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I well remember the first homeschool convention I attended. I was very excited to gain the insights and tips from the workshops I had selected from the brochure’s schedule. I was eager to listen to veteran homeschoolers, get some encouragement, and take lots of notes.
But I was not prepared for the vendor hall.
That huge sea of colors, covers, sounds, and signs overwhelmed me from the time I set one foot inside the door. Being a new homeschooler, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, so I just started wandering and browsing. Several hours and dollars later, I dragged my weary feet and heavy bags back to the van. Once home, I unpacked the bags and started second-guessing most of my purchases.
“There must be a better way,” I thought.
So the next year I spent some time preparing before the convention, and it made all the difference. Here are the steps I took to walk through the vendor hall with confidence and go home with a sense of accomplishment.
Remember your approach.
It only makes sense: if you want to use the Charlotte Mason approach, you will want to look for resources that use her methods. You may want to take a few minutes to review the criteria for selecting living books and the methods Charlotte recommended for each school subject.
Select your topics.
Get a piece of paper, or open a word processing document, and list all the school subjects. Then write the topics you will be teaching next in those subjects. For example, which time period will you be covering in history? Which composers or artists would you like to incorporate next? If you don’t know for certain, jot down some ideas. (Copy the list of school subjects from our free curriculum guide if you would like to.)
Peruse your shelves.
Now that you have a list of topics for which you want resources, see if you already have some books that will work. Write in the titles that you already own and can use. This little exercise will help you see where you have an immediate need and what you should be on the lookout for at the convention.
Check the publishers and distributors that cater to your approach.
Certain publishers and distributors specialize in living books. So visit their Web sites, do online searches, or browse through their catalogs to find possible resources for the topics you have left. (You can see a list of Charlotte Mason-style publishers that we like on our blog.) If a resource looks interesting, covers a topic that you have listed, and fits with the Charlotte Mason method, write its title on your list. (You may want to use a different color to differentiate between titles you have and titles you want to look for.
Estimate your expenditures.
While you are doing your research, list the prices that you find for those titles you are interested in. With this information you will have something to compare the convention pricing to.
Take your list to the convention.
Put your list in your purse or backpack the night before, so you don’t leave home without it.
Look for those books on your list.
Check the exhibit hall listing for the publishers and distributors that cater to your approach, and head their direction. Make those booths your main destinations. You’ll be able to get your hands on the books that you listed as possibilities and decide whether they are what you really need.
Of course, you can look at other vendors’ resources; you never know what you might discover. I have found several gems that way. Just keep in mind your topics list and look for resources that will help you accomplish your goals using the methods you prefer.
Homeschool conventions are wonderful opportunities to learn, to connect, to be encouraged, and to restock your resources. A little forethought will make your visit to the exhibit hall enjoyable and effective.