Surviving Homeschool Conventions – The Vendor’s Hall

This past weekend, Ty and I went to an out of state homeschooling convention.  We had a wonderful time rejuvenating and re-energizing our homeschool.  There were even a couple of wonderful readers (Hi Heidi & Kate!) who came up to me in the vendor’s hall to introduce themselves.  How neat is that?!

I had never been to this particular homeschool convention, so as I wandered around the vendor’s hall, I found myself thinking back to my early homeschooling years when the vendor’s hall was a big scary place of mind-boggling magnitude.  I was already overwhelmed by what the speakers had to say, so heading into that sea of curriculum was nearly enough to drown me.  It took me a couple of years to get my bearings and not be scared of that huge room.

With convention season upon us, I thought I’d offer you a few tidbits I’ve learned over the years that have helped ease the fear and anxiety a homeschool convention vendor’s hall can invoke.

1. Take a lap (or two or three) first. Give yourself 20 minutes or so to browse from one booth to the next to familiarize yourself with the layout of the vendor’s hall.  Take note of who has the things you are looking for.  Take note of places you want to visit in depth later.  Get a good feel for the vendor’s hall as a whole.  You will more than likely realize it isn’t as big and scary as you first thought when you were looking into that sea with newbie eyes.

2. Be prepared to change your mind. You may think you are walking into that vendor’s hall list in hand ready to buy exactly what you’ve researched only to get there and change your mind.  There are several factors that can cause this to happen:

*One of the speakers or another homeschool mom introduces you to another product you didn’t know about.
*One of the speakers or another homeschool mom talks you out of doing that subject altogether.
*You actually get to take a good look at the curriculum and realize it isn’t what you thought it was.
*You run out of money.

It is inevitable that you will change your mind once you get there.  Repeat after me…It Is Okay.  Don’t get flustered by it.  But also remember this…

3. Avoid impulse buys. So, you’ve changed your mind and now you are convinced this new thing you’ve been told about or that you’ve seen is precisely what you are looking for.  So, you should buy it…right?  Wrong!  But, you can only get the conference special and the free shipping today…right?  Wrong! (at least most of the time)

Give yourself some room to breathe and research.  Talk it over with your husband.  Pray about it.  If you are still convinced it’s the way to go, then buy it.  But if you can, wait.  Most companies will honor their conference specials and free shipping if you purchase within a week or two of the conference.  Make sure you ask at the booth.

4. It will always cost you more than you anticipate. Vendor’s halls are an interesting sort of vortex.  You don’t just find curriculum there.  You find old books, t-shirts, bags, toys, bread pans, grain mills and the list goes on and on and on.  You inevitably find something else you really need (or want).  Be prepared.  Give yourself a limit, but don’t be surprised (or devastated) if you end up spending a bit more.  Your child’s education is worth it (and yeah, that bread pan is sometimes worth it too!)

5. You may have to skip a class to shop. Most conventions are crammed full of great classes that end up leaving you strapped for shopping time.  If you are not a seasoned shopper, that can spell disaster.  If you simply can’t find a class you are willing to miss, buy the CD.  All classes are recorded for your convenience.  Yes, the CDs cost, but in the long run, you will thank yourself.  The vendor’s hall will be less crowded and you will have more time to think if you skip a class and use that time to shop instead.

6. Curriculum is heavy…have a pack mule handy. It might be your husband or a baby stroller, or one of those wheely crates or it may simply be a plan to buy everything at the end and tote it all to the car right away.  But, word to the wise…you rarely get to park close and you will be tired.  Have a plan in place that doesn’t involve you carrying several heavy bags all over the convention for hours on end.

So, those are the main things I’ve learned from going to conferences for 8 years now.  It is scary and overwhelming.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  But, with a little bit of preparation and a lot of flexibility, you will survive.  And if your homeschool convention offers a newbie homeschooling class prior to the conference, SIGN UP!  Ours didn’t have such a thing when I first started, but they do now and I recommend it to everyone in the area who is attending a conference for the first time.  Eventually, you’ll be a homeschool convention pro!

*****

Now read how to survive the speaker sessions of a homeschool convention!

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13 thoughts on “Surviving Homeschool Conventions – The Vendor’s Hall

    • I go every single year. I go to shop (because you don’t pay for shipping) and I go to be refreshed. I just don’t feel the need to cram all the sessions in anymore. :)

  1. Great advice and nothing but timely as our homeschool convention is this weekend. We always go with a plan and a budget—the be willing to adapt and re-budget plan. This year will be our first time taking our three sons with us. So. We’ll see how this goes.
    .-= Elle´s last blog ..When wounds run deep… =-.

  2. Amy,
    We are planning on attending the hs conference in Wichita, and I am quite anxious about it. Thanks for all the helpful hints. I’m sure I’ll be referring back to this. Also, I have a homeschooling question. Legally, in KS, is there anything official you have to do other than register your homeschool with the state? Thanks!

    • Every state is different, and HSLDA has a listing of the requirements on their site by state. In Kansas, it is about as simple as you can get. Register with the state when the oldest child is compulsory school age (used to be 7, but now I think it’s been changed to 5), and make sure every time you move, you notify. The conventions often have the paperwork you need right there. Good luck! Conventions are a blast once you get over the fear! ;)

  3. Thanks for the great tips. Last year was my 1st convention and yes, it was exhilarating and overwhelming rolled up in one. I personally loved the vendor hall… shopping for a good cause! :)

  4. Hi Amy, thanks for this insight. I really wish i had found your page last month when i went to my very first homeschool convention. I was lost and actually felt a little bad when i left. After reading your post; i am a little encouraged. I am not the only one who gets overwhelmed.

  5. Also what I found was on many of the items that weren’t whole curriculum packages (your #4 mentioned them) I was able to get on my phone and immediately compare prices and found that much of it was overpriced at the convention. Contrary to the signs they had posted. So I just made a list of what extra things I wanted and ordered several of them online when I got home to save money.

  6. Great post! I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is getting started. May I also suggest taking a list of what you are looking for, including prices. (On your smart phone or paper). This will help you decide if what you have found is indeed a bargain. While it is important to support the vendors at the conference, I believe it is also right to not pay a premium just for shopping there. We’ve been to conventions that don’t permit rolling carts/stroller/bags of any kind. Be prepared with a comfortable backpack. It is not rude to (politely) pass on the many catalogs/brochures that are offered to you if they are not of interest.

  7. Thank you thank you for this post! I know I stopped you at the conference just to thank you for this post but it warrants thanking you again! I had never been to a conference and I get overwhelmed VERY easily by crowds. I was terrified to go-for four years I have homeschooled and successfully done all of my shopping online. This year, my soul was parched for encouragement. Your post gave me some tangible means of wrapping my mind around how to approach such an event. It never occurred to me that it would be ok to get up and walk out. Which I did and was so glad that I did b/c the session I ended up going to was exactly what I needed. Again, thank you!

    • It was so great to meet you and hear that this helped you! That was my hope and prayer! Conferences can be such wonderfully refreshing places, but not if you feel like you are drowning!