Two months ago, I headed out on the two hour drive to Cincinnati to attend my very first homeschooling convention. I had sent out an email to women in my church on a whim a few weeks before, just in case anyone was interested in going. I don’t really know any homeschoolers in real life, but I figured it was worth asking… just in case there were a few closet homeschoolers in the bunch.
To my surprise and delight, two women responded to my email with questions and ultimately decided to make the trip with me! We had a great time and one of them even had cousins near Cincinnati who graciously allowed us to crash in their basement. 🙂
Both women had 4/5 year olds and were on the fence about homeschooling when we set out together… by the time we returned, they were both in love with the idea.
I spent weeks researching all the 50+ speakers and 300+ booths because I wanted to make the most of every minute I had to spend there. And, I’ll be honest… that’s just the way I am. If I feel that something is important, I tend to research the heck out of it.
I had never left my girls for longer than an hour or two, so being away from three days and two nights was something I didn’t take lightly. Scott planned one of his rare vacation weeks to coincide with the conference. He spent the first half of the week with a buddy in Chicago and the second half listening patiently to my excited phone calls home as I overshared all that I was learning. He even brought the girls to the convention for an afternoon to scope out the booths with me and help me make decisions on curriculum.
I plan on sharing specifics on curriculum and seminars I attended in later posts, but so many people have asked me about what the convention was like that I thought I’d share my general feelings about the experience.
If you are at all interested in homeschooling, go to a convention
After all the research I did online, I discovered there was truly no substitution for actually being there and flipping through the pages of the books I was contemplating using.
The encouragement and practical advice I gained from the seminars was invaluable. At a conference this large, there was support for every type of homeschooling imaginable. Unschoolers, classical, charlotte mason, thomas jefferson, eclectic, relaxed, delight-driven… people who homeschool for free, people who use a pre-packaged curriculum, or online curriculum through the state… people with special needs children, or those homeschooling one child or a dozen children… you could definitely see “what’s out there” and find other like-minded presenters and exhibitors.
If you still think homeschoolers are weird, you’re right
Homeschoolers have a reputation for being odd ducks and to be honest, I think it’s by and large an earned reputation. But homeschooling is growing in popularity and more and more “regular” people are attracted to it. And, it helps that I know personally know several awesome adults who loved their homeschooling experience growing up.
That being said, I was worried that a large percentage of people at the convention would be “weird” and turn my traveling companions off on homeschooling, or even leave a bad taste in my own mouth.
And it’s true… I saw plenty of “weird” stuff at the convention. But you should know, I don’t think weird is automatically bad thing. 🙂
In fact I often find myself thinking that being “normal” is getting to be pretty darn undesirable. (Think what the norm is for health, morals, or education in our country.)
Example of weird from the convention: I see Mennonites pretty regularly in Columbus, but they were out in force at the convention. I think they’re great! They tend to have strong families and respectful, hardworking kids. (But they sure stand out in a crowd.)
Example of weird from the convention: The family interactions! While there was plenty of “hanging out” with other homeschooled friends, I also saw countless teenagers who were happily entertaining toddlers or bouncing babies. Kids were holding hands with siblings in the halls and sitting next to their parents in seminars either listening (and taking notes!) or quietly doing schoolwork. Kids were pouring over books at the booths and conferring with their parents about what they’d like to learn during the coming year.
Example of weird from the convention: Of course, there were also the strange kids with the too-high too-short pants, unfashionable head scarves, and a painfully awkward demeanor. What I found most interesting was that in every case I could see, they were accompanied by a parent with too-high, too-short pants or an unfashionable head scarf. In other words, my observations confirmed my suspicion that homeschoolers are often just much more like their parents than kids who spend most of their day in school.
For us that means our kids are likely to be very different than other kids in the neighborhood. We’re vegetarian. We’re Mormon. We don’t even watch t.v. for crying out loud! We are goofballs in innumerable less obvious ways as well. But those things notwithstanding, Scott and I manage to make friends just fine and hey we like ourselves. So if our kids turn out to be quirky, rock on.
Example of weird from the convention: I saw a few families that didn’t seem to like each other all that much. Maybe they were just having a rough day, but observing their interactions really made me wonder what their initial motivation was for homeschooling. And why stick with it if it’s adding additional stress and tension to family relationships? This is something I’m committed to closely monitoring in our own home. Alarm bells should be going off if I start to dread spending all day with my kids!
Am I glad my husband and kids came?
Am I glad I spent the majority of the convention kid-free? Yes, absolutely. I was so busy thinking, taking notes, and absorbing as much as I could that it would have been difficult to juggle a toddler and a preschooler at the same time. The quiet time I had was invaluable in digesting what I had learned.
When Scott and the girls came for an afternoon, though, I was glad they could see the scale of the conference. Mackenzie was cavorting among the many booths and getting excited about which books would be coming home with us. Since all of her friends are headed to public school, it was good to show her that a LOT other children would be homeschooling just like her.
Scott did note some strange looking families but overall I think he was glad to get a feel for how big homeschooling has become. I know it was easier on him to weigh-in on curriculum when he could compare options side-by-side rather than just discuss them in abstract terms. Though we both agree that I need to make the ultimate call on such decisions, I really value his opinion.
Will I go again?
I feel like I’m pretty set for the next few years, but I will definitely try to make it to another convention if:
- We’re at the cusp of a major curriculum change. We haven’t considered writing yet or anything past primary math, so several years from now I’ll need to explore these areas.
- I’m hitting a wall, especially with another child. This time around I really was listening and filtering through what I know about Mackenzie’s current personality, strengths, and weaknesses. There was a lot of information out there that simply wasn’t relevant to me now. As she gets older and I start teaching younger siblings with different temperaments and talents, however, I’m sure I’ll be seeking out tips and encouragement in different areas.
- I need a shot in the arm. Homeschooling burnout is a real risk and I know a trip to a convention would refuel my engines. 🙂