Standing in the open doors of the exhibit hall, I was mesmerized. Rows of exhibitor booths and tables filled with colorful materials and supplies, audio tapes, workbooks, textbooks, and—to the complete and utter delight of this book lover-turned-home school mom—books, books, and more books! And the people! I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. Moms with book bags in hand, intently examining the materials and books, couples discussing curriculum, children patiently waiting while Mom shopped … and all of these people were home schoolers!
The year was 1994, and a friend had convinced me to leave my husband and my children, including my handicapped child and my twenty-one-month-old baby, board a plane, and fly to Arlington for the weekend to attend the Hearth and Home Home School Book Fair. It was the most daring thing I had ever done. A country girl with limited resources, I had never been much more than 100 miles from home, so my traveling experiences were theretofore quite limited.
Nothing could have prepared me for that experience; those colorful curriculum catalogs I had seen, full of books and other materials for home school students, were no comparison. I was awestruck from the moment we arrived at the convention center; just the number of vehicles and vans in the parking lot seemed unbelievable. I had never imagined that many home school families existed in all of Texas. In the exhibit hall, I felt like a child in a candy store. There were so many curriculum choices, good books, and materials that choosing what was best for my children was difficult—but, oh, so much fun! The exhibit hall alone was enough to encourage me to continue my home school endeavors for another year, but it turned out to be only a small part of the experience.
On the plane early that morning with programs in our hands, my friend and I had discussed the workshops that we hoped to attend. I had envisioned workshops somewhat like our support group meetings, with a dozen or so women seated around a table discussing the pros and cons of home schooling. Obviously, my small-town life had not prepared me for the experience of a convention. Walking into a room that resembled a church sanctuary rather than a classroom, I was again overwhelmed by the numbers. “Encouraged” was even too mild a word to describe the experience; I was excited, ignited, and inspired! Tapes of the sessions were one of my first purchases.
When I began homeschooling, I knew that there were families who had paved the way before me. I knew something of the battles that were being fought for our freedoms, and I knew I was not alone in this calling, but seeing the people, listening to inspiring speakers, and viewing an exhibit hall full of vendors who were catering to home schoolers opened my eyes to the vastness of this movement. Suddenly I was no longer alone; I was part of something great; I was part of this home schooling movement that I now believed could change the course of a nation—not just the course of my family.
Over the next six years I was able to return to Arlington four times. There I was introduced to such inspirational speakers such as Sally Clarkson, Little Bear Wheeler, Tim Lambert, and others. Those book fair experiences clarified the vision that God had given me for my family; they inspired me and provided practical tools to help accomplish that vision. They developed me as a support group leader. The direction they paved for my family helped me pave the way for others.
In 2008 I began working for the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC), and my children were able to attend the THSC State Convention with me as volunteers. This was their first book fair experience, and they were as awestruck as I had been. It was great reliving those memories through the eyes of my children. Although we were at the end of our home school journey, my children were still inspired by the speakers—perhaps even more than had they been younger, as their young adult hearts began to grasp the value of this movement to which they have been privileged to be a part. In fact, each year my boys have ordered the entire set of audios so we could listen to the workshops together. My children have felt it an honor and a privilege to meet exceptionally talented speakers such as John Erickson, who has been a longtime favorite author. They have been influenced by the great men and women of this movement, such as Wade and Jessica Hulcy, Voddie Baucham, and Philip Telfer.
As spring approaches, with a new season of book fairs and conventions—including the Texas Home School Coalition State Convention and Family Conference this July—I look forward to another season with excitement and anticipation. Hope to see you at the fair!
Sheila Campbell began homeschooling in 1991 and graduated the last of her four children in the spring of 2009. In 1994, she and her husband co-founded Integrity Educators, a local home school support group in Plainview. Sheila has continued in leadership for eleven of the last fourteen years.