If this is your first or second (or tenth!) homeschool convention, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the exhibit hall and the loooooong list of workshop choices. Here are a few helpful hints:

What to do BEFORE the convention:


Pre-register, if possible. This will save you money, time, and stress. Register online, by mail, in person (at the office), or by phone. www.heav.org , HEAV, PO Box 6745, Richmond VA 23230, 804-278-9200. If this is not workable, you can still register at the door.

Read all the pre-convention info on the website (www.heav.org). The convention section of the website contains:

  • registration information
  • posters/bulletin inserts for you to print out
  • biographies of the speakers with their Web addresses
  • a list of the workshops with descriptions
  • exhibit hall hours
  • a list of the exhibitors, including websites so you can check them out in advance
  • UCS sales information
  • graduation info
  • children’s program hours, ages, prices, description, and instructions
  • hotel information
  • local restaurant info
  • parking information
  • volunteer opportunities
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on  virtually everything

Determine your purpose(s) in attending. Are you looking for curriculum? Musical instruments? College admission info? Life skills helps? Encouragement for yourself? Just want to see what’s available, to touch and see it all “up close and personal”? Or maybe you’ve been looking forward to asking the author how to best use the material you have. Want to pick up a few fun family games? Perhaps you need some books to augment a unit study, or to build your home library. And those workshops all sound so inviting! Looking ahead to high school, or checking out some relaxed options for your younger ones? Or maybe you simply want to bask in the company of thousands of others who will reassure you that your children can succeed if you do this!

Whatever your focus, be sure to allocate your time accordingly. Make a written list of priorities, because once you walk into that building, even the best intentions can get lost in the excitement!

Develop a plan. Determine in advance what time you will leave the house (well, you can at least AIM for that), where you’ll park, how much time you’ll devote to in-service training and encouragement (AKA workshops), and how much time you will spend in the exhibit hall/UCS.

If this is very new, research some of your options. Will you use a packaged curriculum to get started? Or will you choose various books and games that fit into your plan? Are there some subjects that you can teach to all the children at one time in a multi-level approach? Do you prefer the security and continuity of a traditional textbook approach, or do you like the idea of an integrated unit study approach? Maybe the patriotism of the principle approach excites you, or possibly your maternal instincts go into overdrive when you read about Charlotte Mason’s gentler approach to learning. As you read, you may find that the classical approach sounds like what you equate with home schooling, or maybe you are attracted to the relaxed approach of studying what is of interest in your family at the moment.

Feel free to borrow and re-arrange from all these different approaches; they are not mutually exclusive. That’s one of the wonderful benefits of home schooling – you can create a custom curriculum!

The HEAV Resource Center carries lots of resources to help you think through your teaching preferences, your children’s learning styles, and the materials that would best suit your family. Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, Robin Sampson’s Heart of Wisdom, Clay and Sally Clarkson’s Educating the WholeHearted Child, and Mary Pride’s Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling are all good picks.

Concerned that you’re “covering the bases”? Take a peek at Sampson’s What Your Child Needs to Know When – and be sure to read the first half to get her perspective on why and how we do what we do, as well as gleaning from the K-8th skills checklists.

Make a wish list. Make a list of the items in which you are most interested (based on the goals you have set for your children), with several alternative selections noted (having a second or third choice pre-selected helps me to think quickly). I make a list of all the topics we’re covering this year in our units, so I can stay focused on my more immediate needs, and I can better resist the temptation to snatch up a bargain that won’t really be useful to me for another year or two.

Specific titles are very useful, if possible. One year I accidentally purchased three copies of the same well-known science book because the publisher had changed the cover several times and I didn’t recognize the title as a book I’d already purchased!

Remember items like a homeschool planner, art supplies, educational games, and other non-traditional “curriculum” items.

Determine your budget. This is a biggie. Know what you can afford and stick to it. See Home Education 101 for an article on what you can expect to spend.

Mark your schedule in advance.  Print the online schedule or use the schedule-at-a-glance that should arrive in your confirmation packet about a week before the convention. In each time slot, highlight the workshop most beneficial to you. Be sure to mark off UCS and exhibit hall shopping times, if needed, and be prepared to pick up a few CDs of the workshops you can’t get to (or better yet, get the MP3 of the entire convention, so you can review the great material you heard!). Be sure to download any handouts that may be available at www.heav.org for workshops in which you are interested.

If your children will be accompanying you, notice where your workshops are in relation to their program room, and be sure to plan to pick them up for lunch!

Pray for the convention staff, the speakers, exhibitors, and other attendees (as well as for your own decisions, safe travel, etc.).

Make any last-minute preparations for any family members you are not taking with you (meals, instructions for preparation, emergency numbers, etc.).

Be packed the day before. Things to bring with you:

  • Directions to the convention center (print from the site).
  • Cash for parking.
  • Comfortable shoes. You’ll do lots of walking!
  • Layered clothing. The air conditioning temperature varies by room.
  • Change for the book-and-bag check. The stuff gets heavy. Consider buying a rolling cart from the HEAV table (or bring your own with your name on it).
  • Address labels for mailing lists, drawings, etc. I like to use those little “freebie” labels that I receive in the mail from charities.
  • Snacks to leave in your room or car. The convention center does not allow “outside” food in the facility.
  • Notebook and pen/pencil.
  • A roomy, easy-to-carry purse or tote (or fanny pack).
  • Your wish list.
  • Your schedule.
  • Handouts for the workshops you plan to attend (downloaded from HEAV website).
  • Your registration confirmation letter (not required, but helpful).
  • UCS admission ticket (notice your entry time – earlier if you volunteer!)
  • Hotel confirmation info, if applicable.
  • Money, as allocated.

What to do AT the convention:


Pay attention to where you parked your car. There are several parking garages – notice where you enter the convention center from the parking garage or street!

Check in at the registration table. At this point, you’ll pick up your name tag and holder. If you have children attending the children’s program, you’ll pick up their colored wristbands (you received instructions in your confirmation packet). If you have children who will just be shopping with you, you’ll sign them in and get stick-on name tags for them.

Look through your convention program. It’s not just gorgeous; it’s chock-full of helpful info, including a workshop schedule-at-a-glance and a facility map. Take a few minutes to read about the hours, lost-and-found, info tables, and more. At some point, read it more thoroughly!

You may want to transfer your brought-from-home schedule notes to this program for ease of use and to check any last-minute room changes (those don’t happen often, but it’s always a possibility).

In the exhibit hall, I recommend that you make your first pass through without your wallet accessible! Take notes on what’s where, then come back through and make your purchases. Of course, if you think something’s a great find, it may not be there later and you must judge if it’s worth a first-pass purchase. There is a book-and-bag check for your convenience; stow your purchases there and you even get a box to carry it all home!

The exhibitors go to great lengths (and expense) to be there for you; in many cases, you are actually talking with the author of the book or developer of the material. If an exhibitor spends his time to answer your questions or explain various programs to you, please consider the value of his time/expertise and purchase from him rather than automatically making a purchase elsewhere to save a dollar.

In the workshops, please turn your cell phone off or to “vibrate”; seat yourself near an exit if you have a baby with you. Because the workshops are recorded (among other reasons!), it is courteous to temporarily leave the room if your baby makes noise (happy OR sad) or if you must take a call. If you must exit or enter after the workshop has begun, please be careful not to let the door slam. If a workshop seems full, it is also helpful to scoot in along the row so the outer seats will be more accessible to latecomers.

Your workshop evaluations are very important to the coordinators. Please be as specific as possible in your suggestions, recommendations, praise, and criticism.

Join your state organization. If you aren’t already a member, consider joining to support homeschooling in your state.

Order CDs of workshops you were unable to attend (or really enjoyed and would like to review). The MP3 of the full convention is a great value!

Consider volunteering. Even an hour or two of your time will be a great blessing to the convention! Check at the volunteer table (next to the registration booth) for needs.

Make new friends (and renew old acquaintances). If you are new, the other newcomers don’t know if you are new or a veteran, so smile anyway!

Turn in your evaluation form(s) and your name tag holder before leaving.


What to do AFTER the convention:


Look through the goodie bag you received at the door (and to which you probably added all weekend!). Take advantage of any special offers.

Consider sending a thank-you e-mail or note to those who made the weekend possible. If you have words of praise or polite criticism, be as specific as possible; your comments are very important and help the coordinators plan for the following year.

Start setting aside a few dollars each month for next year’s convention!

For more information on choosing curriculum, setting goals, making wise used curriculum choices, and getting started homeschooling, see Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers.


Vicki Bentley

Vicki Bentley is the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of more than fifty, and grandma to seventeen wonderful grandbabies (so far). Vicki has homeschooled 17 children since the 80’s, alongside her husband Jim, and led a local support group of more than 250 families for 14 years. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschool and homemaking helps, and HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens consultant and Group Services director. Vicki has a heart for parents, with practical wisdom and encouraging words. You can read more from Vicki at www.everydayhomemaking.com or www.hslda.org.

© Vicki Bentley, www.everydayhomemaking.com. Used with permission.