7 Scoops: My First Home Education Convention

Though I've been home-educating for anywhere from four to six to 10 years, depending on your perspective on the matter, I just got back from my first-ever homeschool convention, the CHEA conference in southeastern Wisconsin. And, to accompany the oddity of not having gone until now, I didn't even attend in the usual manner; nope, I skipped that "prior knowledge" in favor of jumping in to work the booth for our core curriculum, My Father's World (MFW).

Earlier this month, I explained how that came about. And today I've decided to share some "scoops" I gleaned from the experience:

1. I can be away from my family for several days.
Because of his missions trips, Jeff and I have been apart from each for as long as two weeks on several occasions over the years, and I've attended several retreats that have taken me away from the girls for one or two nights at a time. But the conference required me to be gone for three nights...and then Jeff and the girls went to his parents' for a Memorial Day mini-campout. Thus, it's now Sunday afternoon, and I have not seen my family since Wednesday evening - making for four nights and four full days before I'll see them later today.

I survived. And I wasn't miserable.

And, as a result of the generosity of some wonderful friends who watched the girls on Thursday and Friday while Jeff had to work - as well as a fun time with Grandma and Grandpa and many of their cousins yesterday and today - the girls have done well, too.

I actually knew we'd all be fine, of course - because, though my girls are super bonded with me, it's never been my aim or practice to emotionally cripple them by making them dependent on having me constantly here. But I enjoy being with them - and they with me - and so I certainly wasn't itching to stay apart this long.

However, I learned that we can definitely do it - especially with the kind of support we had...starting with Jeff, who really enjoyed stepping up as the go-to parent, and then extending to friends and other family members. I'm not planning to make a regular habit of running off to various overnight events, but this is good knowledge nonetheless.

2. I'm a lot more flexible than I used to be.
I knew virtually nothing about what to expect before I went. I knew the conference location and my team leader's name. And I knew I'd be helping to sell MFW products.

  • I had to Google directions to the conference center (and then had to endure a circuitous route over ridiculously-hilly county roads even though I later discovered the interstate would have done just as well);
  • I first learned my roommate's name - let alone anything about her - as she walked into our room about an hour after I arrived;
  • I met the team leader, Jim, and my three other teammates (including Jim's wife and daughter) at a crash course "how-to" meeting just 30 minutes before the vendor hall was due to open;
  • I interacted with all sorts of people - who came with all manner of questions and concerns - during the 22 hours I was doing sales;
  • I had to maintain a "presence" during sales hours - meaning that, though it was completely okay to admit when I didn't know an answer and to call on someone else for help, my job was to exude knowledge about MFW and to confidently approach customers instead of waiting for them;
  • I spontaneously chit-chatted with my five teammates during the lulls in customer activity, at meals, and - with Molly, my roomie - each evening in our room...even though I didn't know them from Adam (or Eve) before Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
And guess what? None of it bothered me.

If you've known me in real life for any length of time, that may surprise you; on the other hand, you've probably seen big changes in me over the last few years in particular so maybe it's old-hat for you now. But I must admit to surprising myself a bit anyway...because I wasn't stressed even though the entire scenario was new to me.

Oh, I'm still "Rou-Tina," the gal who enjoys organization and predictability. However, that trait is now becoming positive because it can slide right on over to make room for flexibility and spontaneity when that's what I want.

3. Kids are kids.
For those who still believe the lie that homeschooled kids are weird...or awkward...or maladjusted...let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, I see that reality on a regular basis, both in my girls and in the other home-educated kids I know personally, but it was brought into sharp relief this weekend as I watched the children of vendors and customers alike.

You see, this convention is attended by a large percentage of what can be called "very conservative" folks. There were plenty who - wearing jeans and t-shirts, for example - would pass unnoticed walking down any street in America. But there was a large contingent of Mennonites, who dress just like the Amish (the only difference being that Mennonites use technology, which explained the laptops and cell phones at their booth!), as well as many other girls wearing long skirts and head-coverings and many boys wearing button-down shirts and ties. Not your average crowd in terms of appearance, to be sure. And the stereotype says those kids are repressed and "abnormal" because they're different.

But...I had time to watch them interact with each other - and across the "cultural lines" symbolized by their wardrobes. And guess what? The teen girls all giggled giddily with each other. The teen boys swaggered through the hall in small groups. The little boys ran around if given half a chance. The babies and toddlers got fussy.

In other words, they're normal. To be sure, the topics and tone of their conversations were likely different than those of "worldly" kids...and the boys were swaggering with that trying-to-be-a-man look instead a false, cocky bravado. Plus, the siblings actually enjoyed each others' company instead of avoiding each other as those who attend institutional school often do. But those are good differences, really - not problematic ones by any legitimate measure.

My conclusion? If someone in the general public would not criticize the cultural differences they see in folks from Nigeria or Russia or even a different part of this country, they ought not think poorly of homeschoolers either. Yes, home-educators form a type of sub-culture that differs from the mainstream in some ways, but there's nothing wrong with that.


4. Home-educating parents are normal...mostly.
A few years ago, some other ladies from my homeschool association and I performed a fun song called "The 14 Days of Homeschool." Unbeknownst to us, a teen at the meeting taped us, and the video goes viral every fall.

My favorite line in the whole piece is actually an ad-lib offered by my friend Wendy, who tweaked the lyrics for Day 5 to say, "We're just a little bit odd!"

And, honestly, that is true.

Now, really, just as the kids are kids, we parents are "normal" parents, too. However, there's a twist that just naturally comes, I believe, from taking on the biblical responsibility to educate one's own child.

That is, in contrast to most parents whose kids attend institutional schools (who largely just accept whatever the "educational experts" trot out), we are very concerned about the intricacies of the educational materials we choose for our kids. Thus, we ask questions - on average, everyone in my booth spent at least 30 minutes one-on-one with most customers - and we mull over the options. We consider and re-consider and then consider again. Sometimes we finally take the leap and sometimes we need still more time even if we know we'll ultimately go with what we're considering.

From a sales perspective, that was a bit frustrating because some of the same folks came back to our booth multiple times over the course of the conference...and a few still didn't buy, saying they needed more time and would order online. We knew they wanted to use MFW materials, but they were afraid to take the plunge because - as many said to me - "I just want to make sure it's a good fit."

If parents of kids in institutional schools express such feelings, the best they'll get is a bit of "enrichment" from classroom teachers who are either too harried to truly individualize or, sadly, too jaded to care. And so it's "normal" in those settings for parents to eventually give in to the cookie-cutter approach of those schools even when children's actual needs are not being met.

Home educators don't do that...and that makes us "odd." But I happen to believe it's a laudable trait we should embrace...even when it drives convention vendors crazy.

5. God has given me a heart to help fellow home educators.
I've known this for quite some time as I interact with other homeschooling moms on Facebook, The Homeschool Lounge, and in my community. It brings me great joy to help moms explore whether or not home education is a good choice for their families and to present the different curricular options in ways that help them sort through the many possibilities.

And I saw this again at the conference. Of them all, the the lady who stands out most is a mom with 10 children, five of whom are boys under the age of 12. Some of her older children have graduated and she already has a good handle on what to do with her high schoolers. But she was trying to figure out how to most effectively teach her 12, 10, and five year-olds (and, eventually, the preschooler and baby). And, as I showed her what I think would be an excellent plan using MFW, I literally saw her anxiety drain away, replaced by surprise and relief that it was actually possible. That made my day.

Sadly, because this event seems to be a "dying" convention (attendance was poor and we were told it's been that way for several years), MFW might not return next year; we sold quite a bit to those who came...but it probably wasn't enough to justify MFW's investment of time and resources. However, I told Jim and his wife, who also works for MFW, that I'd love to help at regional conventions - by selling or even speaking - in the future. In reference to Scoop 1, I won't allow myself to be away from home often - even for MFW - but I'm at least open to possibilities.

6. I met a hero.
On Friday evening, just a short time before closing, an older lady came into the booth, and I was available to speak with her. She was seeking a book for a neighbor boy - she wanted something Christian to balance his interest in Harry Potter - and it was clear that she had a heart for the entire family. I ended up recommending Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates, one of my girls' favorites when we did MFW Adventures.

As she was headed to check out, the lady stopped, scanned the room and said, "My son used to speak at this convention and so many others."

"Oh, who's your son?" I said, simply making polite conversation.

"Chris Klicka," she replied, with a catch in her voice.

Now, if you are a homeschooler, you probably know Chris Klicka's story; if not, you need to read it for yourself. But the Cliff's Notes version is that Chris was a literal hero of the homeschool movement who worked with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) to insure the rights of home educators here and abroad. He was a tireless advocate for us, even after he was diagnosed with and suffered the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. In fact, he died shortly after arriving at a homeschool convention in 2009, an event he insisted on attending despite deteriorating health. He was a hero.

And to meet his mom - who explained that Chris was her only child - was to meet another hero, both because of what she and her husband obviously instilled in Chris and because of her courage in facing the loss of her son. It was the highlight of that day, and I tear up thinking of her even now.

7. I am even more sure than I was before of our choice to use My Father's World.
Yes, I was there to sell MFW product. But being there also gave me the opportunity to peruse the materials used in all of the cores - all the way through high school - that we have not yet used. It really does make a big difference to see things in real life, and I was struck with the conviction that - while I appreciate the fact that it's very possible to make substitutions in some areas (all of us in the booth have done that in more than one way during our years of using MFW) - I really, by and large, trust MFW's curricular choices in terms of providing a biblically-sound, academically challenging and appropriate education for my kids.

To be sure, since I'm one of those slightly "odd" homeschool moms, I won't take anything at face-value even as we go on - and I didn't get to study everything this weekend so I'll have questions and concerns of my own going forward. But it's nice to feel that I can breathe easy in many ways in terms of MFW's offerings.

One last thing, which is not a "scoop" about the conference, really, but which is worth noting anyway.

I was there to sell...but it was a homeschool convention, after all - and my first one at that! And there were some really neat supplemental resources, both in the MFW booth and from a couple of other places. So...well, my personal "haul" looks like this:

Photo Credit: nath nath (http://www.flickr.com/photos/nath2/226014198/)


Sassy Down Home Mama said...

I love that you are so passionate about your curriculum choices:) I think it's so awesome! I'm also glad that you were able to attend the conference and hopefully it won't be the last!

Kristie L Guns said...

Hi Tina,
Glad you enjoyed the conference! I love going to the CHEA conf. and this is the first year in several that I did NOT go. =( I am also actually considering giving up homeschooling altogether, but that's another story... reading your post makes me remember how much I dearly love homeschool and the people at the conference and all that stuff ~ ! I enjoyed your post today for sure! I have never seen MFW at that conference, I wish I could have gone this year to see them and all the new stuff out there. (I have a tendency to spend, spend, spend when I am there though, so it might be fine that I didn't go) Hope to talk soon!!

Conny said...

How exciting Tina!! I'm about to attend my 1st CHEF Conference in June! We'll be representing DOORPOSTS ... While I don't home-school, I believe in Christian education and my kids go to a Christian school that my husband teaches at. Doorposts is letting us represent them as Christian educators. I'm so excited to get to sneak around & listen in on the speakers & workshops!! :)

Vivs6kids said...

That was a great post, Tina!

I have been attending Homeschool conventions since Courtney (now 21) turned 3. I only missed one year, and that was the year I had the twins :) Friends even paid my way the year Dan was unemployed :)
I almost always go to ICHE in Illinois - but 2 years I went to CHEA - one year I went to BOTH in the same year - I guess that makes me a convention junkie of sorts.

Rather than work the vendor hall though- I go for the encouragement, the challenge and the spiritual uplifting I get - they are sort of like retreats for me. I actually prefer to go to workshops that are going to shake my cage so to speak - ones that are going to make me put Christ first in my marriage, my family and in my homeschooling. I go to ICHE this TH and FR and I can't wait.

I am sad, however, to hear of CHEA's floundering - it has been going on for a number of years now. Not sure what is at the heart of that. One thing I've noticed here in Green Bay is that FEW homeschoolers even attend conventions. I look forward to them from the time I leave the last one until I get to go again. When I began homeschooling in IL - going to ICHE was just what everyone "did" - but up here in GBay, people often never go. I think they are great and worth the investment. If others felt that way then more people might attend the CHEA convention. I have never gone to the WPA convention b/c I prefer the entire event be run from a Christian perspective.

So - back to your article - it was fun to read...maybe you even met a family I know with 10 kids, the Badger's, they were speaking there. Welcome home!

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