It’s a whole new year of homeschool conventions! Whether it is your first year of homeschooling and attending conventions are a brave new world for you or you are an experienced convention-goer get some behind-the-scenes tips from the people who get to go to them all! From core curriculum to educational games there are so many options it can make your head spin, get ideas on how to break up the days, navigate the booths and find just what you want to get the most out of your convention.
Janna (00:01): Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookShark's Community Manager. Today's episode is all about the upcoming homeschool convention season. They're back and I'm joined by Maddie Suter from BookShark to talk about what to expect if your family chooses to go to a homeschool convention. And why, if you're not thinking about it, you should be. Maddie, thanks for being here.
Maddie (00:22): Thanks for having me.
Janna (00:24): Why don't you go ahead and just tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?
Maddie (00:28): So I have been with BookShark for coming up on six years. And I have about 15 years of customer service experience. So, I started in customer service and now I've taken on our School Liaison position. So I work with our charter schools and public schools that use BookShark. And I also help with a lot of our conventions and I get to work with Janna on planning all that and we have a blast while we do it.
Janna (00:54): We certainly do. And unfortunately, Maddie and I have never actually traveled to a convention together. We've always been on separate ones.
Maddie (00:59): We haven't.
Janna (00:59): Conventions, so maybe one of these years we're going to get out there together. But as a homeschool mom, I really had never gone to a convention before I started working for BookShark. So I had been to other types of conventions, even as a homeschooler, as a kid. Probably more like trade conventions with my parents, but never a homeschool convention. And I think each convention has its own little nuances that other conventions don't necessarily have. So what do you think is the number one thing that parents should expect when they are going to think or plan on going to a homeschool convention this year?
Maddie (01:35): I think the biggest thing is to plan your trip. Because if you don't know what to expect, those conventional halls can be pretty overwhelming. There are a lot of people, a lot of vendors. You can see pretty much any homeschool vendor that you want to see there. So your first hour or so just be prepared to be slightly overwhelmed. And if you don't plan ahead, it can make it a little bit worse. So, look at the vendor hall map, just kind of plan ahead and make sure that you know where you want to go, and the questions that you want to ask.
Janna (02:11): It's so nice that in this digital day and age, you can go online prior to the actual dates and see who's going to be there. You can actually typically see a map of where they're going to be. And not to be overly nerdy, but you're only there for a certain amount of time and if you want to maximize your time when you're there, you really do have to prepare. Not only is there the vendor hall, but there are speaker sessions for, depending on the convention, two to three days' worth of speaking engagements. You might be so enthralled with the speakers that you never set foot into a convention hall and then you would be missing an opportunity. And vice versa.
Maddie (02:55): Yeah, I think that's the biggest thing is, the coordinators do a really good job of scheduling and making sure that there is time that is specifically for the vendor hall, typically. So there are breaks in the speakers and you can see the speaker schedule well ahead of the convention. And then you can also go and as you said, you can see the map. So what I would do is I'd print that map out, because a lot of times it's a PDF. So you can print it out and you can actually see the booth numbers. Now not every convention has the vendor name on the booth, so write down the name of the vendors that you want to go see and then circle those booths on the map because those convention halls are huge. There is a lot going on, there are people walking around. And if you have that map you can kind of visualize where you want to go and you might get stopped along the way.
(03:51) There might be some fun things that you want to stop and look at that you didn't realize that you wanted to look at. But just make sure you hit those major points. And as you said, those speakers, I think they get missed sometimes because people are so focused on the event hall themselves. And the speakers are really good about putting a title to their presentation. So sometimes it's about literature-based learning. Sometimes it's about learning with differing abilities. It's a very wide range of topics, so make sure you check that out and kind of plan your day. As you said, you're only there for a couple of days, so try to maximize your time and your money.
Janna (04:34): Absolutely. And some people can only get away for a day. So the plan is even more crucial at that point. Now another thing that maybe parents might not think about is, do you bring your child with you? Do you leave your child at home? Now, this is obviously a personal preference, but can you just talk about maybe the pluses of either side of that?
Maddie (04:59): I think, I mean we've seen a variety of different parents who bring their kids and parents who leave their children at home. This year in our booth we're going to actually have a little reading corner, so you can actually park your kiddo if you have some questions. A lot of vendors have either maybe toys or books or something that might be able to keep your child occupied while you're talking to whoever is in the booth. That could be a positive or potentially you may not get as much information out of that person if you have your child with you, as if you didn't. So it's up to you, you know your child best. And so there are pluses and some drawbacks. But we love seeing kids in the booth. Especially because I think it also allows, if this is something that you want your child to have more of a say in what you pick for curriculum, it's kind of nice for them to be able to see it.
(06:12): Because that's one of the big benefits of going to a convention, is you get to see all of those books or a language curriculum or a math curriculum. You know, you get to really kind of see and have it explained to you and potentially your child. So that's a big plus to having your child come with you, especially as they get older, if you want them to have more of a say in what you pick, they get to see it along with you.
Janna (06:41): And it is nice that you do have the option, maybe we call this a pro-tip, come one day if you're able to, with your child and then another day without your child. Or vice versa. So you get an idea of where you want to go and you're not overwhelmed and you know that when you bring your children with you, you have a direct route. And plan time for them to get distracted because not only is there a curriculum like BookShark, but there are also fun vendors who just have games, who just have add-ons. You would call it a satellite curriculum. Would you want to explain that a little bit?
Maddie (07:18): Yeah, so there are a lot of... Like Lego comes to some of the conventions. I mean there are all kinds of different add-ons or satellite curriculums that you can choose. So BookShark is a core curriculum. You have your history, language, arts, reading, math, and science. But you can add on language. Or potentially a lot of what we've been seeing lately is hands-on like science or unit studies. And so that's something to think about too when you're thinking about what you want to look at when you go to these conventions. Because sometimes, I mean you'll probably see vendors on there that you have never heard of because they're new. So it might be worth stopping by and seeing what they're all about. What is this science kit? Or they have, I think, there's a Manners program too.
(08:13): I mean there's art, there's everything you can think of. And sometimes they have games, they have toys, they have all kinds of stuff. So it's kind of a fun little distraction for your kiddos too if you choose to bring them with you. There are a lot of fun game-based or toy-based options as well.
Janna (08:38): And all I hear when you're saying that, is budget.
Maddie (08:40): Yeah.
Janna (08:41): So as a parent, I think that having a budget in mind when you come to a homeschool convention is always helpful. Because if you are a traditional homeschool family and you want the core curriculum, you do need to make sure that you budget for those core subjects, right? History, reading, science, math, we'll put their language arts in there. And when you have all of these other satellite or add-on options and when your kids are getting really excited about stuff. I know my family is really big into the game Ticket to Ride, which is not a cheap board game at all. But if I hadn't budgeted a fun budget for those types of, definitely educational learning, to enhance my curriculum, I may have just walked out of there with a bunch of games... If you're a gaming homeschool family, then you have definitely hit your mark. But if you're more like myself, traditional, and need to make sure that I find those core subjects, I may be disappointed or kind of thrown for a loop by the end.
Maddie (09:53): Yeah, I think again, and it kind of all goes back to that convention hall is huge, there are a million different vendors in there. And so I think having a fun fund, having a little kind of something in your back pocket that... Because some of those things you can't get anywhere other than the convention. I think a lot of vendors have, "Hey, we're only offering this game or this toy here at this event." And that makes it kind of almost irresistible, right? You're like, "Oh, I can't get it anywhere else so I should buy it now." What I would do is keep that separate from your core curriculum budget. Know what you're comfortable spending on your core curriculum before you go to that convention because sometimes there are specials. Sometimes they give out coupons. Sometimes it makes sense to buy on the floor.
(10:45): Sometimes you can go home and think about it. It really depends on the event and it depends on the vendor. But make sure that you budget for those little fun enhancements and kinds of games or toys or things like that so that you don't feel like you're pulling from your core curriculum budget. Because I think it can be disheartening when you leave and you go, "Huh, I spent X amount of dollars and I feel like I didn't maybe accomplish my goals."
(11:16): So that's the other thing is, go in with goals. If you already have your core curriculum and you know what you're going to purchase, great. Then go in with your fun fund and have a blast. But it may benefit you to go and pick your core curriculum and know what you're going to purchase for your core curriculum first if that's how you choose to homeschool. Pick your core curriculum, make that decision, and then you can go off and have fun and not think about that big decision. Because I mean that core curriculum is usually a good chunk of your budget. So once you make that decision, you can just go off and have fun and get those enhancements and satellite options.
Maddie (24:24): Right.
Janna (24:24): It is completely free to enter, it's completely free to get. We will send it to you if you win via mail. So we are excited to offer this to anyone who comes into our booth as a way to, not only for them try BookShark and see what our science is all about and all the kit. The other thing that I think it's important to mention for parents, is always asking about free. I mean if it's free, it's for me. So BookShark offers free unit studies that give you a good idea of how our literature-based curriculum works. But other vendors and other companies will also have free samples. So if you're interested in something in particular and you're not quite sure that that is the direction you want to go, definitely ask people. "How can I try this out?" Because we don't want, as a company, people buying our product and being unhappy with it because they...
Maddie (25:16): Right.
Janna (25:16): Were unaware of how it actually worked. And so...
Maddie (25:20): Because the curriculum is not one-size-fits-all, right? I mean, and homeschooling is not one-size-fits-all. So it benefits you to go in, as you said, ask. It never hurts to ask. And I would say most vendors are probably more than happy to try to figure out, even if they're not offering something on the convention floor, they'll probably direct you somewhere on their website. Or something you can sign up for via the mail. It never hurts to ask, even if it's not advertised in the booth. If you think it's something that could work for you, ask how you can try it. Or is there anything that they offer as a sample or something that's free, so you're not locked into a big purchase?
Janna (25:59): And finally, Maddie, I know that I don't like hard sales. You had mentioned that before.
Maddie (26:06): Yeah.
Janna (26:07): Parents should expect that when they go to a homeschool convention there will be convention specials.
Maddie (26:13): Yes.
Janna (26:14): So just kind of walk through that a little bit for us.
Maddie (26:17): So again, it depends on the vendor and it depends on the convention, but for the most part they're going to offer a special that may only be good at that event itself. Or usually, the events are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. So sometimes the coupons are good through Sunday, and sometimes they're good through Wednesday. But just do be prepared for the fact that you budget based on what you see online. And you may not go to the event thinking that you're going to purchase something, but then the vendor's offering a great deal, and you may end up purchasing something. You may not go home with it that day like in our case. But again, goes back to being a little bit flexible.
(27:06): The good piece about that is, that if you're budgeting based on what you're seeing online and then you go to the event and they're offering some fantastic deal to purchase right then and there, or some coupon. That's extra money that you can go put in your fun fund and go buy a game or something fun if you didn't bring your kids with you to bring back home and say, "Hey, look at this cool game that I got." Or something like that.
(27:29): But do be prepared for the fact that it is an event and we are trying to get you to purchase our product. But never feel pressured to purchase anything that you're not fully ready to purchase. Again, like you said, Janna, if you're kind of on the fence, it never hurts to ask, "Hey, do you have a coupon that I can use later? Or is there something..." If you really want to go home and think about it, yes, we are trying to get you to purchase our program because that's why we go to these events for people to be able to see what we offer. But we never want, at least from BookShark and I would say a majority of vendors, they don't want you to feel over pressured. So if you're not comfortable, always ask for a coupon or something that you can use later.
Janna (28:22): That is all such great advice. So if you are wondering what conventions BookShark is going to be at, please go to bookshark.com and check out our convention schedule. And don't forget that if you are in any of those areas and you do come by the BookShark booth, you can register to win a free science package of your choice.
Maddie (28:43): And pick up some good coupons.
Janna (28:45): Maddie, thank you for taking the time to just kind of walk through what to expect at a homeschool convention. I know I'm excited about the upcoming season and I hope that we're getting some families excited too.
Maddie (28:57): Thanks for having me. And check out our convention page and we hope to see you out there.
Janna (29:02): Thank you guys for listening. Until next time. Bye.