By Kyndra Steinmann
Since the HEAV Convention is a family event—and a time when parents are looking at curricula and trying to attend workshops—the question often arises: How can I attend the convention with my children who are too young to volunteer or attend the children’s program?
For the past several years, I’ve attended with some combination of infant and toddler, or toddler and preschooler, and I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about taking toddlers and preschoolers to the convention with the least amount of stress for everyone.
- Take a stroller, even if you only have one child and even if you typically “babywear” or have an older preschooler who likes to walk. I prefer to take a twin-style stroller if at all possible, as it gives me a place to put my bag or an armload of books while a child walks for a bit or while I carry or wear them. Because of the crowds of people, it is better to take a stroller that is narrow and long rather than wide. I generally park mine outside of a booth and let the little boys sit in it while I go a few feet away to look at materials.
- Use the book check at the back of the Exhibit Hall. It’s cheap and easy to use, and I can often get a nice, strong volunteer to help me carry the boxes to my van. Having my hands free to hold a child makes the trips into the Exhibit Hall much easier.
- Plan which vendors you need to visit ahead of time. Check out links to their sites, make notes of what you want to look at and why, and mark their locations on the map of the Exhibit Hall supplied in your registration packet. Be sure to identify the booths where you know what you will be buying (and thus visiting for only a short while) and the ones where you will need to browse or look at things for a while.
- Keep your trips to the Exhibit Hall short. Visit one to three booths (depending on how much time you need to spend at each one), then take the children to the Lego area or the Musical Instrument Petting Zoo or out of the hall altogether to run about for a bit. Their short attention spans will do much better handling the noise and confusion of the Exhibit Hall (from a child’s perspective) with short visits and frequent breaks.
- Plan for times and spaces for them to run about. There is typically a Moms’ Room on the second floor of the main building with some toys as well as a spot to change diapers, etc. The layout of the building also gives a number of spots along the hallways that are wider, with chairs where you can sit and regroup while the children get a chance to move. I typically pack a picnic lunch and take the lunch break as a chance to take some purchases to my car, retrieve lunch, then sit outside (Marshall Street between the two buildings is fairly quiet, traffic-wise) and let the children run up and down the wide sidewalk. Yes, that means I do pay for parking, but I find the ability to go to the car if I want or need to, and to romp the little children thoroughly at lunch time, makes the day much easier!
- Pack snacks, drinks, and small toys. I generally try to take some snacks along that we don’t typically buy. If possible I let the little boys pick them. (Last year it was those juice bottles with characters from Cars and Thomas the Train on the lids. They didn’t know anything about the shows, but a juice bottle with a vehicle was just right for a two- and four-year-old!) Get the treats about a week ahead of time, then put them aside “for when we’re at convention.” I find this makes the time feel special to them, instead of something to be endured.
- Use purchases as distractions. Some of the things I buy are intended for my littles to use while my bigs are doing school, and I will often hand them things to “preview” while I’m looking at something else. Small-motor-skill items are particularly good for use in a stroller (pegs, big wooden beads, etc.) as are things like Thinking Putty and magnets.
- Take extras of things that might get dropped and lost. We nearly had a crisis last year when the two-year-old dropped his pacifier in the Exhibit Hall and I wasn’t able to find it. It was nap time, and he didn’t sleep without it! A frantic hunt through my purse produced a spare I hadn’t known was in there, and he finally went to sleep, but on the way home that night, I stopped and bought two more pacifiers just in case!
- If you “babywear” even a little, take your carrier. We did okay with the stroller last year, but the two-year-old really preferred to sleep in his crib, and it was only the fact that I had my carrier with me that gave him any chance at a nap. Most carriers don’t take up much space, and you may find that they are the only thing that will do.
- Stop what you are doing if the children need your attention. Even if you think they can wait a bit more or are just being restless, they are more important than looking at a particular curriculum or staying all the way to the end of a workshop. You can always come back to the booth if you need to, and the workshops are all recorded. If you have to leave a workshop because of a restless child, give your name to the workshop host and he or she will see to it that you receive a recording free of charge.
- Discuss, instruct, and practice beforehand. Little children do so much better in a strange environment if they aren’t also given a new set of expectations. Practice staying in the stroller and not touching things by going to the mall. Practice waiting quietly while Mommy does something or looks at something by having them stand next to you while you teach another child. Explain what convention is, what you and they will be doing, and how you expect them to behave. They may not understand all of what you say, but even some understanding will help them to acclimate once you are there.
- Finally, don’t worry about what other homeschoolers are going to think of your child! Every year I see parents letting the pressure of appearances and the need to focus on curriculum and workshop choices tempt them into interacting harshly with their children. I know I do it, when the numbers of people and the noise are too much for me. Please don’t let worry and stress lead you away from interacting with your children with grace and love! Even if your eight-year-old is having a complete meltdown, or your four-year-old won’t stop touching everything in sight, relax. All of us have been there in one way or another. Each of us knows that convention can be overwhelming to our children. We will give you grace.
Convention can be the highpoint of the homeschool year for the whole family. It is a time of encouragement, of renewing friendships, and of getting excited for the new school year. Come and enjoy it together—even the littles!
Kyndra Steinmann blogs at Sticks, Stones and Chicken Bones about living in a houseful of young children, special needs, discipling hearts, and abundant grace! As a homeschool graduate, she has an especial burden to encourage mothers to know and enjoy their children. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.