This is the fifth installment in a year-long blog party designed to help Sonlight celebrate 25 years of serving homeschoolers. In January, I introduced our family. February’s post was all about how we first started on our journey as a home educating family. In March I shared some words of wisdom garnered from our years of homeschooling. Last month, I shared a day in the life of our homeschool. And today, we focus on convention season.
I only know a handful of homeschoolers who haven’t made the convention rounds. Seems like everyone hits at least one per season; really, if organizations got smart, they’d start offering patches or buttons or some other collectible to mark the years attended. Not only would I personally have a ton of them … my kids would, too. Vendor halls are one of my kiddos favorite places. While their shopping mall experiences are minimal (I would rather eat bees than spend a day cruising a shopping center), during our years in WA we had two big conventions during which they could browse to their hearts’ content.
With that much experience, you can bet we have a strategy for making the most of convention time. Going to a homeschool fair unprepared is pretty much asking to spend more money than necessary on items you don’t need and won’t use, as well as forgetting what it was you went for in the first place. So what do we do to make sure we optimize the hours?
Step 1–Pray. Ask God to guide your decisions, to give you insight into the needs for the upcoming year, and to be your primary focus in choosing curriculum.
Step 2– Plan your sessions. Nearly all conventions have speakers and presentations, be they of the inspirational variety or the vendor show and tell stripe. Pick those first, and structure the rest of your time around those highlights.
Step 3–Plot your must-sees. Whether it’s a vendor booth, a meet-up with friends you only see occasion, or lining up to ask questions of a mentor panel, make sure you map your intentions so you don’t get side-tracked.
Step 4–Make your list. Purchases to be made at the convention should be written down. If you know an item for sure, note that. If you have a couple of items you’re waffling between, that goes on the list, too. This outline should come with you, and be your master shopping list.
Step 5–Scour the vendor page. The convention website should have a page listing all confirmed vendors for their hall. If they are really with it, there are even links to web sites that will help familiarize you with the products and services being offered. Take some time to look through the vendors. You might find some gems– especially in the form of local resources and groups. You might also uncover a bit of curriculum that would have otherwise flown under your radar.
Step 6–Know your prices. Some (not all) booths will be touting special pricing for the duration of the convention. The only way you’ll know if it’s a deal or not is to have an idea of the going rate before sales are applied. Make a note on your master list or, if you’re just looking in general (“I need to look at science options for my 7th grader.”) hit a few sites and price out the most popular options.
Step 7–Set your budget. Yes, really. Pick a number, and stay under it. Trust me, for every $200 must-have math program, there’s a just-as-good alternative at a fraction of the cost. Be realistic and remember that it’s not the “perfect” curriculum that will make your homeschool a standout– it’s God’s grace. Last time I checked, that was still free.
Finally, head to the convention. I can’t guarantee a perfect trip up and down the booth-lined aisles, but I can tell you that going with a plan will at least give you a solid start to keeping your head above water!