Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Homeschool Convention Planning Tips (whether or NOT you are going to a convention!)

Homeschool convention season is upon us. A friend of mine is going to a convention in June and she asked several of us for opinions on presentations and vendors. I looked at the brochure for the convention she is going to attend, and only two of the speakers are familiar to me. So, I shared with her the steps I took in the weeks prior to the big convention in Cincinnati. I'll share my strategies here with you.

FIRST, you do not have to be a homeschooler to attend a homeschool convention. At the two conventions I have attended, I met many folks who are considering homeschooling children who are in public or private schools, or folks who are homeschooling one child while the sibs go to school.

If you are homeschooling a child with special learning needs, like autism, who IS in a public or private school, you are probably doing some homeschooling on nights, weekends, and school vacations to supplement what the schools do. A homeschool convention is a WONDERFUL place to find materials and resources to use during your time at home.

I would imagine that school-building teachers would find homeschool conventions fun and helpful, although I don't think conventions offer continuing education credits that are such a reinforcement to attending workshops. The vendor sections are so amazing -- any teacher, including Sunday School staff members, can find materials and resources there!

SECOND, convention web sites are a WEALTH of information and you do not have to ATTEND a convention to benefit from all of the speaker and vendor information presented on a convention web site. When one of my children has had an interest in a subject or a challenge that sends me to the internet looking for something to fit that need, one of the first places I look is the vendor section of one of the convention web sites. (Another first place that I look is the advertiser section of homeschool magazines.)

BEGIN by researching. Start by bookmarking the convention web site. It is your friend. :) There is a list of conventions here.

Some conventions offer shopping only registrations, so if you are really not interested in any of the workshops, but would like to shop in the vendor hall, look for that option in the registration section of the convention web site.

Cincinnati is already preparing for 2010, so you can get a BIG head start. Be sure to look at both the speaker list and the vendor list. Here is Cincinnati's 2010 vendor list.

Use the University of Google to look up every single speaker and every single vendor. Yes, you must start well ahead of a really big convention. Most speakers and vendors have web sites, and a quick skim will help you know if you want to dig deeper. Sometimes, a presentation that seemed to not apply to our situation, an obvious "NO" to me, became a, "yes, definitely!" when I read presenter information from the presenter web site.

After you've looked at presenter web sites, head on over to You Tube and Google's video place and search them for names of convention presenters. Sometimes you can find an entire presentation, and it may be the same or similar to one at the convention. If you watch it at home before you go, you can skip that particular session at the convention and choose something else in that time slot. You may find your game plan changing as you watch video clips of presenters.

If you are not able to attend a convention, but want to hear one of the speakers, and can't find them on You Tube, you may be able to buy individual audio CD's from presentations. Check here for details.

Vendor halls are overwhelming, if you attend all of the workshop sessions, then your vendor hall time is really short, and by looking at vendor lists and web sites ahead of time, you can create a short list of "must sees" to find when you get there. I find that looking over exhibitor web sites has me ruling more OUT, or moving some vendors to the bottom of my "must see" list.

Be prepared to chase some rabbits as you travel the internet to find presenters and vendors. :) I often found myself so interested in a presenter or exhibitor web site that I followed links to other links -- oh, I stumbled on a lot of good information that way! Remember to bookmark anything you want to save for later. If you have a blog, you may want to create a link list of your favorite web sites. A lot of presenters and exhibitors have blogs, which you may choose to follow, or you may want to create a blog list in the sidebar of your own blog.

The last bit of advice is about your child / children. Know where your child is, developmentally. A child with autism or other developmental challenge usually has scattered skills, and often age or grade appropriate does not equal developmentally appropriate. Find a trustsed professional who can guide you, to help you understand where your child is, developmentally speaking, so that you can find appropriate materials to support him or her. You may be the parent of a developmentally delayed older child, and you benefit from sessions aimed at teaching preschoolers or early elementary schoolers in some subjects. You''re less likely to buy inappropriate materials in the exhibit hall if you know where your child is from a developmental standpoint.

If you have tips, please pass them along! I'd love to hear from you!

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