If you’re about to begin homeschooling for the first time, or if your school (and/or the teacher!) is in need of some fresh ideas, attending a locally-run homeschooling convention can be a big help. In my previous post, I compared going to this kind of conference with going to a farmers’ market: both present the best of what is local and available and healthy for your family. But how do you know what you need, if you are new to homeschooling? And how do you choose which speaker and vendor “produce” to put in your “shopping basket” when most conventions offer a myriad of choices in a short space of time (usually one weekend)?
In my experience, here are the top 5 produce picks to bring home from a locally-run homeschooling convention, especially if you are just starting your homeschool:
1. Information About Your State’s Homeschooling Laws
Since each state makes its own laws governing homeschooling, you need to find out exactly what your state requires of you. At your local convention, you will most likely be able to attend one or more sessions led by homeschoolers from your area who can guide you in the paperwork process for homeschooling (if your state has one, that is). It is always your responsibility to know exactly what the law says, but a convention session or lecture can start you on the right path and help you know the essentials. One example of what might be contained in your state’s homeschooling law is the kind of oversight the state practices. In my state, homeschooling families must show evidence of properly advancing their children’s education in one of three ways: by meeting with a state-certified teacher on a regular, supervisory basis; by having the children take a yearly test of basic skills; or by submitting a portfolio of student work for review to a state-certified teacher.
2. Names of People and Organizations Who Will Help You Homeschool
Whether you have a state legal requirement to fulfil, such as finding a supervising teacher for your homeschool, or whether you simply want to find other groups of homeschoolers with whom to participate in various activities, a homeschooling convention can help connect you with people you need to know. We were able to find a supervising teacher through a list available at the first convention we ever attended. You may want to find a LEGO group or a p.e. class for your children to participate in as part of your homeschool week. Local opportunities will often be advertised or even represented in the vendor hall of your local homeschooling convention.
- An Overview of Types/Styles of Homeschooling
At a homeschooling convention, you may also attend information sessions on homeschooling styles. Will you rely primarily on pre-packaged, textbook-base curriculum to structure your children’s work? Will you use a Unit Study approach, weaving multiple subject areas in and around one favorite subject at a time? Or do you want to center your teaching and learning around great literature, reading works of fiction side-by-side with history, science, geography, art, and so on, which complement the books’ content? You may or may not know what you’d like to do or would be able to do before you attend a convention. Convention sessions can either give you ideas and send you in a direction or fine-tune the direction you are already headed.
- Eyes-and-Hands-On Time With Homeschooling Curricula
When you have an idea about the way or method you will use to teach, you can investigate curriculum to support that method. It is also true, however, that the curriculum that appeals to you as the teacher may give you some indication of which method you’d like to use. The relationship between style and curriculum can be something of a chicken-and-egg experience, and attending the vendor sales hall at your local homeschooling convention can give you a great opportunity to see and page through various available curricula. There are also curriculum designers who make themselves available to answer questions about their products. For example, I have been at conventions where the math company, Teaching Textbooks, has its own booth where it displays and sells its products, while at the same convention a large curriculum distributor, such as Rainbow Resources, is also selling Teaching Textbooks math products. As the customer, you can choose how you’d like to examine the product – on your own or with the help of the curriculum company, at the booth of a neutral vendor or at the booth of the company invested (literally!) in providing a good product.
- Catalogs, Brochures, Handouts, Notes, Etc. to Review and Study Further at Your Own Pace
One of the greatest items of produce, if you will, to bring home with you from a convention is knowledge, and hopefully knowledge in a form you can review at a more contemplative place and time. When you shop at a local farmers’ market, you examine the produce to the best of your ability, but you take it home to wash it, sort it, process it, cook it if necessary, and then consume it. This, I think, is a good analogy for the produce from a homeschooling convention. Take notes in every session or lecture you attend; collect fliers from local support groups; write down names of helpful people you run across, especially those involved in your statewide homeschooling organization; collect catalogs from vendors you appreciate; gather every bit of information you can. Then, once you are at home again, you can review what you’ve learned and make informed legal, methodological, curricular, and extracurricular choices for your homeschool.
Finally, know that you can always change any choice you make, at least over time. If you choose to use a supervising teacher for your first year of homeschooling, you can in all likelihood change to the testing option the next year, if it seems that it would fit your family better. If you choose to use a pre-packaged curriculum and then discover that there are too many elements of it that you or your children dislike, then you can swap out parts of it or choose materials from a variety of publishers instead of just one. One of the perks of homeschooling is shaping your “school” to suit your children and your family, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial-and-error to find the right shape. Your local homeschooling convention and your local support groups can help guide you as you look for the information – for the “fresh produce” – that you need.