I've been speaking and exhibiting at homeschool conventions now for the last fifteen years. I've lectured and conducted workshops at conventions in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, California, Oregon, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and in other remote locations that I can't quite recall. In any case, I've always enjoyed the experience. I've enjoyed meeting parents, listening to their comments, answering their questions. What pleases me most is when parents tell me that it was something I said five years ago or so that convinced them to homeschool their kids. I also enjoy being told how well their kids learned to read with Alpha-Phonics!
For me, a speaker and exhibitor, getting the most out of a homeschool convention is seeing how home education has grown from one year to the next, listening to the other speakers, being amazed at the plethora of new books and materials being offered, observing parents and children as they wend their way through the aisles, looking over books and curricula, filling the lecture halls, and singing hymns of glory to God. A homeschool convention is like a religious revival meeting, because it is so filled with the spirit of parents and children bonding in a way that fulfills the true Godly function of the family.
What one sees at homeschool conventions are families enjoying the whole process of education. Not only do they carefully select books and curricula for the coming year, but they listen to inspiring talks by dedicated speakers who provide the kind of information and encouragement you would never hear from the mouth of a public school superintendent. The fact that you are at the convention is a measure of the depth and intensity of your interest in making sure that your child gets a good education at home.
A homeschool convention promotes a sense of positive encouragement. It says loud and clear that parents not only can teach their children, but, at the same time, can learn what they were never taught in public school. So everyone benefits from home education.
How to get the most out of the convention? Go through the program at home before you even get to the convention hall and decide what workshops and lectures you want to attend and make your reservations. Get to the convention early so that you can take your time going from exhibitor to exhibitor between workshops. Bring a basket on wheels. Books, brochures, and catalogs can get awfully heavy. Bring cash, a checkbook, and credit cards. Some exhibitors do not take credit cards, but they will take cash or checks.
Don't feel shy about asking questions in workshops and lectures. Speakers enjoy the give and take of the question period. Also, don't hesitate to ask an author-speaker to sign a book you've just bought. A signed copy has more value than an unsigned one. As a writer, I enjoy signing books at conventions.
If possible, become friendly with other visitors who may have used a product or curriculum you are thinking of buying. In selling my reading program at conventions I am always pleasantly surprised when an unsolicited user will come up to my table and tell a potential buyer what a great product Alpha-Phonics is.
And, as many of you have noticed, the conventions are getting larger and larger. When I attended the first convention in Massachusetts thirteen years ago, it was held in a small church basement with an attendance of about 300. Last spring it was held at the Worcester Convention Center with an attendance of over 3,000. The organization had outgrown the largest convention hotel in the state.
For years, CHEA in Southern California, held their conventions at Disneyland Hotel. It became crowded beyond belief. Now they hold their annual get-together at the Ontario Convention Center, a brand-new facility that can accommodate many thousands.
I've never minded crowds at conventions. That's what conventions are for. So enjoy your fellowship with other homeschoolers. You are all part of a new army of families trying to restore morality and learning to America.
Of late, many of the parents attending conventions are newcomers. Their children may be very young, but more and more of them are looking into homeschooling as a possibility for themselves. Veteran homeschoolers can be of help to such newcomers by sharing their experiences. Many newcomers need all the help they can get from the veterans.
In all, getting the most out of a convention is the result of what you put into it, which means taking advantage of the lectures and workshops, the speakers and exhibitors, and the fellowship with others. It's all there for you to enjoy.
(Editor's Note: For our constantly updated list of homeschool events by state or time period, visit our events area.)