Conference time is fast approaching and many moms are torn between rejoicing in the lovely weather, encouraging the children as they “finish up” for another year, pouring through catalogs to select next year's resources and trying to figure out how much it's all going to cost! Conference time can be very stressful but there are some keys to making the event both productive and enjoyable.
First Things First...
GET PREPARED! Sometime in early spring, I like to start in March, take a look at what subjects you plan to teach next year. There are some basics including English, Math and Science. I make a list for each of my children leaving enough room to fill in the details later.
If you have a specific curriculum that you are happy with and always use, write it down next to the subject. Do you have a favourite supplier? Check their catalogue for the price. Now check at least two more catalogs. Choose the one with the best price or the best conference deals. Every penny counts and vendors know this.
Any subjects that don't already have curriculum selected are the focus next. Talk to friends, veteran homeschoolers, order some catalogs or go online (many vendors have their catalogs online too). See if there is anything that really appeals you. Read some reviews, consider the prices, talk to your spouse and even ask the children what they think. Most importantly, pray about it. Make a list with a few top picks for each subject and what they cost from each vendor.
Make sure you have a realistic budget! Knowing how much you have before you get there can save you a lot of time, money and stress. It is very frustrating and disappointing to have to return materials afterward and pay restocking fees and have no product and then pay shipping charges on the less expensive product that you didn't really want.
Check your list against your budget. Do they work together? If you trade one thing for another can you make it all fit? If you are over budget, can you put something off until next year or even after Christmas? One of the biggest parts of a successful conference is pre-planning!
Another consideration is whether or not you can use the same material for more than one child. Some families share materials for electives like history and art. If everyone can use the same books/resources then it saves you time in teaching and grading as well as money. What about sharing materials with a friend? Is there someone with children a year ahead or behind where yours are.
Consumable materials are more expensive than reusable or reproducible materials – especially if you have more than one child. I have five children, so if the textbook I use for the oldest costs $100 then by the time the youngest has used it, I've invested $20/child. This is great incentive to look for high quality materials that will stand up to much use. Buying teacher guides and student texts at the same time ensures that you won't run into 'new' editions where the pages and questions just don't match. Check to see if the student could do their work on loose leaf or in a notebook. This saves on buying multiple copies of student texts and workbooks. When your students are done with the books, you can sell them together at that wonderful second hand sale.
What to do about workshops...
If your local conference offers workshops, take a good look at the schedule. Which ones are the most valuable to you? Which ones allow you to get your shopping done? Are you going with a friend? Are CD recordings of the workshops available for purchase after the conference? Would you listen to them if you paid for them? Would your support group purchase the conference recordings and put them in a lending library? Do you have a friend who would share the cost of the recordings with you? Often, all or most of the workshops sound wonderful, but if going to all of them leaves you no time to get to the second hand sale and vendors then maybe there are some you could buy on CD. Remember, if you burn out on the good stuff then the more difficult stuff will become even more difficult.
If your conference has pre-registration with discounts, see if that is something you could do. Some conferences have workshops earlier in the week and on Friday evenings. Would these workshops make up for a missed Saturday one that allows you to do your shopping?
Sometimes, conference newsletters have a call for volunteers. Is there an area you could volunteer? Some conferences offer admission or membership discounts if you have an hour or two to contribute during the conference weekend.
Just like you budgeted your money, you need to budget your time. Make the most of the time available to you on conference day.
The Big Day...
You have your list(s), your schedule and your budget and tomorrow is the big day. If you need to travel to the conference location, make sure you've included that in your budget and made arrangements for accommodations. Also, if you need to purchase food, make sure that is on the list too. If you can, consider brown-bagging it. This helps save money and allows you to pack smaller bits to keep your energy up throughout the whole day. Lots of water is important too.
Check in at registration and enjoy your well-planned day!
If your conference has a second hand sale, look for your first choice materials there. Can you get them for a lot less than buying them new? Saving here may allow you to buy something else that you thought you had to put off.
Go to your scheduled workshops, enjoy time speaking with presenters and vendors. Find a spot and look at materials you weren't sure about. Some conferences have a decompression area with tables and chairs where you can look at your lists, catalogs and some vendors will even let you take something to look at before you buy.
Now it's time to buy your materials. Remember, unless it's on sale, buying first thing in the morning means it's yours even if you see something else you like better and you have to carry it around all day unless you have a place to store it. On the other hand, waiting until the very last minute could mean that the vendor will be sold out and you will need to have materials shipped.
Take some time this summer putting together your schedule and reading through your materials. If you understand how a program works you will find it less frustrating and much more effective than each night or morning trying to figure out what to do next.
Have fun with your program and with your children. Remember that this is a journey and it begins with where you are right now.