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Conference Conundrum

Tips for having a grand time at a homeschool conference or convention.

“co-nun-drum: an intricate and difficult problem syn see mystery.” –Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

By Ann Zeise

The season of conferences, conventions and curriculum fairs is once again upon us. So why so many different names? The inclusive (“We don’t care what your religion or lack thereof is”) crowd tends to call their gatherings “Conferences.” The Fundamentalist Christian (“Sign our statement of faith.” crowd) tends to call their gatherings “Conventions.” While both will have a vendor hall, a “conference” will usually have a wide selection of “educational materials and books” and a few tables with anything resembling “textbooks.” A “Convention” is most likely going to have graded, Christian curriculum material, and fewer general “educational toys.” A “Curriculum Fair” will have materials of all sorts, depending on the sponsoring group.

Finding Conferences on this Website

Regional and World Wide
Look under the “Events” subtitle. Look in the association web site links, and sometimes the support groups or other resources will have conferences. Look also on the pages for states where you are willing to travel.

Events Calendar
Conferences listed by date, when “where” isn’t as important as “when.” Search in your state group.

Religious and cultural groups often have national conferences.

Distance Learning
Some of these programs have national conferences for those who use their services.

Methods & Styles
There are national conferences for those using specific methods, such as Charlotte Mason, Waldorf and Montessori.

Well in advance …

Decide who will go and who will stay home.

  • Would it be best to go alone, so you can concentrate on your needs only?
  • Will there be enough workshops to interest Dad? Can he arrange vacation time?
  • Children must be supervised at all times, and others will expect you to put the needs of your children first. If yours can’t sit still, and there’s no childrens’ workshops, consider alternatives:
    • Leave them at home (Christian conventions discourage children. Inclusive conferences often make accommodations.)
    • Bring along a sitter
    • See if the conference allows parents to share one pass so you can take turns attending workshops and watching the children.
    • Be prepared to have to leave in the middle of a talk in order to care of your child’s needs quietly outside.
  • Will there be special activities for teenagers?
  • Would it be a good idea to bring along that “Doubting Thomas” in your family? Maybe not for your very first time to a particular conference, but once you are familiar with it, maybe the second year.

Plan ahead, and make your reservations early to get the “early bird” discount.

Make a list of questions and concerns you have about homeschooling your children at their particular stage of learning.

Read about the speakers and workshop moderators. Decide which ones you simply must hear to get your questions answered.

  • Search for their names online to see if they have any essays here on my site or elsewhere.
  • Buy their book(s) and read before you go. It will be nice to be able to talk to the authors about their books. (or if the book is just awful, you’ll know who to avoid!)
  • Bring the books along and have the authors sign.
  • Often you will be encouraged to pass notes with questions up to the speakers, so have your question list with you at all times.

Send for catalogs from the vendors that will be there, or look at their online sites.

  • Share the catalogs with your family and think about which products will most likely lead to the educational goals you have all set.
  • Make a list of the products and their catalog prices. Online you’ll most likely have to pay shipping but not taxes. At the conference you’ll have to pay taxes but not shipping, if you’ll be taking the products with you.
  • Prioritize the items by cost and by how essential they are.
  • Decide which products you want to seriously compare.
  • Make a list of products you already have, so your spouse won’t go and buy them again. (“No, dear, we don’t need another copy of Mary Griffith’s book.”) If your “curriculum” on hand is somewhat sorted, you’ll be able to see where the gaps are, where you may need to pick up new stuff. (“No, dear, we already have 12 books on “weather,” I don’t think we really need another.”)

What to Bring

Avoiding Hotel Food
How to survive at a homeschool conference with starving children in a hotel room where all the food is way too expensive for your budget.

Only the amount of money that you have budgeted to spend.

A camera. You’ll want pictures of speakers, friends you and your children make, products you may want to buy later. Here are some photos one dad took at the HSC conference in Sacramento, 2005.

Clothes to layer up with. Though it’s 100 degrees outside, hotel air conditioning may make workshop rooms about 60.

Family cell phones. Turn them off or to “vibrate” during speakers, but it helps to reunite your family for meals and other breaks.

Extra bags or small suitcase to bring stuff home.

Notebook or “organizer” to take notes during speakers and workshops. I’ve been seeing portable computers and iPads as well recently. You’ll also want to collect addresses and phone numbers of other homeschool families.

Supply of such things as water bottles, lotion, snacks.

A small hole punch and a strong lanyard. You’ll want to attach the conference pass and the hotel door card in some way more securely than you’ll be given originally. Fishing vests were all the rage at one conference!

Day of the Conference

Arrive early.

  • You will be more likely to get your hotel room preference.
  • You will have more time to go over the schedule.
  • You will have time to get comfortable with your surroundings, perhaps take a swim or a shower after a long drive, get a bite to eat, etc.
  • Decide on a central meeting point with family members and friends, and expectations on when you will meet there.

Talk to others.

  • People who show up for conferences are usually outgoing and friendly.
  • They will either be new to homeschooling, and you can discuss your concerns and why you are considering homeschooling.
  • Or they will be veterans, and be able to steer you to the resources you are looking for. They’ll be able to tell you who their favorite speakers and moderators are.
  • There may be other events a the same hotel, but homeschoolers, well, tend to look like homeschoolers. They won’t be as dressy as the wedding party. They won’t be in suits like the business group.

Attend the opening talk.

  • You’ll be told about any conference ground rules, such as what to do about a crying baby.
  • There will be announcements about any changes to the schedule, such as speakers who may have gotten ill, room changes, and so on.
  • You’ll get a chance to meet conference organizers and figure out who is in charge of what.

Attend your first workshop.

  • Inevitably, you’ll want to be at two or three at the same time. Often CDs will be available at the end of the conference, so attend the ones where you most want to ask questions of the moderator.
  • If you find that the workshop is not what you expected, or you get enough out of it in the first minutes, feel free to get up and walk out and catch the end of another workshop.
  • Select the workshops you need most to get through this year. The ones about homeschooling teenagers can wait until your oldest is 13.
  • 90% of the presenters will be back next year, so what you don’t get to this time, you can hear next year.

Take a break.

  • Have lunch, take a dip in the hotel pool, meet with friends old and new.
  • Take a short nap, if you are good at doing that.

Attend afternoon workshops.

  • You’ll get fresh ideas and new perspectives with each different presenter.
  • You’ll realize that there are many different philosophies and methods of educating your child.
  • Those who thought they’d come away with one formula for homeschooling will be disappointed, and wondering why they feel more confused than ever.
  • Others will have their eyes opened to the wonderful possibilities. They will feel the joy of knowing that, yeh, they don’t have to duplicate school at home if they don’t want to. Most methods of homeschooling work, so they’ll be glad to have so many to choose from.
  • Take a deep breath, and then enter …

The Vendor Hall

Check out the vendors.

  • Depending on the size of the vendor hall, many have their systems and strategies for running the gauntlet.
  • If you have been provided with a map of the vendor hall, mark the vendors you most want to look at. If they are clustered in one area start there.
  • You still have your shopping and goals list, right?
  • If possible, let your children look at the materials, and note how they react. Something that may look dull as dirt may catch their fancy, while another item you feel is “highly educational” may be totally unpalatable to your preteen.
  • Some vendors will be homeschool families. Ask the vendors about their homeschool experience: which of their products their own children preferred. It will become quite apparent which vendors really understand the needs of homeschool families and which haven’t a clue.

When to buy

  • Ask if there is a conference discount from the catalog prices. If there’s no incentive to “buy now,” wait until you get home.
  • Often vendors have a large supply of each item, and you can take the chance near the end of the conference that they will be discounting the prices so they won’t have to ship the products home.
  • Other vendors will have a wide variety, but not much on hand of any one item. These are the hardest to resist. Buy now or order later? If they don’t fit into your goals list, don’t impulse buy! Accept the vendor’s catalog and mark the tempting items. Decide when you get home.
  • The religious may want to pray. You’ll see the unreligious doing this, too.
  • All do better if they just bring along the amount of cash they are willing to spend, and when it’s gone, it’s gone.



  • Sometimes we get “peopled out” by this time, and just want to be alone with our family.
  • Other times, we’re feeling social and want to be with all our friends and family around the biggest tables we can find.
  • Hotel meals are expensive. You may want to check out nearby alternatives. Join in with other families and order pizzas.
  • Last conference I attended, I forgot to make hotel reservations early enough and wound up at a nearby associated motel. It was great! The pool wasn’t crowded and the meals were cheaper and so were the room prices.

Party Time

  • Often evenings are filled with some fun social events, such as folk dancing or learning how to swing dance.
  • You have energy left for this, right?

When you get home

Go through the handouts.

  • File according to topic, which will either be a general homeschooling topic, or a curriculum topic.
  • Or put them in a binder with tabs for each topic. In a few years, you’ll have your own, custom “How to Homeschool” book.

Go through the vendor flyers

  • Trash those that are of no interest to you.
  • Note the web addresses of those that may be of interest later, bookmark them, and trash the paper.
  • Keepers I put in a binder alphabetically. Small ones and booklets go in plastic pockets intended for presentations.

New stuff

  • Books are more likely to get read if they go directly to bedside reading tables immediately.
  • Reference books I shelve according to topic.
  • Games and toys – let the kids start learning with them immediately while interest is high.

Advice from others

Avoiding Hotel Food
How to survive at a homeschool conference with starving children in a hotel room where all the food is way too expensive for your budget. By Nancy Friedland.

Choosing Curriculum
Overall advice on selecting learning materials.

How to Survive a Homeschool Convention
Tammy Montel has a number of great tips on how to attend one of those large, Christian curriculum conventions and manage to come home with things your children might really use.

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