Ah, spring! Open the windows, send the kids outside to play, and plan an outdoor field trip; the zoo is nice this time of year. It seems too soon to think about next year’s school supplies and curriculum. After all, you are still racing to finish the things you wanted to accomplish this year.
Nevertheless, conference season has arrived in many parts of the country. You tucked away the invitations to remind you to register, or you buried them in the pile of papers on your desk.
If you are newer to home schooling, you doubtless are eager to go. You cannot wait to finally see and touch the products you drooled over online or in the winter catalogs. You will hear, in person, the speaker you are convinced can teach you how to get the wash done and the math taught at the same time. You have vowed to do better next year! You and your husband can even enjoy a mini-vacation, if you are able to arrange childcare. In fact, you probably submitted your registration fee when the first invitation arrived.
What about attendance for those who are seasoned home schoolers? Over the years, you have gone to what seems like a zillion of these events—been there, done that, and you’ve earned the tee shirt! Why should you waste your time and money attending again? You have heard the speakers, attended the workshops, have already chosen your school material for next year, and you do not consider the conference a vacation if you must drag your reluctant husband along. Online ordering is so much easier.
Attend or Not
Why should any home educator—beginner or veteran—attend a conference? May we chat together over a cup of tea? You may have overlooked some particular rewards of being part of your local or state event.
Over the past twenty years, I have participated in every size conference imaginable as an attendee, a speaker, a vendor, and a conference planner. In the “old days,” we were fortunate when we could attend any conference anywhere that offered a handful of workshops. We met in churches, private schools, or any location in which we could find enough space to house a reasonable number of vendor tables and a few rooms for speakers.
Now, of course, there are countless material choices, numerous knowledgeable speakers, and in most cases, beautiful, spacious facilities. Home education conferences have arrived! So why do I hear that attendance is down in many states? Do we no longer need traditional home school conferences?
I propose that we do need them, perhaps currently more than previously, especially when we examine the important reasons for attending a conference. Yes, it is a wonderful place to see the particular curriculum you have only read about in a catalog. It is an ideal place to discover materials you might otherwise overlook if you did not attend. Yet, the foundational reasons to attend for all home schoolers are not necessarily utilitarian reasons involving curriculum choices.
Have you read an article or a book or listened to a recording and wished you could ask the author or speaker a question to advance your understanding or clarify a point made in the material? You have that opportunity when you attend live workshops. Personal contact with veteran home school speakers and those who have expertise in specific areas opens the opportunity for new insights. Many home educators testify to an “aha” moment at a conference that revolutionized their teaching or child training.
The enthusiasm of the onsite speakers is infectious. Interaction with them can provide the boost you need to handle a particular challenge or give you encouragement to persevere. Most conference planners choose speakers carefully, giving you the best options for information and support. Call it continuing education for teachers; it affords the opportunity for you to listen, learn, and receive while you rest from giving continually to your family.
Though you are solely responsible for your children’s education and training, you home educate as a member of a wider community of families who are pursuing similar opportunities for their children. The fellowship shared with others at a conference encourages and lifts you to new heights. As you stroll through the vendor halls, attend workshops, and chat with fellow home schoolers, you see anew why you started home educating in the first place. A conference introduces you to new friends whom the Lord brings into your life, and you connect again with those precious friends you and your family only have the opportunity to see infrequently. Other home schoolers’ lives and stories encourage you as you relate to their challenges and triumphs. The Lord refreshes your spirit and renews your heart for another season. The reminder that you are not alone, but part of a large community that shares this adventure with you, holds you steady through rough times.
If the conference uses teen volunteers, includes a graduation ceremony, or offers opportunities for older students or graduates to speak, you will be encouraged to see the fruit of home education in these exemplary youth. You look to the day, if your children are now young, when you will see that fruit in your parenting and educating efforts, and you are optimistic as you continue toward that goal for your own children.
One mother shared with me that she takes special notes at conferences. More than just recording the thoughts and ideas of the speakers, she writes in her notes’ margins the things that God may reveal to her about a particular student or curriculum choice. At times, she writes a question: “Would this be a good match for Andrew?” “Is this Susan’s need?” Other times it is a prayer: “Lord, help me do this with Melanie.” Additionally, she might record an idea: “Encourage Jeremy about his diligence.” This mom knows she is more open to the Lord’s leading and has a different perspective when she is concentrating and learning in a convention atmosphere away from the distractions and duties at home.
Although you receive multiple advantages when attending a conference, it is not just about receiving. Whether you are new to home education or a veteran of many years, you have something to share with fellow attendees as well. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up” (NKJV). God will give you the opportunity to lift up a fellow parent through your actions and words. You may not even be aware you have helped someone along their path, but the Lord knows and uses your offerings in the hearts of others attending the conference.
Online options for information, workshops, and curriculum purchases are popular, and they are helpful and convenient in multiple ways. Still, it would be a shame for a generation of home schooling parents to lose personal touch with the heart and soul of home education by missing the affirmative atmosphere of a convention. You cannot replicate that on a computer screen.
To attend or not to attend? I would not miss the refreshment, fun, and fellowship for anything! Won’t you join me?