I had my first real homeschool convention experience in early April when I attended the Great Homeschool Convention (GHC) in Cincinnati. I'd considered going to a convention before - to GHC, Teach Them Diligently, or any one of several mid-sized regional events - and I did help at a vendor booth for a very small conference in my state three years ago. But the cost and logistics involved with travel and lodging, not to mention figuring out what I'd do with my daughters, always convinced me the timing wasn't right.
Then, almost a year ago, Kathy Koch, my "boss" at Celebrate Kids - I am the ministry's volunteer staff writer - asked if I'd consider coming to Cincinnati to help at her booth. And after I agreed - thanks in no small measure to my husband's encouragement and help in working out all the logistics - Kathy determined that she wouldn't need me at the booth all the time. So I was able to experience quite a bit of the convention from the perspective of any other homeschooling mom.
And, in a word, I was "wowed."
Over 350 vendors filled the huge exhibit hall, offering everything from vintage classic novels to Latin programs to dissection specimens. Members of more than 8,000 families browsed the hall with me, demonstrating both the unity - we were all homeschoolers! - and diversity - Mennonites and tattoed dads and everyone in between! - within our community. From Thursday afternoon through Saturday evening, multiple seminars started up every 90 minutes, addressing hundreds of topics of interest to homeschoolers - everything from politics to grammar to effective parenting and more. There was also a kids' program and a teen track, not to mention special guest speakers on Thursday and Saturday nights and a Tim Hawkins concert on Friday night.
So, what were my "take-aways?" Well, for starters...a whole bunch of literature books, a state history curriculum, a Latin program, and my girls' birthday gifts - beautiful, hand-sewn pioneer dresses they will absolutely adore - none of which I actually intended to buy. I don't regret any of my purchases - I adjusted my budget to make it all work - but I did learn an important lesson for next time: I need to make a list of what I might want and be smart about money, but I also need to be willing to consider new resources and allow a little cushion in the budget for unexpected finds.
I also learned that it's possible to know a lot about homeschooling and still learn more. I was only able to attend a handful of seminars, but I walked out of each one with new knowledge about child development, the learning process, curriculum options, or my own strengths and weaknesses. I can only imagine how much I'd have learned if I'd been able to attend every seminar I circled in my program. When I was a public school teacher, we had to attend regular "inservice training," much of it frustrating because administrators mandated the topics, most of which were not relevant to my classroom situation. What a contrast at GHC, though, where I was in charge of what training I sought, and I could make direct application with my kids as soon as I got home.
Finally, I discovered the joy of being surrounded by like-minded folks. I'm active in a rather large homeschool association in my community, but it's still easy at times to feel isolated as one of only 200 homeschooling moms in a city of 100,000 souls. So at the convention I reveled in the fact that everyone there valued homeschooling, and I loved realizing that I had much in common with every person in the exhibit hall, conference rooms, and hotel elevators. And I came home feeling more confident than ever that my call is to homeschool my kids through to adulthood.
Granted, GHC events are the biggest of all the conventions, and the Cincinnati venue is the largest of GHC's events. So other conventions may not boast quite the quantity of vendors, speakers, and fellow homeschoolers. But I know from talking with friends who've attended other events that they've been blessed and encouraged by their experiences, too. And now that I've been there myself, I've come to the conclusion that attending a convention of some sort every few years would be very good for every homeschooling mom.