Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...The HEAV Convention...Tips for Having the Best Time Ever!

I know, you hear "It's the most wonderful time of the year..." and strains of the Christmas song sung by Andy Williams float through your mind. I do love Christmas, really, I do. It's the celebration of our Savior's birth and a time to be thankful for family and friends, and to be together and acknowledge all of the Lord's blessings. Alas, it is also a LOT of work when you are a mom, and sometimes it can feel a bit hectic and rushed. Ask me my favorite holiday, and I will still say Christmas, and then Easter, but ask me my favorite time of the year, and I will without hesitation say, "Homeschool Convention time!!"

In our state, our convention is in June. That's right at the end of the "school year" (though we often continue on through the summer with special projects and studies) and it's a great way to get a worn out mom and teacher re-energized to take on another year of home education. It's also always right around my birthday, so for me, it's kind of like the most awesome birthday party ever. 

I look forward to heading to our state's convention every year. I've been to conferences run by "the professionals" when I taught in the public school system, and I can without reservation tell you that our state home educator's convention puts anything they ever came up with to shame. I've lived in several other states and also attended other local conferences, but still, the HEAV convention ranks at the top of my "best things to do if you are a home educator" list. I have only missed a few of the conventions since I started attending them thirteen years ago, right after we made the decision to pull Bubba out of public school after third grade, and those were missed only because we lived twenty or so hours away and I was too pregnant to drive myself and the kids to attend. I bought the convention cds/tapes instead and have spent many wonderful hours listening to them. 

Actually, that is one of my top suggestions to folks who attend a big convention like ours: understand that you will NOT be able to attend every session that sounds good to you, so plan to buy the cds/mp3s. Getting everywhere you want to be just won't happen, no matter how organized you are. You will get "lost" in the vendor hall or at the used curriculum sale, or your kids will get wrapped up in the chess tournament, or you will find someone fascinating to talk to and then BAM! you will realize you just missed hearing Tammy Duby talk about GASP! Are You Leaving Gaps? in your home education, and you just KNOW you needed to hear that one. Or you will show up to hear Ken Ham talk about the importance of Genesis and the room will already be full. 

Here's my advice: Don't Panic. You can still get all that great information just by ordering the mp3 set while you are at the convention. It is usually a bit pricey, but it's cheaper to order while there than later AND it will remove the pressure from you to be everywhere you can't possibly be all at the same time. You will relax and enjoy yourself much more if you go ahead and order the set before you even attend the first keynote address. Really. I have learned so much over the years from listening to many years of archived talks. I never mind road tripping because it's not just's an educational opportunity. Even my kids have enjoyed many of the talks and we've had some excellent discussions because of speakers we've liked a lot, or ones we have not quite agreed with.

In any case, I thought that since my giveaway for one complimentary family pass for the Home Educators of Virginia Convention on June 6-8 is just around the corner (it runs from April 29 to May 3rd), I would re-post some tips (with a few new revisions) for attending a convention or curriculum fair. You really do need to make some preparations ahead of time in order to make the most of your time and truly enjoy yourself, especially if it is your first time going to a meeting as big as this one is.

Here are my top tips for making

 the most of your time at a

homeschool convention 

or curriculum fair:

1. Sign up early. Generally conventions offer "Early Bird" specials to members and those who will sign up before a certain date receive a substantial savings. If it is your state homeschooling organization's convention, you will receive a discount for being a member, and I've found that even though the membership fee to join may make your total price a bit higher, it's a good idea to support your state organization because they likely do quite a lot to support how you get to home educate. From helping sponsor bills to allow your kids to access sports activities in the public schools to defending your right to choose your own curriculum, they are a vital part of the freedom to choose home education. Plus, while you can generally sign up at the door and pay a higher fee, you will usually have to wait in a much longer line than those who pre-register, and you won't receive a specially printed-up name tag, either. ;-)

2. If you receive your local convention's emails or publication, then you've probably had an opportunity to check out the speakers and topics already. Mark the ones you are very interested in, maybe using a different color for different family members if more than one person is attending. It helps to plan who you will go see ahead of time, or you might find yourself in a long line to gather your convention tags and schedule with only a few minutes to decide where to head next. But then again, remember, if you purchase the mp3 set, you don't have to worry if you choose a talk that is less than what you hoped for. You can listen to something better later.

3. Make plans ahead of time for what to do with your children. If your husband is not attending, they can stay with him, but really, dad's need to go to conventions, too. Our HEAV Convention has quite a few sessions specially eared towards the men of the family, and since registration cost covers the family (one price for spouses and kids, and grandparents, too!), it's a great way for everyone to learn something and reap some of the rewards that come from homeschooling by seeing the many success stories and realizing that there are so many nice people out there who are walking a similar path. The children's programs at our convention cost extra per day and fill up fast, so early registration is advisable. 

Our convention has several teen programs which also carry an extra cost, but may be just the thing to light a fire for a summer filled with delight-directed learning. Nursing babies, and sometimes even young children, can accompany their mothers if you don't have child care planned, but please remember to plan ahead by taking a bag of quiet playthings and snacks to distract your children. 

Also, please, be courteous and leave a session if your child starts to fuss or even to make happy noises. Usually, sessions are being taped for those mp3 sets and too much noise can ruin them, not to mention the fact that even nice baby coos make it difficult for folks to focus on the speaker. Everyone in the session paid good money to be there, just like you, and they deserve to be able to get the most out of it possible. Sometimes, if you must step out to calm a baby, the session moderator will give you a coupon to get a copy of that session on disk. It never hurts to ask, just as it is better to err on the side of caution with keeping children in a session than to ruin it for everyone else. 

4. Plan where you will park and eat ahead of time. Our convention is in Richmond, VA and there is plentiful parking, but the closer you are to the convention center, the more costly the parking is. Some years there have been benefits to forking out $15 to park for one day, but others, we've driven farther and walked to only pay $5. Of course, Dad can always drop the family at the door, and do the walking alone...but whatever you do, you need to remember that if you keep a cooler of food in the car for lunch or want to drive somewhere to eat, you need to have that car close by, and tired kids at the end of the day will have a difficult time making a long trek back to a far away lot. It also helps to be closer if you plan to do a lot of shopping and will need to unload your bags from time to time. Also, ask around ahead of time if you plan to dine out. Lunchtime is usually the same time for everyone, so you could stand in very long lines if you don't plan ahead, especially if you get lost because you don't know where you are going.

5. Make sure your cell phones are charged and ready to go. Have a plan for where to meet up at certain times, just in case someone in your group can't be reached. You don't want to get stressed out by not being able to find someone from whom you got separated in the crush of onlookers at the Robotics demonstration. Make sure your phones are on vibrate so their ringing does not accidentally disrupt a taped session, please. If you are taking younger children with you, be sure they know to stay with their assigned "buddy" at all times. It might help to have them wear coordinating colors to make it easier to pick out your kids in a crowd, if you have a lot of them. It might sound a bit stereotypical, but it's really just practical.

5. If you are traveling a long distance to be there, you may want to find lodging nearby and stay overnight, at least on Friday night, if it is a two-night weekend conference. We've chosen to drive the hour and a half back and forth each day to save the cost of lodging most years, but the year Bubba was graduating and I had very new baby Boo with us, we secured reservations at the hotel nearest to the convention center and it was quite nice to be able to go rest or change or drop things off in a room just across the street. If you do want to stay in a hotel, the earlier the better. Usually, groups reserve blocks of rooms at a special rate, so don't forget to check if you can get a lower price that way. You can often add a military discount or AAA to that, too. It never hurts to ask. 

6. This one is important, but you may need to wait to implement it for next year, but we've found that budgeting for convention spending ahead of time is a huge relief and makes the whole experience much, much better. It is so much nicer to spend money on what you need (or just want) when you are not causing a shortfall somewhere else. 

Talk it out with your husband and decide a reasonable amount to invest per child and determine how much you will need to set aside monthly to meet your goals. Find creative places to pull the money from, such as the grocery budget, by using coupons and putting the money you saved in the "Curriculum Account" instead. Sell old stuff you didn't like or use and put that money away, too. Clean a neighbor's guesthouse or watch someone's pet and save your pay. Sell used items on Craig's List or your local Facebook Trash or Treasure (online yardsale) forum. Let the kids start their own fund using money they earn doing jobs you want done around the house or by working for trusted friends and family. They'll have more fun shopping in your wake if they can keep their eyes peeled for a bargain, too.

7. Get informed. Do your primary initial curriculum research ahead of time. Do NOT wait until the day of the convention to get ideas on how you want to teach math to your third grader. Ask friends what they use, inquire at co-op or support group meetings, or post a query on a forum online, then take all the suggestions and start looking them up. Many sites offer trial versions, trial periods, or at least sample pages for you to look at. Request catalogs, compare prices, and see how much of any of the supplemental materials you need for any given program are available at your library (the more you can borrow for free, the better). 

You may wish to visit your local homeschool second-hand store (if you have one) or check out Craig's List or e-bay (or any other online vendor) before deciding to pay full-price at a convention. Swap meets, library sales, yard sales, thrift stores, and sometimes even public school discard boxes are good sources of cheaper (or possibly free) materials that may meet the needs you have. See my post on How to Homeschool for FREE (or at least, more inexpensively) before you go to your convention. However, vendors often do offer convention deals and/or free shipping if you buy while visiting the Vendor Hall, so take advantage of those offers, especially on large purchases.

8. Make a list and stick to it. After you have compiled a list of "wants" that you haven't found yet, whittle it down to your actual "needs." Don't discard the "want" list. Just keep in mind that every bank account has a limit and even the strongest-willed person in the world can be sorely tempted to go overboard in a super-packed Vendor Hall. It all looks so GOOD! Go to the fair armed with your two lists, shop for the "needs" first, then with what is left of your budget, HAVE FUN! 

You might consider splitting the leftovers between the kids and let each child make a delight-directed selection, such as some Adventures in Odyssey tapes, some chess teaching software, or a special sketch pad and pencils. You never know what new talents or joys you might discover.

9. I HIGHLY recommend taking a rolling suitcase or rolling basket to carry your purchases so you don't break your back (or the back of your teenager) toting all your finds around. Empty out your big scrapbook rolling bag and give it a new function. I've seen many folks load up the stroller and carry the baby! LOL. Last year our convention had a booth that for a low fee would box up your stuff and hold it for you to pick up later. I thought that was pretty nifty. Whatever you do to handle your new acquisitions, please make sure your conveyance is not too difficult to maneuver or too bulky to find a place to "park it" during a lecture, otherwise it will make your day less pleasant.

10. Also, remember to take a bottle of is thirsty work...and maybe a snack or two (convention prices for refreshments do not tend to be cheap...they were charging three bucks for a soda at ours and two bucks for a small bag of chips). Energy or granola bars are good ideas, or snack mix, but avoid snacks that are messy or have noisy wrappers as there are enough distractions and messes to deal with already.

11. Wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes or your little doggies will be worn out by the end of day one, let alone day two. My mom recommends taking a sweater, even if it is sweltering outside, because they often turn down the air conditioning very low to compensate for the volume of people in the room and it can get quite chilly. 

And this isn't a requirement, so much as a request, but while I do not subscribe to the stereotype that homeschool moms should be wearing skirts all the time, remember that there are folks with varying levels of conservativism attending the convention, so if your rules are a bit on the looser side, give the folks who might be on the more conservative side a bit of a break and dress in your nicer, comfortable, yet modest clothes. 

Over the years as more folks have entered the homeschooling trend, I've seen the dress code take a nosedive (especially for girls), and it's especially difficult for moms of teenaged boys when young ladies, or even moms, are wearing strapless tops and too short skirts. Be yourself, but be yourself with modesty, please. Thank you. 

12. Take a notebook. You may meet folks and want to exchange addresses. You may want to take notes at a very riveting lecture...having a composition book or legal pad to write on always comes in handy, and it's very annoying when you want one and don't have one. Speaking of meeting people, if you have family or business cards, you might want to take a stack to hand out to the many fascinating folks you will meet. It's so much quicker than writing the same information down again and again. I find that Vistaprint is a good source for inexpensive printed items.

13. Someone suggested this one and I just loved it: Take pre-printed labels with your name, address, phone number, and your email on them to use when you walk by booths you are interested in and they want you to fill out their sheet for a freebie (Vision Forum usually has great freebies at their booth). It will save you a lot of work and time.

14. Lastly, PLEASE remember to give your kids a break once in a while by stopping at the booth with the cool science gadgetry, the Lego table, the Robotics demo, or the chess tournament. Some booths are great for a few laughs, a few sparks, and maybe even an explosion or two...or at least a few minutes playing with a wooden pop gun or sword. Your kids will be grateful for the break, and you might just find something that tickles their fancy and lights an interest on fire if you relax and browse for a while. 

15. Whatever you do, just remember to HAVE FUN. The convention is meant to be a time of rejuvenation for you, to get you remembering why you have chosen to undertake this sometimes daunting, but always rewarding task. Listen to the kids playing their violins in the lobby for a few minutes, examine the artwork lined up along the walls, talk to the winning robotics team and give one of the bots a whirl...and be inspired. 

Well, if you get a chance, let me know how you made out at YOUR local convention this year. I'd really love to know what cool stuff you found. I might want to get one, too. 

If you live nearby, don't forget to come back here during the week of April 29th-May 3rd to enter to win a family pass to the HEAV Convention in Richmond, VA. It will be worth your while and may wind up being one of your favorite times of the year. I hope to see you there!

1 comment:

Moffat Family 5 said...

Thank you for this helpful guide...last year was my first year at a big convention, and I was a bit overwhelmed. I printed out your guide and am going to go through it, in depth, and make sure I get the most out of the HEAV convention this year. Your blog is a blessing...thank you!!

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