by Katie Julius

Whether this is your first, fifteenth, or fortieth year at Convention, all of the information, people, options, and energy can be a lot. Those who attend Convention often refer to it as “drinking from a fire hose.” You can’t possibly absorb everything that you want to in just two or three short days. I hope these tips from someone who’s been on both sides of the convention (both planner and attendee) will help you get the most from your weekend, without feeling completely overwhelmed and overloaded.

Plan in Advance

The workshop grid, program, workshop descriptions, and schedule for CHEA’s Parenting & Homeschool Conference are available on our website. Personally, I like to be able to look at things on paper, so I like to print out the workshop grid and/or program and make notes about which sessions I am interested in attending. I may end up changing my mind once I get there, but it’s much less stressful when I have a plan in advance. I often will map out my schedule so I know which rooms I’m headed to, as well. 

Get the Recordings

It’s rare that I want to attend only one workshop during any given session. Audio recordings are a great way to be able to listen to sessions you aren’t able to attend. But they can also be helpful to go back and listen to a workshop you did attend once you are home and in the throes of the school year and need the reminder or encouragement again. Listening a second (or third!) time can also allow you to hear things you may have missed, especially workshops when your brain was tired or you were distracted. All workshops (except Exhibitor Workshops) are recorded and available for individual purchase or as a bundle that offers great savings!

Take Breaks

Since you plan to purchase the audio bundle of all the workshops (*wink, wink*), don’t feel bad about skipping a workshop session, if you need to. Find a quiet place to relax and reflect. Grab a bite to eat. Take a walk outside and get some fresh air. Listen to some calming music with your AirBuds. Read a book. Journal. Pray.

Take Your Time in the Exhibit Hall

This is probably the place that most new parents most easily feel overwhelmed. It’s usually loud, there are lots of people in a small space, and there are so many options. Plan to visit the Exhibit Hall several times throughout the weekend. There are times built into the schedule where there are no workshops going on, and you can spend your time with each exhibitor you are interested in. You can also use the list of exhibitors on our website to plan where you definitely want to visit, but don’t be afraid to visit ones you haven’t heard of before. You may find a new-to-you hidden gem!

Don’t Make Impulse Buys

When I attended my first convention, I didn’t purchase anything until the last day. I visited a variety of curriculum publishers (some several times), looked through their curriculum, talked with representatives, slept on it, talked with my husband, and then finally, purchased what I wanted. I still ended up with way more than I needed, but at least the purchases were well-thought through.

In the same vein, if you’ve been homeschooling for a while, don’t feel like you need to change the curriculum that you’re happy with just because of the new, shiny one you learned about in the Exhibit Hall. There are literally hundreds of great, quality options for homeschool curriculum now. You can’t possibly do all of them!

Go to the “Fun” Things

One of my favorite parts about CHEA’s convention is the built-in time for fellowship. There’s a dedicated lunch break each day. Plan to meet up with friends (either old or new) to eat lunch each day. You don’t even have to head off-campus as there are several food vendors who will be there each day.

Don’t miss the fun events that are specifically designed for moms, dads, and the kids. New this year, Thursday classes are a great way to get your feet wet before Convention starts with a special workshop by Andrew Pudewa while the kids are in classes like animation, LEGO building, or fossils. Then, in the afternoon, you come back together as a family as you Walk Thru the Bible together, learning about God’s Story in the Old Testament.

Friday night is Moms Night Out with Ginger Hubbard while dad and the kids get popcorn (or kettle corn) while watching the whimsical fairy tale based film, Hoodwinked. Then on Saturday morning, it’s dad’s turn for some time with fellow homeschooling dads at the annual Dads & Donuts. Even though it might be the end of a long day or an early morning, these activities provide opportunities for mom and dad to have time to unwind, laugh, share, and even pray together.

Consider the Kids

Kids are always welcome in all workshops at CHEA’s Conventions. That said, I know that bringing my daughter with me to the regular workshops, even at 11-years-old, would not be a pleasant experience for me or her. I choose to register her for Children’s Convention so she can enjoy age-appropriate activities while I focus on the workshops as a parent and home educator. If the Children’s or Teen Conventions are not an option for you or you want to keep your kids with you, be sure to bring something to quietly occupy your kids (they do have to stay with you, even tweens and teens). There is special reserved seating in the back of workshops for those with kids so you can easily sneak out (and back in) if they need your attention. 

Stay Hydrated, Fed, and Well-Rested

Convention days are long! Our brains are working more than usual, or at least in a different way than normal. It’s important to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle and be sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Bring snacks or get something from one of the food vendors on campus, especially during that afternoon lull. You can eat in all workshop rooms but the Main Sanctuary. Try to rest well each night (and take a cat nap if you need it during the day). Taking care of your body and brain will help keep you calm and focused throughout the day.

Give Yourself Time to Process or Decompress

When I first started attending Conventions, I would check out of the hotel on the last day and head home once the last session had ended. Inevitably, I was rudely brought back into the “real world” with my everyday responsibilities staring back at me. I finally realized that I needed an extra day to decompress and process everything I had heard. I started staying an extra night so I could rest well on Saturday night and take a slow Sunday as I reflected on the weekend.

While this may not be a possibility for everyone, try to set aside time in the week following Convention to listen to a recording of a session you loved, or missed. Look over your notes and start planning how you will implement the things you learned in your parenting and homeschooling. Perhaps you can plan a time to meet up with some fellow moms to share what God taught you during the Convention. However it works for you, I encourage you to take that time before just jumping back into the grind again. You’ll notice CHEA’s Office is closed on Monday, July 17, and it’s for this very reason!

Trust God

God knows that you would be at this Convention. He knows exactly what you need to see, what you need to hear, who you need to talk with over these three days. Let Him guide you. Don’t feel that you need to run off from an important conversation just to make it to the next workshop. Follow where He leads. As long as you surrender to Him, He will take care of the rest.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV)