It’s that time of year again — the time for homeschooling conferences. It’s so fun to attend a live conference, to network with other homeschooling families, to hear inspiring speakers, and oh, those vendors and exhibits!
However, with the rising costs of gas, hotels and even babysitters, online conferences have been increasing in popularity the last few summers. Moms enjoy the comfort of their own homes and routines. Even homeschooling retailers are saving money by attending online conferences and having “virtual” vending tables.
So if you’re going to be attending on online homeschooling conference this summer, here are some tips to help you make the most of the experience:
Before the Conference:
- Do some research to see what is available and new this year in the homeschooling market.
- Make a list of your family’s homeschooling goals.
- Inventory your current books and curriculum so that you don’t accidentally buy something that you already own.
- Make plans to attend the conference with a local or online friend. It is more fun, and you can bounce ideas off each other during sessions.
- Designate a notebook for taking notes during sessions and stock your printer with ink for printing handouts and freebies.
- Get a schedule of the conference and choose which sessions you’ll want to attend live and which sessions you’ll save to listen to later.
- Be sure your computer is adequate for the requirements of the conference, that your speakers or headset are working properly, and that your mic is working (if you want to call in with questions). You may want to consider getting Skype.
- Get an mp3 player so you can download and listen to some sessions later.
- Consider getting a babysitter for some of the time, even though you’re staying at home. Your family doesn’t want you to tune out for a week while they have to do all the work. Make the conference fun for them, too. Other alternatives include borrowing some new board games, planning some easy dinners, or printing out some fun coloring sheets or paper dolls, so that your kids will look forward to these special days, too.
- Plan out your meals for the week, using your crock pot and oven to make easy dinners. Make lists of ways the kids can help with chores. Crank up the volume on your computer, so you can enjoy the webcasts of the speakers while you make dinner with the kids.
- Brew up some special coffee or tea and purchase some special snacks to enjoy during the conference. One year I even set up a bean-bag chair with extra pillows, and I made a nest of sorts to cuddle into during the sessions. (You can’t do THAT during a live conference, LOL!)
- Take time during the conference to visit the virtual exhibit hall. Many online vendors have spent hours of time preparing special freebies and exhibits of their materials, and you should certainly thank them for their work by at least visiting them. Send them thank-you emails, and make friends with them!
- Set up a folder on your computer for all the freebies, handouts, chat transcripts, and catalogs you receive, so that you can easily find them later.
- Between speaking sessions, hang out in the chat rooms and on the conference Facebook and Twitter pages, so you can meet new friends. Exchange email addresses, and build relationships. Maybe you can even find new friends for your children.
- Ask lots of questions of the vendors before making any purchase. One of the downsides of an online conference is that you can’t hold materials in your hands before purchasing, but you can compensate for that by emailing questions and discussing curriculum with other conference attendees in the chat rooms.
- Have a budget! It’s just as easy to overspend online as it is in a real vending hall! (Maybe easier…)
- Use your notebook to jot down things you do not want to forget, things you want try six months from now, a great idea you heard while in a chat room, etc.
After the Conference:
- Make a few notes for yourself. What did you enjoy the most? What was most helpful? Would you attend again? What would you do differently? These notes are best made right after the event (before you forget), and they will help you plan for next year.
- Take an hour to subscribe to newsletters, blogs, and e-zines of vendors that you particularly liked. You may think you’ll never forget about them, but in the craziness of the Internet, without those reminders in your inbox, your brain won’t be able to keep track of it all.
- You’re probably ready to make some new purchases. Have you consulted with your husband? Have you prayed about it? Make note of any sale dates, but otherwise, try to avoid impulse buys.
- What have you learned? How are you going to put these things into practice in your life right away?
- If you have a blog, write a review of the conference and send a link to the host. This will be such a blessing to them! You may also choose to write reviews of curriculum.