The first homeschool convention I ever went to was in 1997 in Wichita, Kansas. Laura was four years old and Rebecca was just beginning to toddle. I wasn’t seriously considering homeschooling at that time, but a friend of mine was and she invited me to go to the convention with her. We bought vendor hall passes and went one evening just to browse and shop.
We received a tote box full of literature and samples as we went in the door. Yes, a tote box. Apparently they were meant to be sturdier than bags? I don’t know. The handles soon broke and we had to carry them in our arms. If I had known then what I know now, I would have taken my own heavy-duty bag. Or better yet, a wheeled suitcase. We collected more information as we went around the hall and our boxes got heavier and heavier. I was just blown away by all the options… and encouraged to reconsider homeschooling my children.
Two years later, after Laura’s kindergarten year at home, I attended the convention in Portland, Oregon with my sister-in-law. We spent the whole day there. Lyle kept Laura that day, and I took Rebecca with me. I had our double stroller and that gave me the whole second compartment for stashing catalogs and purchases. The stroller was cumbersome to navigate, but it sure was handy for keeping my preschooler and all our “stuff” contained. Late in the day, when Rebecca was ready for a nap, I just leaned her seat back and pulled the canopy down over her and then walked around and around and around the vendor hall, and even outside a little bit,until she went to sleep. That was the day I discovered comfy shoes are a must.
Over the years since then I’ve attended around 80 homeschool conventions by my best count. With the exception of those first two, I’ve been a representative for Sonlight at almost all of them. At some conventions we are so busy I never have a chance to leave my booth. At others, I’ve had time to stroll around and visit other vendor booths… and even slip into a workshop now and then.
Naturally I’ve picked up a few tips and observations. I mentioned the wheeled cart (or stroller) and comfy shoes. Not all events allow wheels, so be sure to check about that before you go. A sturdy backpack would probably be a good alternative, if you can’t take something with wheels.
Some events are very kid-friendly with planned activities and hands-on booths for the kids. Others don’t allow young kids in the vendor hall at all. Personally, I think you’ll get more out of the event if you’re able to plan to leave the kids with someone else for the day. At one event recently I was trying to help one mom whose unhappy toddler in the stroller screamed the whole time we were talking. That was very distracting and frustrating for both of us.
There are times when the vendor hall is very busy and you may not be able to get into a particular booth you want to visit, or the line may be long. An insider tip to get around that issue is to plan to skip one workshop and do your shopping during that time slot. The vendor hall is usually much slower during workshops.
One other insider tip I want to mention is to take printed address labels with you. If you have some of the freebie ones that come in the mail occasionally, great! Those’ll do! If not, you can print your own. You may want to anyway, to include your phone number and email address. That makes it so quick and handy to enter drawings and provide that info when you are placing an order. Plus it helps the vendor who may struggle to read your handwriting.
Do you have other tips I haven’t mentioned?