How to Make the Most of Attending a Home Education Conference

The 'end-of-the-school-year' and beginning of summer seems to be the most popular time for home education conferences.  Our family has always looked forward to attending family friendly conferences over the years, which serves a purpose for each of us.  As a home educator since 1996, I look forward to gleaning from those who have been on the journey longer than myself.  I am always encouraged and thankful for the memories that we make.  Conferences provide the benefit of learning ways to make our days more productive and intentional, providing the opportunity to find resources that can bring delight to learning in our home.  Attending a conference, allows me to be able to pick up and look at curriculum, speak with others about various topics that relate to home educating and provide a reminder that we are part of a much larger community than just our four walls.

Conferences range in size from a local setting, with families from around the area ranging in attendance of a hundred or so people, to much larger ones, that are on a state or national level ranging in attendance of thousands of people, usually gathering together in a span of a couple of days.  I have attended many since 1996 and find my happy place is in the hundreds; just enough to refresh and regroup to prepare for my next 'school year'.

Whatever size the conference, it is a good idea to have a plan of what you hope to attain from it.  Today I am going to share some things I do to prior to attending any conference.

Read through the speaker schedule and the descriptions of each session.

There are always a variety of topics being covered at the average to large sized conferences.  By reading through the schedule and each sessions' description, I am able to plan which ones are beneficial to attend based on my family's needs and interests.  Each season of life brings with it changes, so mapping out topics that will encourage, educate or prepare us for our current or upcoming needs helps to give me direction and purpose for the day.

Write out a personal agenda based on the speaker schedule.

This step allows me to make the most of my time at the convention.  If attending a mid-size or large convention, our family may break up into smaller groups to maximize our time there and customize our attendance of sessions as they relate to each husband and boys may attend a seminar that may be geared for fathers and sons while I attend a session that relates to teaching multiple grades or how to record keep or such.  We try not to do back to back sessions, but prioritize based on our goal for the day and mix into the day time for shopping and fellowshipping, too.  Some sessions, we may choose to purchase the download if there are two sessions being held simultaneously, which allows us to attend one and listen to the other at a later time.

Make a list of curriculum vendors or speaker tables to visit.

Prior to this step, I try to have a plan of what subjects and curriculum choices I will use with each child the upcoming school year.  Using a curriculum planner helps me to prepare for purchases I may need to make, as well as keeping me from impulse shopping.  There are so many good resources out there, but I will by no means be able to use everything.  Two statements I try keep in the forefront of my mind are:
"If it isn't broke, don't fix it," and "Don't recreate the wheel".  My time and resources are valuable, so I don't want to waste either trying something new, if there is no need to change or putting something together myself if there is already something out there put together already.

Have a budget and bring my plans with me.

I bring my personal agenda with me to help me stay focused and manage my time while at the conference.  I bring my curriculum planner with me so I have a guide on what purchases need to be made, knowing the price I am willing to pay for it and where I will need to purchase it from.  My husband and I discuss what our needs are for the upcoming year and set a budget for making purchases. Sometimes, I am able to purchase items used so when that is the case I note that on my curriculum planner.  Other times, making purchases new at the conferences can save in shipping costs.  Having a plan will ultimately save time and can't put a price on that.

Be Prepared:  What to Bring To the Conference

  • A tote bag ~ for carrying note-taking materials, snack, drink, etc.
  • A notepad, tablet, laptop or conference note-taking form you use for note-taking and pencils or pens ~ for taking notes; or use my Home Education Conference Notes form
  • Water bottle and/or snack ~ to keep fueled
  • Sweater or light weight jacket ~ sometimes it is cooler in the conference rooms
  • Wear comfortable shoes ~ especially if it is an all day or multi-day event in a large area
  • Shopping list ~ to help you keep focused and directed according to your plan
  • Rolling crate or small pull-behind-me suitcase ~ books are HEAVY so having a rolling cart will save your back and give you a place to put your purchases

Other Helpful Considerations to Bring

  • Accountability partner {spouse or friend} ~ especially if you have a tendency to impulse shop, but it is nice to be able to share the time with someone, discussing seminars, viewing curriculum together and for the camaraderie
  • An open heart ~ pray before attending that He would direct you according to where you need to be, providing materials will be beneficial to where you are on your home school journey.

Make it memorable.

Top:  Enjoying time with some friends back at the hotel.
Bottom Left:  Children attending the history presentation in the vendor hall at the convention.

Depending on which conference we attend, we try to make it memorable.  If it is a family affair, we may turn it into a mini-vacation with visiting a local museum or historic site.  If it is a smaller conference, which I may be attending alone, I try to arrange to meet friends and have lunch together or dinner afterwards.  Whatever you decide to do, remember to have fun!  Don't allow lack of preparation to cause you to be overwhelmed and discouraged.  Take a little time before the event to put a plan into play.  You'll be so glad you did!

We would make a mini-vacation during this convention staying a couple nights at
our favorite hotel, dining with friends and fitting in a trip to the local museums.  Precious
memories made many a year.
What things have you done when attending a home school conference to make the most of the time in the area?  Do you go as a family or is it a special moms' retreat?  Leave a comment; I'd love to hear your memories.


P.S.  If you are looking for a one day conference to be refreshed and encouraged, make plans to the FL Home Education Summit 2014 and be sure to register now.  Don't forget to stop by and say "hello" if you attend.  I am speaking at 12:30pm this year on effective time management.  I hope to see you there!


Julie said...

I just got home from the conference today! I immediately came to your blog because I wanted to know more! I am a mom of 7, 1yo-17yo! I am working on becoming more organized and efficient. I'm excited to explore your blog!

Jarnette Smith said...

Hi Julie and "nice to meet you". So glad you were able to attend the conference and I hope the day held many good things for you there. I encourage you to sign up at the bottom or on my sidebar, to stay connected. If you are local, I do post events from time to time that may be beneficial to you. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance or encouragement to you in the future.