18 April 2009

How to Attend a Convention

I'm posting a little advice on how to attend a convention (for what it's worth; this is my first!) and some ramblings about how things went once I got inside. I hope you enjoy it!

Weeks before

We became members of the homeschool group that hosted the convention, and therefore got in for free. Annual membership for our family was $35, as opposed to the $45 they'd collect to get me in the door if I just showed up. Oh! And that $45 wouldn't include the membership. So hey, might as well.

We got a list online of all the exhibitors at the convention. Most of these can be looked up online. I got familiar with the different prices of kits and things I was interested in, if I were to buy these things new and pay for shipping. I figured that if I wanted to buy something at the convention, I'd have to balance the fact that the exhibitors would collect nearly 8% in sales tax with the fact that often, I could just grab what I want and leave without shipping costs.

This can be pretty complicated, really, because added to the mix is the free shipping on large orders many providers will give you. Whoo... then, add in the fact that *at the convention,* there are sometimes special prices on this or that... and you'll confuse yourself crazy over a few bucks.

Well, it's not worth it once you start going crazy.

But I truly think that looking over each of the exhibitors' websites ahead of time and familiarizing myself with their prices and kit components was time very well spent. It cut down on some of the booths I knew better than to even bother visiting. I personally dislike the idea of lap-booking for every subject... or incorporating an infant in our fourth grade curriculum... or doing one of those "everybody studies the same things and we cycle round and round every four years" kind of things. One woman I met at convention put our educational philosophies out this way: We're very "textbook-oriented" in our homeschools. Yet, I know others who hate, loathe and despise textbooks and manage to turn out literate children.

Of course there is no way to forsee every fun thing you'll see once you're there, but if you know, say, that you want to seriously take a look at KONOS and All God's Children, you'll have some fair idea when something presented is really a big bargain or pretty much usual price.

Days Before

Days before the convention, get your directions printed. Bring a bag or something to hold your purchases. Even if you purchase nothing, you'd be surprised at how many papers and things will wind up needing to be carried about for sorting later. Several people brought rolling luggage or rolling crates.

The Big Day Arrives!

Ok, so it's not quite as exciting as the "big day" when you have a baby, or the "big day" you get married, but it's still a pretty big day. *The* day.

I very much appreciated having my husband roam about with me for the first couple of hours we looked around. He kept me focused on the BIG thing I was looking for, Singapore Maths textbooks. I am just the type that would go, "Oooh, Klutz kits! Castle posters...! Oh, and here's a book about ladybugs..." and wander off. D kept me on track to REMEMBER THE MATH. We were able to visit several places and find the lowest priced option with teachers' manuals at Rainbow Resource. They didn't have the entire set I was looking for, but I did that thing that sometimes gets great results: I asked for help. My polite inquiry got me the answer I was hoping for: they would order me what was missing from their stock and send it to my house with free shipping. Yay!

One thing we didn't do but wish we had was to drive separate vehicles to the conference. D had to go home after a while to do that taking care of children thing. I think if I went again, I'd drive, park, and leave lunch in the car with a good book. You wouldn't believe the prices they charge for a hot dog that smells funny and a diet pop. And they do NOT allow you to bring your own, though I saw several vendors who actually snuck food into the convention hall.

One told me a horrible story, that I can't help but think is true. A convention she attended/worked had bottled water for $3.50 each. She refused to pay that price, but the water fountain was all the way across the center and she wasn't able to get a drink at all that day. It was hot. That night, she was so dehydrated that she had to go to the hospital by ambulance.

Why am I telling you this story? I don't know. Just chatting, I guess. Perhaps I'd like to make the point that maybe it's time to break down and buy the $3.50 water before the $350 ambulance ride? Or perhaps I'm making the point that you should stash lunch in your car, where you'll have an upholstered place to sit away from other people's children? Hm. Both, I think. Man, that hot dog didn't sit well, either.

Spunky's advice for convention-goers is to wear comfy shoes and leave the checkbook at home. If you are prone to on the spot big money impulse buys, I would absolutely tell you to not only do that, but to bring your accountability partner with you so that you don't run back home to get every credit card plus the checkbook. There are many, many cool things at the convention that you've probably never seen before. You need them. Your homeschool will not be complete without them. You MUST buy them now!

Well, at least walk around the place twice before making those purchases. If the item isn't there when you get back, it wasn't meant to be. (So I'm sort of a Calvinist homeschool shopper, perhaps, in that I believe in the predestination of all that curriculum to a particular home at a particular time LOL.)

So... How Did It Go?

Thanks for asking! It was great!

The place was NOT well-marked. We were circling around the area when I advised D to just FOLLOW the 18-passenger van in front of us. No, D reasoned, they're probably going to the airport. I told him, just follow the van, would you?? Ok.

And guess where the van went? Yup, the convention. Of course! But contrary to stereotype, though, most of the ladies weren't dresses-only hair in a bun types. Maybe about a fifth. There were many different sorts of people. I almost wish that I could require every person who is "down" on homeschooling to attend one of these and chat with at least 20 people about why they homeschool.

That's what one of the secular businesswomen who had a booth at the convention was doing. (Of course, I don't know that SHE is secularly-minded or religious, just that she is running a secular business BOOTH. Hard to clarify that in just one sentence.) She is unhappy with her daughter's public education, not really sure what her next step would be. She's gathering information from all the booths and thinking about things. She's chatting with people who come by to find out about the business. I sure hope she doesn't get overwhelmed, but is able to just think about it later clearly. It is a *lot* of information to take in all at once, so I'm just going to pray that she makes the right choice for her family this coming year.

Which just might be public school, you know? I hope she gets a peace about what GOD wants her to do, and if that's public school, that things go much smoother for her next year than they did this.

(For that matter, I might advise people who say that public school should never be an option for a Christian family to go to a few local churches and chat with some of the good folks who send their children off on the yellow bus each day. They're not the enemy, folks!)

Ok... back to the convention...

I spent some time saying "hi" to the providers of my favourite curriculum. A lot of these people are real believers in their particular product and are very proud of the help they give homeschoolers. If you use their stuff, a simple, "We love this stuff!" is very encouraging. More encouraging still would be to tell them *why* you love it.

For example, I stopped by the BJU booth and spoke with a young lady who was homeschooled with BJU stuff and now sells it. She told me about how BJU stuff helped her travel around the country with her dad's business schedule, and now she travels to sell the curriculum. I told her about how BJU helps my sons to stay home, and about how our very most treasured subject is the Bible stuff they put out. I've looked at plenty of other places, and in *this subject,* nothing even comes close.

Now, mind you, nothing really comes close to the expense of that stuff price-wise, either, but we'd give up our English AND Reading curriculum material and just use the library to supplement our Bible curriculum before we cut that out of the budget. We just love it and won't change that. Nope. If you're a religious homeschooler and like the King James version of the Bible, you really ought to at least take a look at the BJU stuff for your child's grade level.

I think I've filled out about 10 drawing cards for various prizes. I never win that stuff, but then again, it can't hurt too badly to receive a few extra phone calls and emails from these folks. D, the ever-optimist about his fellow man, assures me that now my name will be sold, rented, resold, etc. etc. and before you know it, I'll probably get porno magazine ads. Well, it's possible.

I was surprised by the actual display items. Some of the stuff I would have sworn would be a *great* value after I looked at it online, I was very disappointed in when I actually got to thumb through. The Christian Liberty Press "teachers' manuals" that go with the Bob Jones English curriculum were I think the most blatant example of this. I was expecting at least a softback cover and some highly readable, clear text, but it's really just a few xeroxed sheets stapled together. Um, for $7, I can just wing it without the book. I'm sure glad I didn't order that stuff online without seeing it first. The tests, though, were less than half the cost of the BJU tests and were at least comparable, so it may be a good option if I were to need them.

I was disappointed in the Sonlight booth. Well, words can't tell how disappointed. I specifically went looking for math texts and they displayed... NO MATH. What kind of place would want you to buy zillions of bucks worth of stuff without a look-see at the math curriculum? One that didn't budget for a big enough booth. It makes me feel like they didn't think math was important or something. I would have liked to have seen ALL the things that come with each "core" for each grade clearly displayed together as other major providers like ABeka had done. And Sonlight was a big, big "to do" on my list. The woman there seeemed very, very knowledgeable about the company she represents and the stuff they sell... but without looking at ALL of it, all together in one big group, nope. I had fully expected to walk away with a big box from this place, too.

One thing the major curriculum providers seem to be moving toward are these leased DVD things. Guys, if you're a company rep that just googled over and want a suggestion: I'm not NOT not not NOT paying $1,000 for something that I just have to return at the end of the year. No way. And $1,000 is way overpriced for something I'm going to keep anyway. Go ahead and super-encrypt it or whatever you have to do to make it impossible to copy, and sell it for $400. You'll sell a lot more of them, and people will start to buy them used and get hooked on the ease with which they can use your product. If I pay $400, and can resell my stuff for $100, everyone's going to be a winner. Because I'm spending $0 on that stuff right now, which ironically enough is the amount of profit you're making from me on this program. That advice was free.

I think I made about three slow trips around the center, all told.

Another stop I made was at the Landmark Freedom Baptist booth. The guy there was a really personable fellow and had all the materials out lined up in such a way that they pretty well sold themselves. I'd looked at this online and put it into the "maybe sometime" pile. But... no shipping on orders placed at the convention, and seeing the actual stuff I'd be getting from front to back made my decision easy. I could tell that the fourth reader would be too hard to do at this point, so we got the third reader kit. Want to see a sample? I'll assure you the lessons get harder fast!

Another thing that I saw... well, I'm having a NOT buying remorse over. I probably should have picked up the Singapore Science stuff. I wasn't looking for a science curriculum particularly and didn't know this stuff existed! I was very impressed that it's laid out just like the math books, only more colourful and fun-looking. I will have to look into buying these in perhaps a year or so. I don't really need them now, but I found a distributor that is offering these for a good price.

Who knows? It's possible I'll find these used for an even better price.

Another aspect of attending a homeschool convention is meeting others and just general chit-chat. It's encouraging just to ask a couple of curriculum questions and not feel weird about discussing your childrens' social studies with strangers. Or learning about another child's learning style and how this or that worked for him. Or even discussing the education of autistic children outside the bathroom. Yes, I did.

Ideally, I'd advise bringing a friend who also homeschools. Maybe plan on attending a presentation together. The best part of the convention for me was seeing what my husband liked, didn't like and was interested in looking at in the book stacks.

Happy shopping! :]

13 comments:

  1. Strangely the only conventions I ever willingly attended were comic book conventions, and I don't even go to those anymore because the big one in the Detroit area now charges $20.00 to get in. Is he kidding?

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  2. Yow! For "just for fun" stuff, that's a lot of money. I know they have overhead, but wow.

    I'm not sure I would go to a convention every year, but I was glad I went to this one to see a bit of "what's out there."

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  3. I just do homeschool research here and there because I'd like to try it in the future. I've only done a little bit of Googling and I'm already so overwhelmed by all of the options...all of which come with resounding praise. A convention would probably be overload. There isn't one big homeschooling store, is there?

    I always carry a big purse (diaper bag, actally - for the pockets) and keep it stocked with water and snacks. I've actually met some lovely people when we're trapped on a plane for hours with no food.

    Allison

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  4. When I first started looking at Sonlight their adds specifically said they left the choice of math curriculum up to the individual but offered some choices. I can't remember what they were because I don't get too excited about the math curriculum. A sum is a sum is a sum, you know. History now...ah! I'll just go browse some more...

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  5. I am not sure whether I envy the American homeschooling conventions or not. It sounds so overwhelming! I think I would have a headache in about and hour.

    Over here in Japan we have a "convention" available twice a year. Ours consists mostly of speakers and encouragement, with a few tables of BJU stuff translated into Japanese, and some other Christian books. It's kind of nice that there's not much to tempt me!

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  6. Allison, if you are interested in more "secular" homeschooling, I'd recommend going to a teachers' supply store in your area and browsling. They don't usually sell entire curriculum packs, but "supplemental" workbooks and the like which, taken together, could actually be your entire lesson if you wished. Say, vocabulary from one workbook and grammar from another... then you read a little big and do some writing. Not too hard.

    Personally, I used those big workbooks you can find at Sam's Club. You really don't need anything else but that and a couple of books when children are little. :]

    MY goodness, though, these people all seem to be pushing for an entire curriculum set for 3 and 4 year olds!!

    PS If you are religiously home-educating, I'd go to the Christian Book Distributors website and click on "homeschooling" in the sidebar. Find some stuff you're thinking about and look under the pic for "samples."

    PPS I'm thinking I would sneak food next time, too. I have no problem with someone getting a fair profit but $6 for one hot dog and a pop is just nuts.

    Ganeida, I know a bit about the Horizons and the Singapore choices, but I have to say it irked me that it wasn't out there. I saw a few social studies/ English readers for each grade and that's about it.

    They had the worksheets/teachers' sheets bound in a book (instead of loose-leaf like you'd get it IRL, but makes more sense for convention!). It wasn't even divided for reference AND several pages were upside-down. I know they do 5-day on one side and 4-day on the other, but when I skim looking at only one side, everything should be upside-right!!

    It just looked sloppy.

    I had imagined a mini "box day" at the tables. I was hoping to look at everything and really get a feel for what things would be like. I know that this is a very, very reader-intense curriculum and that would take a lot of space. But I wanted to see it at least in one grade level... what that would "look like" all laid out and how the texts might "go together" for an overall theme (as you know, SL does themes like Eastern area in fifth grade, etc.)

    The website kicks butt, so I guess I was hoping for much, much more at the convention. Siiigh.

    Sue, I wonder how the BJU Bible stuff sounds in Japanese and if the thy and thine stuff is in their translations. :]

    I found it overwhelming, but surprised that things I didn't expect much from were places I wound up spending the most time and money.

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  7. Mrs. C, I am sorry you had a bad experience at the convention with Sonlight.

    I love them! But I have never been to a convention.

    Math is not part of Sonlight, but a few curriculums made by other vendors are offered to make it easier. ( I do not use any math they offer ;-)

    Not to try to sway you, but I bought them the first time relying on the full 18 week guarantee, buy it, use it, return it for a full refund ( just don't put the stickers on them ).

    I am sad they had a poor set up in your opinion. I am sure Sonlight will look into that.

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  8. Thanks, Jana! I have read the forums and know that Sonlight has THOUSANDS of very happy customers. Thankfully, in my core subjects, I'm shopping well over a year ahead and have lots of time to dally about.

    The reason I'm doing this so far out is that I'm sure it will be a very staggered transition if we change. We tend to finish subjects very unevenly. We've just finished second-grade English not too long ago, yet we're nearly halfway done with fourth grade math. So even though we're in third grade English, I'm looking at fifth grade stuff already, if that makes sense.

    I'm curious as to whether Sonlight made big sales at the convention. The placement of the booth was about as good as you could get.

    Maybe it's just me. :]

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  9. Mrs. C,

    Sonlight doesn't sell anything at the conventions. Nada. Instead, people are encouraged to look over the materials, consider the suggestions of the consultants there, go home and consider it some more before purchasing.

    I'm really sorry that your experience with the booth was so bad. I will take your feedback and hopefully others won't have a similar experience. But, just to reiterate: Sonlight doesn't produce math courses. I realize that it would have been nice to see all the options, but the SCCs tend to choose to display things more unique to Sonlight. That's the reasoning behind it at least.

    ~Luke

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  10. Luke: Sonlight's curriculum advisors are just awesome at guiding one through choices, etc. but I was really, really hoping that all the core stuff would be there so I could more clearly see what I'd get if I had this or that option.

    I find the options very confusing partly because you get SO MUCH STUFF (yes, that's a good thing, but confusing!). Mind you, I have trouble ordering combo meals in restaurants, too. It's almost debilitating to see all those choices... I'll stand with that deer in the headlights look and hold up the line. Of course, once I understand my options, I'm *great* at ordering the next time. I'd have to always order the number four, so don't switch options on me... :]

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  11. Mrs. C.

    I totally understand the confusion about Sonlight and all the options. This is the first time I have purchased a whole "core". I used alot of Sonlight with my older children. But I never could commit to it all.

    I don't know what "core" you are looking at, or if it is one I have. I would be willing to discuss it in detail if that helps.

    I don't think my son will ever be on one level, none of my others ever were ;-). I love the fact that for the most part I can take pieces of Sonlight, or adjust it to fit my child.

    No I am not an employee of Sonlight, and mostlikely will not ever purchase a NEWCOMER core again. But I do love thier curriculum.

    Remember too they do have an 18 week money back guarantee.

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  12. Jana, I'm looking at fifth-grade cores and also at the possibility of using Sonlight materials as supplements in about a year. I know sometime when I get to our fourth grade stuff I will NEEEEEED the markable map things featured in the website. I keep reading about how it isn't necessary... but it sure sounds like a die-without to me if it's only half as cool as it looks online.

    I'm glad someone else gets my confused-ness. I know that more than once I have bought the same thing I used last year only because change is just too hard to navigate. AND, add a little Elf who is a bit insecure and needs reassurance on this stuff, and it could be disaster. It's hard to reassure someone when you're having a hard time yourself.

    So I kinda over-research before making the jump. I bugged the poor advisor like three times before ordering the math. It had to be *just right,* and I had to know what was in the package but bless her, the advisor told me RIGHT DOWN TO THE PENCIL what was in there LOL.

    I wish *somebody* sold the "babysitter for littles while you homeschool" megapack. Alas, I did not find that at the convention.

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  13. You are hilarious!

    Thank you for this amusing and informative post! It was a joy to read it.

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)