May 19, 2012

How to Shop a Homeschool Convention


I remember very well the first time my family and I walked into the curriculum expo at a homeschool convention.  It was in Wichita, Kansas in 2008.  I remember thinking, “Wow, where do I start?”  We started at the back of the huge hall and worked our way through every aisle of booths to the front.  At the end we were excited, overwhelmed, dizzy, and exhausted.  We realized we were very unprepared in several ways (financial definitely being one of them) and we knew we would do things different when we went again.

I just got back from shopping the 2012 Oklahoma Homeschool Convention and I had a great experience.  I thought I’d share some tips that I wish I’d known back in Wichita in ’08. 

Why go to a Curriculum Fair? 

There are two main reasons I go.  The first is that it is a chance to physically handle items that you are thinking of buying.  You can pick up a book and turn through the pages and see if it is really what you are looking for.  Many of the things I am interested in are not sold at the homeschool bookstore in my area.  I read about them online or in the Rainbow Resource Center catalog and wish I could get a closer look in order to save me money and frustration in the long run.  So I add them to my “Convention” list to go looking for when I’m there.  With the huge volume of materials available at the dozens of booths in a large convention, what you want to see is very likely going to be there. 

The other reason is that it is a great place to become aware of things that are going on in the homeschool world, especially in your local area.  Last year at my first convention in Oklahoma I happily discovered that there is a thriving homeschool band program in Oklahoma.   I also talked to representatives from a local city orchestra, a homeschool high school sports team, the Civil Air Patrol, and others.  I also found out about new homeschool materials being developed that haven’t yet made their way into the stores and big catalogs.    You will learn a ton about homeschooling resources for every homeschool style and all your homeschool decisions will be much more informed.

What to Expect When You Go

The conventions I’ve been to have been in the downtowns of big cities at large convention centers.  Be prepared to pay for parking, especially on weekdays.  The convention website should have information on this, as well as other things such as bringing outside food and drink into the convention center. 

If you are attending the entire convention—all the speakers and classes—the curriculum fair is part of the package.  If you just go to shop, which is what I usually end up doing, be prepared to pay $20 or more for a one day shopping pass.  Make sure you carefully check the convention website for information on this.  You should be able to buy your pass at the door (though you may get it cheaper if you buy it in advance.)  It sounds steep to pay to shop, but I feel it's worth it because it saves me money in the end.

I would try to leave your children at home.   It is a very kid-friendly place and as safe as anywhere these days, but it’s easy to lose track of them and hard to focus on making good spending decisions when they’re there. 

Bringing your husband can be a two-edged sword.  At our first fair in 2008, my husband saw homeschooling in a new light, with possibilities he had never considered before.  He had always been passively supportive, but since then he’s been more actively supportive.  The downside is that you will probably need to increase your budget: he will get excited about buying things that you hadn’t even considered. 

How to Shop Smart

Make a detailed list in advance of what you’re looking for both specifically and generally.  Examples from my list this year: “look carefully through the next volume in Sandi Queen’s Language Lessons and see if it’s appropriate for my son” (specific) and “look at options for a math program for my daughter” (general). 

Go through the whole hall first without buying anything.  Then take a break, clear your head, and go back to make your purchases. 

Bring a rolling cart to help you haul all your purchases around.  A small wheeled suitcase works great.  If you forget, they'll be selling them there.

Plan a budget, of course, but include a little extra in it.  There will probably be something there you didn’t know you really needed.  But beware that a few booths will be staffed by sweet-talkers who will try to convince you that you really need things you really don’t.  Don’t buy it unless you really love it and know you will use it.

If you have a hard time sticking to a budget, bring only cash and leave your credit card at home.  

Many of the booths are the same year after year and you can count on them to have the basic homeschooling staples.  However, a lot of the booths change.  There are many small family-run companies who cannot make it to every convention every year.   If you see something great from one of these smaller vendors and say “I’ll get that from them next year” be aware they may not be there next year. 

On a similar vein, prices are generally a little bit lower at the convention.  A lot of booths will be running specials, and of course you won’t have to pay shipping.   I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen something really great at a convention and said “I will save up and buy that later and I bet I can get a better deal online” only to find later when I really needed it that I can't find it used right then and it's not a better deal online.  This is why I have started making it a priority to set aside a portion of our tax return for Convention.  For my family's current time/money/needs equation it ends up being a really good place for me to buy the bulk of what we need for the coming year.

I find I am not the only one who does this.  Homeschool conventions usually take place in the spring and early summer months and I see many homeschooling families who plan and budget for them as one of the Big Events of their year along with Christmas and family vacation.    It's something fun to look forward to and it's nice to have some money set aside to splurge a little-- after all, it's all for a good cause, right? 

Whether or not you have hundreds of dollars to spend or just a few, spending a day at a curriculum expo is always exciting.  If you’ve shopped smart and been careful with your budget you come home energized, your head full of new ideas and plans for the future.  You are once again happy to be a homeschooling mom!

To find a convention near you, simply Google “(your state) homeschool convention.”  Good luck, and Happy Shopping!

Sarah (Birrd) and her husband (Badger) are the parents of five children, with one on the way.  Drawing mainly from Charlotte Mason and Thomas Jefferson Education, Sarah tailors her homeschool methodology around the needs of her sons, who struggle with traditional learning methods.  This eclectic approach makes shopping a curriculum fair even more exciting!  You can read more about her conventional and unconventional experiences at Tales from Toad Hall.

2 comments - Add a comment below -:

AbigailDawn said...

Thanks for this and perfect timing because we've got a homeschool expo coming up in June!

Dana ♥ said...

Great Advice! :)