by Jessica Frierson, May 2022
Attending a homeschool conference can be a great get-away for mom to recharge, find new materials, and get motivated for the next school year. It can serve the same purposes for the whole family, but the idea of taking everyone along may be intimidating. Here are some tips for having a great experience at the conference with the whole family.
The number one thing you can do to make the weekend easier on everyone is to stay at one of the onsite hotels. The two hotels at the Benton Convention Center are the Embassy Suites and the Marriot. Having a hotel room accessible by simply taking the elevator up or walking across the skywalk takes a load off your shoulders at the end of a long day. You will save time by eliminating the daily commute and finding parking each day. In case of inclement weather, you can entirely avoid going outside by using the skywalk or tunnel to go back and forth between the hotel and the convention center. In fact, each of my other tips is made simpler by staying onsite.
Switch Out with Another Parent
If both parents come to the conference, you can look over the schedule of speakers, highlight the ones that are the most important to each of you, and either divide up the kids or take turns attending sessions and staying with the kids in your room. An alternative is to partner up with another homeschool mom whom your children are familiar with and who has children of a similar age range. Then, you can split up the day with one mom going to the morning sessions and the other catching the afternoon sessions. Bring board games, a big puzzle that everyone can work on together, and other activities that you can do in a hotel room. Note: don’t make the mistake I did one year when I brought non-washable crayons for a child who had not yet outgrown the desire to leave their mark on the world!
You are welcome to bring your children into the sessions with you as long as they do not disturb others, of course. In order to make this as pleasant as possible for the children and yourself, you will want to make sure they have something to occupy themselves with while you are listening to the speakers.
A floor blanket gives them a clean surface to sit on and helps those who tend to wander stay oriented where they need to be. Non-messy snacks go a long way in helping children pass the time. You may want to prepare a small backpack for each child that contains their activities. Or, you may find it more efficient to bring a small wagon that holds everyone’s items.
Activities that my children have enjoyed include paper dolls, coloring books with colored pencils (don’t forget to bring a sharpener), “Barbie”-type dolls with several changes of clothes and hair accessories, a small container of Legos and a baseplate, card or board games that don’t require talking among the players, books, Matchbox cars, small toy animals, and various travel games such as this magnetic wand or Dogpile. You can find many items that fit this list in the vendor hall. A fun way to start your conference weekend might be to walk through the vendor hall first thing. Let each child choose one item to purchase that they can enjoy right away, such as an interesting book or new card game.
NCHE also offers a program that your children, aged 3-11, can attend while you are at the conference. The program is provided by Giant Cow Ministries and includes drama, music, Bible memorization, mentoring, and loads of fun activities such as inflatables. The pre-registration deadline is May 13. Onsite registration will be offered if there is available space.
Rooms tend to sell out more quickly at the Embassy Suites, at least partly due to the included breakfast. However, If you have small children or a large family, you may find it less stressful to avoid the morning crowd and eat in your room anyway to take advantage of the rooms still available at the Marriott. Cheese sticks, instant oatmeal, cereal, granola or cereal bars, and pre-cooked boiled eggs can easily make a healthy and quick breakfast without even leaving your room.
For an easy lunch, you can purchase food from vendors on the lower level of the convention center or walk to a nearby restaurant. Or have an indoor picnic with chicken salad on croissants, ham and cheese sandwiches, or egg salad tucked into pita bread. (My children view pita pockets stuffed with any filling as a festive food–maybe yours will as well.)
Everyone will probably be tired out from the day by dinner time. Pizza delivery may be just the thing. With Door Dash now readily available, getting take-out delivered from any nearby restaurant can be a simple solution for dinner. For a more budget-conscious approach, many families bring a slow-cooker, liners for the cooking pot, and pre-prepped ingredients for a hot meal that can be started before leaving your room for the day and ready on your return. Disposable plates and plasticware will quickly fill the small trash cans in the hotel rooms, so you may want to bring an extra trash bag from home.
A frequent request by my children that makes for an easy but nutritious meal is what they call “snack dinner.” Fresh or dried fruit, roasted nuts, hummus and whole-wheat pita wedges, cheese, crackers, olives, carrot and celery sticks with dip, pickles, and slices of deli meat offer a variety of choices for even the pickiest eaters. It’s a winner since no cooking is required, and clean-up is easy.
With all of the focus on quiet activities, leaving out a crucial element of every child’s day would be a mistake. Although your children may be worn out from all of the walking they will likely do, they may still need an active period built into each day. Plan an activity into your schedule that will give them a chance to let out some energy. For example, a swim in the hotel pool, dancing to music on the television in your room, or a brisk walk around the block should help them get the wiggles out.
Bringing the whole family to the homeschool conference takes a bit more planning and preparation than if mom goes alone. However, there are many benefits to having them along with you. It will be a memorable experience that they will look forward to each year.
It is a great way for them to see how many other families are doing this crazy homeschool thing like them. The opportunity for your kids to look at curricula in the vendor hall may spark the fire of enthusiasm for their studies and give them a sense of power in having a say in their materials (something they would never get to do in a public school!). If they are interested in playing chess, they can participate in the chess tournament held on Thursday afternoon (preregistration is required). Watching the Talent Showcase may inspire them to try a new skill as they watch fellow homeschool students sing, dance, play instruments, and exhibit a variety of talents. And depending on their age and personality, they may be interested in some of the speakers as well.
For families with teenagers, check out the special events we have planned for them. Thursday night is filled with a cotillion-styled dance that is sure to be fun. Following the Talent Showcase on Friday night is a game social for the teens. The college fair on Friday afternoon will give them an opportunity to speak with representatives from numerous colleges and to pick up some college swag. There is also a special teen track with workshops designed with teens in mind.
It is always a blessing to walk through the convention center and observe all of the families there. My children count down the days until the next conference as soon as we get in the car to head home. It is the highlight of the year for them, and I hope it will be that for your family!
Jessica Frierson is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling her ten children since 2000. She serves as the secretary for NCHE, writes for GREENHOUSE, and is the lead blogger for the NCHE Blog.