip-flops at home or hotel, and wear your sneakers. You will walk more than you think you will.
4. Children's Programs
Many homeschooling conventions will offer childrens' programs for little ones, elementary age, even middle school. When your kids get to be in high school, they can offer volunteer at these childrens' events (especially for Teach Them Diligently events). At some conventions, homeschooling high school graduations are held. Don't be afraid to let your kids be a part of the childrens' programs -- it gives them something to do, new friends to make, and gives you the opportunity to go to the sessions and exhibit hall in peace.
Tip: If allergies are a concern, simply pack your child's lunch and snacks, and make sure the staff knows about them. If your child has special needs, make sure the staff knows that, too.
5. Meeting Other Homeschoolers
Meeting other homeschooling families is a huge plus when attending homeschooling conventions. You realize you're not alone, and you can bounce ideas off one another. It's a great time of fellowship and meeting new friends.
6. Meeting Homeschooling Content Creators
Where else but a homeschooling convention can you actually meet Linda Lacour Hobar, the author of The Mystery of History, and talk with her one-on-one about history and what you liked about the curriculum? You can meet the very people that create your Bible devotions at the Not Consumed booth! You can meet me! I'd love to meet you and show you all the new things that are in my booth this year (you can preview them here).
TIP: Homeschooling creators work long hours to create and curate the things you see in their booths. The booths are not cheap, and they're certainly not free. Please do homeschooling content creators a solid and bring either cash or credit cards (most accept both or either) and buy something. It's a kindness--and keeps us going.
7. Buying Next Year's Curriculum
Often, you can find incredible deals on your favorite, or a new-to-you curriculum at conventions. Come armed with the credit card and go ahead and purchase it, taking advantage of any sales thay may be going on. Often (but not always), homeschool curriculum creators can ship the materials to your home so you're not lugging around 72 pounds of books throughout the exhibit hall.
TIP: Sometimes you'll buy a book and it'll weigh a good bit. Some conventions give swag bags but they're not hefty enough to carry a bunch of books. Bring a hefty totebag, an extra stroller, or something to carry your loot. Last year a family brought a wagon -- had their kids on each end and their haul in the middle. It was fantastic!
8. Traveling [according to my daughter who was scientifically polled for this article (meaning she walked in while I was writing and I asked her what the biggest benefit to going to homeschool conventions was to her)], is a side benefit of going to homeschool conventions. When you travel to a distant place for a convention, make it a fun time. Pigeon Forge (where Teach Them Diligently will be at this year) offers a huge amount of things to do besides going to the convention. Where else can you visit a Titanic exhibit, see a building with King Kong on it, and visit an upside-down house? We've stopped at educational and fun places on the way to a convention in Texas -- it breaks up the trip and adds a fun element to homeschool conventions (and makes that more educational).
9. Rededicating Your Family to the Homeschool Ideal
One of the most important aspects of going to a homeschool convention is the energy and confirmation of the "why" we homeschool. If you're teetering on the brink of giving up--by all means, go to a homeschool convention. Between the speakers, the keynotes, the sessions, meeting other homeschoolers, and exploring the booths in the exhibit halls, you will gain a new perspective on homeschooling and maybe recommit to it. It's important, especially in the culture in which we live as Christians, to see the importance of homeschooling. Attending homeschooling conventions can do that.
TIP: The food in convention venues is often pretty expensive. If you can (according to venue policies), pack your family's lunch. If you can't (because of policies), find a hotel near by in which to stay, and leave for an hour for lunch in your hotel, and come back. Or, keep the cooler in your car and go out to your car for lunch. Here's another tip: after a long day of conventioning, most of the time you just want to go back to the hotel. Bring a slow cooker with you from home, start it in the morning, and by the late afternoon and evening, dinner is ready for you when you get back to the hotel. Throw the kids in the pool, then shower everyone--it'll be an easy bedtime for everyone, just to get up the next day and either convention some more, or get on the road back home.
Here's a list of where I will be speaking and exhibiting, with a list of my session topics:
Tri-State Homeschool Conference
April 22, Shenandoah Junction, WV
Sessions: Homeschooling a Teen with Autism; Hope for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent; Homeschooling One Child; Life Skills, Chickens, and More
Teach Them Diligently-Pigeon Forge (affiliate link)
May 4-6, Pigeon Forge, TN
Coupon code ($20 off): McKee23
Session: Strategies on Homeschooling Kids with Special Needs
Gastonia Homeschool Day
May 8, Gastonia, NC
Thrive! The NCHE Homeschool Conference
May 25-27, Winston-Salem, NC
Sessions: Hope for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent; Homeschooling a Teen with Autism
Upstate Homeschool Expo
June 1 (4-8 pm); Greenville, SC
(C) 2023 Terrie Bentley McKee ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Terrie Bentley McKee is an author and speaker who homeschools her youngest daughter. Married to her husband Greg, they have four children, all of whom have special needs of varying degrees. Terrie is a follower of Jesus Christ and tries to glorify God in all she does. To read more about her testimony, click here.
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