In the past week, I have already received two announcements for upcoming homeschool conferences for the spring/summer 2010 season. Now, since it is only February, and the official conference season doesn’t start until May, some may think they can just put it on the back burner and think about these things in the upcoming months. Personally, I would not advise that. Let me explain why along with giving some examples.
If the conference being announced is a state wide organization, these tend to have a lot of attendees. In addition, if they are multiple days, it may require a hotel stay (if you live further away). This means the hotel rooms around the conference will fill up long before the month the grand event occurs. This is true in my fair state of Virginia (okay so it is really a commonwealth). One of the major state homeschool organizations here is Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV). It occurs every June. They have graduation ceremonies, workshops, keynote speakers, and a HUGE vendor area. They also have a large used curriculum sale that occurs through out that weekend. Workshops start on Thursday evening (which are free to all) and continue through Saturday evening. The major hotels around this event sell out within weeks of the registration opening. Registrations start in January. So, if you wait until May to decide to attend, you might have difficulties finding accommodations. Oh, this event reported that it had over 7,000 families attend last year.
Another difficulty you may find is coming up with the fees. Most conferences contain a price tag with it. For the above, the fee is $55 for members and $70 for non-members. That does include the entire weekend for couples. Now, if you wish your child to participate in the children’s program that is an additional fee. The same applies to the teen program. Add that to food and hotel costs, it can add up quickly. Does that mean you shouldn’t go; no, not at all. The return value can far outweigh the cost of attending.
So, what should you do when these conference announcements come in? Read through the literature. See what they are offering. Is there something of interest for you and your family? Compare that announcement with any further announcements for other conferences being offered. For example, I stated I have received two announcements; one was from HEAV and the other from IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary). In this situation, they are both on the same weekend. So, I would need to decide on which conference would better fulfill my needs and that of my students.
How do I do this? Again, look at what they are offering, both in workshops and in vendors. Again, let me use my situation as an example. IHM would have the Catholic materials that I like to utilize and it is a free conference (although I would need to pay for food and hotel). The HEAV conference would offer vendors of non-Catholic materials, which I also utilize. They each offer workshops, although HEAV’s is much more extensive. IHM is smaller and offers more intimacy and chances to speak easier with vendors and speakers one-on-one without being crowded out by other homeschoolers that need questions answered as well. Yet HEAV offers many more workshops from which I could choose. Not to mention they offer a graduation ceremony that IHM does not (this would not apply to me this year-unless I allow my son to graduate a year early). In addition, I need to start thinking about what I plan to teach next year. Do I need to change my method? What are the interests of my children? Where do they plan to go after high school?
I also can take the time to discuss choices with my friends who may be attending. Do I want to take the entire family OR would I like to do a getaway with a fellow homeschooling mom? This may also influence decisions as to which conference to attend.
Another thing to think about is the size of the conference (kind of hinted at above). For me, I don’t do well in large groups of people UNLESS I have plenty of room I can maneuver around and space around me. I can lead a workshop fine since I am upfront and everyone else is seated away from me. However, put me in a crowd, especially if I am up against a wall and I have problems. So, the shear size of an event may be too overwhelming for some, especially newbies to homeschooling. You may want to consider a smaller one to begin with.
Now, once you narrow down these two choices, as others come in, you can compare the one you chose with the others. Just don’t wait too long to make a final decision.
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Homeschool.com News Editor