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No. 2

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Early Years Previous Page Next Page
by Vicki Bentley
- disclaimer -
How to Enjoy Your State Convention
Vicki Bentley
Rebekah Bentley
Vicki Bentley

If you are about to attend your first or second (or tenth!) homeschool convention, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the exhibit hall and the long list of workshop choices. Here are a few helpful hints.


Pre-register, if possible. This will save you money, time, and stress. If this is not workable, you can usually still register at the door, although the fee may be higher. See your state organization’s website or convention brochure for registration information.


Read all the pre-convention info on the organization’s website. It may contain information about speaker biographies and websites, workshops, exhibit hall hours, exhibitors list, children’s program, hotels, restaurants, parking, volunteer opportunities, graduation ceremonies, and frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Determine your purpose(s) in attending. Are you looking for curriculum? Musical instruments? College admission info? Life skills helps? Encouragement for yourself? Just want to see what’s available, to touch and see it all “up close and personal”? Or maybe you’ve been looking forward to asking the author how to best use the material you already have. Want to pick up a few fun family games? Perhaps you need some books to augment a unit study or to build your home library. And those workshops all sound so inviting! Or maybe you simply want to bask in the company of thousands of others who will reassure you that your children can succeed!

Whatever your focus, be sure to allocate your time accordingly. Make a written list of priorities, because once you walk into that building, even the best intentions can get lost in the excitement!

Things to Bring with You

  • Directions to the convention center.
  • Cash for parking.
  • Comfortable shoes. You’ll do lots of walking!
  • Layered clothing. The air conditioning temperature often varies by room.
  • Cash for the book-and-bag check. The stuff gets heavy. Consider buying or bringing a fold-up rolling cart if your facility allows them (put your name on it!).
  • Address labels for mailing lists, drawings, etc. I like to use those little “freebie” labels that I receive in the mail from charities.
  • Snacks to leave in your room or car. Some convention centers do not allow “outside” food in the facility, so check the rules.
  • Notebook and pen/pencil.
  • A roomy, easy-to-carry purse or tote (or fanny pack).
  • Your wish list.
  • Your schedule
  • .
  • Your registration confirmation letter.
  • State organization membership card, if applicable.
  • Hotel confirmation, if applicable.
  • Money for exhibit hall purchases and meals.
  • Here for You

    HSLDA members may contact our early years coordinator, Vicki Bentley, for advice on teaching preschoolers through 8th graders.

    Browse: www.hslda.org/earlyyears

    Email: www.hslda.org/contactstaff

    Call: 540-338-5600

    Develop a plan. Determine what time you will leave the house (you can at least aim for that), where you’ll park, how much time you’ll devote to workshops, and how long you will spend in the exhibit hall.

    Make a wish list. List the items which most interest you—based on your goals for your children—with several alternative selections noted; preselecting a second or third choice helps me to think quickly. I list all the topics we’re covering in the coming year’s units, so I can stay focused on my more immediate needs, and better resist the temptation to snatch up a bargain that won’t really be useful to me for another year or two.

    Specific titles are very useful, if possible. One year I accidentally purchased three copies of the same well-known science book because the publisher had changed the cover several times and I didn’t recognize the title as a book I’d already purchased!

    You may wish to include a homeschool planner, art supplies, educational games, and other non-textbook items.

    Determine your budget. Know what you can afford and stick to it!

    Mark your schedule in advance. Print the online schedule or use the one that comes in your convention confirmation packet. In each time slot, highlight the workshop most beneficial to you. Mark off exhibit hall shopping times, if needed, and be prepared to pick up a few CDs of the workshops you can’t get to (or better yet, get the MP3 of the entire convention if it’s available, so you can review the great material you heard!).

    If your children will be accompanying you, note where your workshops are in relation to their program room, if there is a children’s program, and be sure to plan to pick them up for lunch!

    Pray. Lift up the convention staff, speakers, exhibitors, and other attendees, as well as your own decisions and safe travel.

    Organize. Make any last-minute preparations for any family members you are not taking with you, including meals, instructions for preparation, emergency numbers, and other needs.

    Pack the day before. See sidebar “Things to bring with you.”


    Notice where you parked your car.

    Check in at the registration table. Pick up any name tags or holders, maps, programs, restaurant lists, and taping order forms.

    Look through your convention program. Not just “for looks,” your program is full of helpful information you’ll want to skim immediately, such as a workshop schedule, facility map, conference hours, lost and found, and more. Later, you can read it more thoroughly!

    You may want to transfer your brought-from-home schedule notes to this program for ease of use and to check for any last-minute room changes.

    In the exhibit hall, make your first pass through without the wallet accessible! Take notes on what’s where, then come back through and make your purchases. Of course, if you think something is a great find, it may not be there later, and you must judge if it’s worth a first-pass purchase. (This is where a conference’s book-and-bag check can be a lifesaver!)

    Homeschool conventions provide a great opportunity to improve your teaching skills, compare curriculum in person, and connect with fellow homeschoolers.

    The exhibitors go to great lengths (and expense) to be there for you; in many cases, you are actually talking with the author of the book or developer of the material. If an exhibitor spends his time to answer your questions or explain various programs to you, please consider the value of his time/expertise and then purchase from him rather than automatically making a purchase elsewhere to save a dollar.

    In the workshops, turn your cell phone off or to vibrate, and seat yourself near an exit if you have a baby with you. Because the workshops are probably recorded, it is courteous to temporarily leave the room if your baby makes noise (happy or sad) or if you must take a call. For the same reason, be careful not to let the door slam. If a workshop seems full, it is also helpful to scoot in along the row so the outer seats will be more accessible to latecomers.

    Your workshop evaluations are very important to the coordinators. Please be as specific as possible in your suggestions, recommendations, praise, and criticism.

    Join your state organization. If you aren’t already a member, consider joining to support homeschooling in your state.

    Order CDs of workshops you were unable to attend (or really enjoyed and would like to review). If it is available, an MP3 of the full convention is a great value!

    Consider volunteering. Even an hour or two of your time will be a great blessing to the convention! Check at the volunteer table or the state organization table for needs.

    Make new friends (and renew old acquaintances).

    Turn in your evaluation form(s) and your name tag holder before leaving.


    Look through any goodie bags you received. Take advantage of any special offers.

    Consider sending a thank-you email or note to those who made the weekend possible. If you have words of praise or polite criticism, be as specific as possible; your comments are very important and help the coordinators plan for the following year.

    Start setting aside a few dollars each month for next year’s convention!

    Editor’s Note: This column was adapted from articles by the author that originally appeared in Homeschooling Today (March 2009) and several state organization magazines.

    A Head Start for New Homeschoolers

    If you are very new to homeschooling, research some of your options before you attend a convention.

    Will you use a packaged curriculum to get started? Or will you choose various books and games that fit into your plan? Are there some subjects that you can teach to all the children at one time in a multi-level approach? Do you prefer the security and continuity of a traditional textbook approach, or do you like the idea of an integrated unit study approach? Maybe the patriotism of the principle approach excites you, or possibly your nurturing instincts go into overdrive when you read about Charlotte Mason’s gentler approach to learning. As you read, you may find that the classical approach sounds like what you equate with homeschooling, or maybe you are attracted to the relaxed approach of studying what is of interest in your family at the moment. For more information, visit HSLDA’s Early Years website. .

    Feel free to borrow and rearrange from all these different approaches; they are not mutually exclusive. That’s one of the wonderful benefits of homeschooling—you can create a custom curriculum!

    The HSLDA Online Store carries lots of resources to help you think through your teaching preferences, your children’s learning styles, and the materials that would best suit your family.

    In addition to HSLDA’s offerings, check with your favorite book vendor for good basics including Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, Robin Sampson’s Heart of Wisdom, Clay and Sally Clarkson’s Educating the WholeHearted Child, and Mary Pride’s Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling.

    Concerned about covering the bases? Take a peek at Sampson’s What Your Child Needs to Know When—and be sure to read the first half to get her perspective on why and how we do what we do, then glean from the K–8 skills checklists.