Homeschool Convention: Memories and Concerns

I attend our local homeschool convention every year.  It’s a wonderful time when people can get together with other homeschoolers, talk about what’s going on in their homeschool, look at curriculum for the coming year, and listen to speakers on a variety of subjects.  My mother has gone to our particular convention since before she began homeschooling me, and has only missed once or twice.

I remember when she used to go by herself to the convention.  It was held in our city, so she would come home every night, but she would be late, well past my bedtime.  She would always bring home something for each of us on the last day.  The “somethings” varied each year, but we were always surprised because we had very little concept of what the convention was in the first place (except we knew that she got school stuff there).

I went to the convention for the first time just before I started highschool.  Mom wanted me to look at a particular curricula and see whether I wanted to use it the next year. I was bewildered by the crowded vendor hall.  So many people everywhere, some of whom I knew from other places like church, most of whom I didn’t, and so many books and textbooks!

The following year the convention moved to a new venue, a fair grounds where they had more space to spread out.  By then, we had begun attending a new church and had met the people who were (then) the volunteer coordinators at the convention. Mom, 3G, and I decided to volunteer to help out with setting up the vendor hall.

I got a whole different perspective on the whole convention through helping set up.  I got to see and hear a lot of the behind-the-scenes workings of the convention, and I enjoyed helping answer vendors’ questions and getting them ready for the other convention-goers.  I made a few friends, some of which I only see at the convention and a few which I see sporadically during the year.

Ever since, Mom, 3G, and I have volunteered in some fashion.  We have done everything from running a speaker’s booth for the weekend to monitoring a floor of speaker sessions, opening and closing the doors, cleaning up between sessions, and directing people where to go to find their sessions.  Each year is a little different, and each year I have felt more confident in what I was doing.  The last few years, 3G has been able to help out with the sound crew, making sure everyone has the microphones, projectors, screens, etc. that they need.  This year, Mom and I were “question ladies,” officially called Exhibit Hall Guides.  We helped people find the answers to all kinds of questions, ranging from where a particular speaker’s session was being held to what curriculum to use for someone’s children (Mom fielded more of the latter type!).

But I learned something disturbing while at the convention this year.  I may have heard rumors of this before, but this time I took notice because I got an actual figure.  Attendance at our convention has been dropping by something like 10 percent each year.

Apparently the numbers have been dropping for the last few years, but this year I could actually see that we did not have as many people as usual.   As yet I haven’t heard anything indicating whether this drop in attendance has been observed in other places as well, or whether it’s just our convention, but I’m sure that our convention team is looking into that.  I did hear a few reasons aired as to why fewer people are coming, but no one is sure which ones are the real reasons. 

Our convention recently moved from one city to another, an hour and a half away, so some are wondering if that has affected the people who lived in the first location.  I know that we much preferred the first city because we were close enough to drive home every night, but the same should be true of the people who live in the current city.

Some people are wondering if the drop is due to the choices of speakers.  The convention team, and the speaker coordinator especially, tries to bring in speakers that people want to come hear.  I’ve only recognized a few of the speakers in the last few years, and while I’m not very familiar with many big names in homeschooling, my mother hasn’t always recognized them either.

But I think there may be a bigger reason why people aren’t coming to the convention.  Apart from speakers, one of the main draws to the convention is the vendor hall.  Many different companies send representatives to our convention to market their curricula.  Homeschoolers can then actually see the materials before buying them, and in some cases can purchase the books right there at the convention and save on shipping later.

This used to be very useful because the only other option was to look at catalogs and try to tell from the descriptions which kind of curriculum was going to fit your homeschool best.  Now, however, people have the internet.  Not only can you find several different reviews of a particular curriculum, in some cases you can also look at a few pages of it online.  The need to physically handle the books has decreased.

In addition, I think the general homeschooler mind-set may have changed.  Homeschooling used to be tough.  The pioneers of our movement fought to be able to teach their own children in their own homes.  They risked being jailed for “depriving their children” by not sending them to school (depriving them of what, I might ask, since homeschoolers have better average scores on tests than school kids do).  The pioneers challenged the idea that only a certified teacher could teach children – I and hundreds like me are proof that a mother can do just as well (or better).  Early homeschoolers also did not have the plethora of curriculum to choose from.  They used textbooks written for school settings or simply wrote their own.

Homeschoolers, at least in my area, seem to be becoming less dependent on each other.  Sure, we’ve got co-ops for this that and everything (which, by the way, is just a way to incorporate select pieces, and not necessarily good ones, of the school mind-set into homeschooling, in my not-so-humble opinion), but the support group that my mother attends has ten or twelve moms show up on a really good night.  Normally they have maybe six or seven. The membership list for the group has around seventy families.  Think about it; about six to ten, mostly the leaders of the group (and not all of those usually show), out of seventy!

Do homeschoolers really need each other less?  Somehow, I doubt it.  Just as in the human body where no individual part could survive without the rest, and just like the body of Christ where we cannot function well without each other, I think homeschoolers need to be connected to other homeschoolers, particularly in a family to family setting.  We all can benefit from someone who has been there, done that, who can offer us advice when we get in a quandary.  We need to be able to pass on the knowledge we have gained over the years to those who are just starting out.  I don’t think that blogs and chat rooms are enough.  We need the face-to-face time, we need to see each other’s families, and we need to help each other grow.

Even graduates like me can offer something, having been through the process from the other side. I know quite a bit from being the student that will help me when I eventually become a teacher, and someday that will make me even better able to help others be better teachers (I don’t think I could make it all relevant till I am able to use it myself).  We graduates also know how much homeschooling has benefitted us in making the transition to college or the workforce.

So whether it’s a convention, a support group, or just a bunch of families from the same area or church, I encourage you to get together with other homeschoolers.  If there is only one other homeschooling family that you know, get together to compare notes and share experiences.  The fellowship of other homeschoolers is vital, especially in today’s atmosphere where we are more acknowledged than in the past but still treated as just another educational choice, though an odd one.  We need to know why we homeschool and we need to have others around us who can help us through difficulty and challenge us to do better.

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