Preparing for a Homeschool Convention, Part 1
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A friend of mine once admitted that the first time she visited a homeschool convention, she sat down and cried. She looked around at all the products being offered and felt completely overwhelmed. I understood her reaction. Homeschool conventions are full of fun, compelling and competing products. For someone new to homeschooling or new to homeschool conventions, it can be a bit much. But with a little planning you can go to your next convention confident and clear about what you want and what you have to spend.
Over the next two posts, I’m going to share how I prepare for a homeschool convention. I’m a bit of researcher, so for me, I find this part fun. I know, I need to get a better hobby, but hey, that’s why I keep this website. It’s a way to give purpose to my research-mania—I can say I’m doing it for you! But seriously, it also helps me avoid being overwhelmed on the day of the convention.
The basic approach I take is to start big and systematically reduce the information to just what I really need. Then I leave myself time to roam and dream and think.
Often by preregistering far enough in advance, you will save as much as 50% off of the door price and avoid standing in long lines on opening morning. And if you are up for volunteering, you can sometimes get in for free.
Homeschooling families often want to keep their children with them, but a homeschool convention may not be the best place for that. Let me explain. You need to concentrate. There is so much to look at and so many booths and workshops to visit that having children with you can make that difficult. That being said, if it is unavoidable, set you and your children up to succeed:
- If you plan to bring your infant with you, check to see if strollers are allowed on the convention floor. If they aren’t, then plan to take frequent breaks and pack a sling or other carrier. Often conventions have nursing mothers’ rooms, too, so make sure to locate that for nursing or changing your baby.
- Bring activities, like books, coloring books or quiet electronics, to keep children occupied during workshops.
- Bring snacks. While most venues won’t allow coolers in the doors, you can prepare some small snack packs to carry in your purse or backpack. This will save you money and keep your children occupied.
- Bring a water bottle. Even if you have to store it in your purse or backpack while you are on the sales floor, it will help you keep from feeding the hungry vending machines.
2. Make a List of Your Goals
Decide what you really need—a language arts curriculum, foreign language program, art supplies or something else. This sounds simple enough, but homeschool conventions are full of goodies. If you aren’t prepared going in, you can easily get caught up in buying fun, would-like-to-haves before you ever buy your must-haves. Make this distinction in your mind before you ever arrive at the convention.
3. Know Your Budget
If you aren’t careful, you can spend hundreds of dollars without even thinking about it. Decide what you really need first (see #2), then research the realistic cost of those items and leave yourself some play money, even if it is just $20. Then when you go into the convention, you won’t be surprised by the costs or overspend.
Keep a couple of things in mind as you prepare your budget:
- Some vendors offer convention specials.
This is another benefit to knowing what you need to buy before you arrive at the convention center. I have passed up on convention specials because I didn’t realize how good they were until I comparison shopped at home. I was kicking myself.
- Some vendors offer free shipping for convention orders.
If you are placing a large order with a large curriculum supplier (like Abeka), the free shipping makes a difference.
- Some vendors (like Sonlight) offer coupons and then direct you to their websites. They don’t actually take orders at the convention; they just allow you to handle the product before buying.
4. Review the List of Workshops
There are two types of workshops—the keynote speakers and the vendor speakers. Keynote speakers will speak on a variety of topics, not necessarily associated with their products. Obviously, they will speak about what they know, but they may also offer seminars on subjects like avoiding burnout, homeschooling through high school or teaching non-teaching spouses to be supportive.
The vendor speakers will usually offer an introduction into their products. Go into these sessions understanding that they are trying to sell you their products, and that’s ok. These sessions are great for getting details about a curriculum before you buy it as well as the research behind its preparation.
5. Review the Vendor List
Print out the vendor list and highlight the vendors you want to visit. Place this list in your convention folder (see #8).
6. Visit the Websites
If you don’t know a vendor, visit its website to get a better idea about what it offers. Then you can eliminate or add it to your must-visit list. Visiting vendor sites before has helped me find some great products, so when I get to the convention, I can look at them up-close. I already know a little about the product and maybe even have some questions that I can ask the vendors. Again, it’s less overwhelming to show up at the vendor’s booth knowing a little about its product.
7. Print Out the Sales Floor Map
Mark the vendors that you want to visit and a get mental picture of where the booths you want to visit are located. Realize that these may or may not be on the large sales floor. Some vendors, especially service groups, may be located elsewhere. Place this map in your folder (see #8).
8. Put Everything in One Place
Place all your papers in a folder and then place that folder in your bag, so you don’t forget it on the big day.
In my next post, I’ll give tips for the day of the convention. Be sure to check back.
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