Why Bother with Homeschool Conferences?

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My eldest is finishing 8th grade, and I’ve homeschooled him and his siblings the whole way through. I didn’t attend my first homeschool conference until last year.

Why the delay?  There was never a conference that interested me.  In my region, everything was either too expensive, or decidedly not-Catholic-compatible, or it was just too far away.  All that changed last spring, when I attended the free regional IHM Homeschooling conference sponsored by Seton.  That change is about to happen again this summer in a completely different way, which I’ll tell you about.  And today I’d like to hear about homeschooling conferences in your part of the world as well.

Why Bother with Homeschool Conferences

IHM Homeschool and Parent Conferences

The Immaculate Heart of Mary conferences are held around the country, and they vary from enormous Catholic Homeschooling Wonderland events to exquisitely intimate local affairs.  Since I live in the middle of nowhere, our nearest IHM conference was very small. I absolutely loved it that way!  A friend and I drove up to the conference just for the day, and half the fun was that ladies’ day out conversation on the way to and from.  We got to meet other Catholic homeschoolers from around our region, and because there weren’t 10,000 different vendors, we had time to relax and look around and ask lots of questions.

Among other finds, we learned about the Catholic ABC’s preschool curriculum and Catholic Schoolhouse’s art classes, both of which we ended up using in our local co-op. I also had a chance to see and hold Seton textbooks for the first time, and I was really impressed.  Their elementary history books ended up being exactly what I needed for my two youngest this school year.  I wouldn’t have known about any of that if I hadn’t taken the plunge and gone to the conference.

Something Completely Different: A Truly Ecumenical Homeschool Conference

This fall I received an e-mail from a homeschooling friend who’s active in the local evangelical-Anglican church.  He needed help: A Russian orthodox priest was putting together a major homeschooling conference, and they wanted Catholics at the table.  Of course I was game, though I advised them to tread carefully, because splashing “Our Lady of the Statue Collectors” all over the website was probably not going to help with attendance.  I live in the South.  People give you Chick-tracts as a sign of true love.

Even though the event is going to be huge — projected attendance is upward of 3,000 participants, and the SC Superintendent of Education is the opening keynote speaker — I knew that when I invited Catholic vendors to exhibit, I was asking them to take a risk.  Would Catholics come to the conference? I was sure we’d have loads of them, because Catholics participate in many non-Catholic homeschooling programs in our region.  But it would require the vendors to really think about their audience, and how to reach the different types of parents who’d be at a mixed-faith, mixed-curricula event.

The organizers have been absolutely wonderful about supporting a Catholic presence at the conference, even going so far as finding a sponsor to fund an entry-way table for Catholic homeschoolers, which we’ll share with some regional authors from the Catholic Writers Guild who are coming in to exhibit and sign books.  A number of Catholic vendors, including Kolbe Academy, Tan/St. Benedict, and Belmont Abbey College, have taken the plunge and decided to support this event.  We’ve got two Catholic keynote speakers in the line-up, and a number of smaller workshops offered by lesser-knowns (like me!).

I’m just thrilled that someone was open to thinking outside the usual paradigm, and has gone ahead and put together a conference that supports all homeschooling parents, regardless of their teaching style or their faith.

Tell Me About Your Favorite Conference

What’s going on in your corner of the woods?  Is there a conference you’ve attended that you found particularly helpful? One that other moms should know about?  What tips do you have for getting the most benefit out of a homeschooling conference?

There are other parents who are interested in homeschooling, but aren’t sure where to start.  Would you take five minutes right now to leave a comment telling those parents about good conferences coming to your region?  Be sure to let us know about any details that make your local conference special.  Thanks!

Copyright 2014, Jennifer Fitz

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