Homeschool convention season is upon us. Thousands of people will attend a convention this spring to hear inspiring messages, gain useful insights, be encouraged that they’re not alone, or buy curriculum for the coming year.
It’s a time many of us celebrate the freedoms we have as we come together to learn and grow in this vocation of homeschooling.
Because there are many reasons to attend a homeschool convention, a convention binder is a great tool you can use to organize yourself, keep yourself focused, and provide fodder for inspiration long after convention is over. I’m going to share my convention binder and that of my friend Rebecca Weede for comparison and perhaps some inspiration.
Rebecca is married to her best friend, is a mom to two beautiful girls ages 9 and 12, and has been homeschooling for seven years. She started out extreme “school at home,” shifted to unschooling, then settled into Charlotte Mason, and has been adding in Classical elements the last two years. She’s been attending the Great Homeschool Conventions for four years.
My homeschool has many similarities to Rebecca’s. Although I have three children, I have been homeschooling officially for seven years, and find myself in the Classical-Charlotte Mason tradition. I believe this will be my 10th Great Homeschool Convention, although I must admit, I’ve lost track.
Both Rebecca and I have found that a convention binder was an important tool for us to have an enjoyable convention.
Rebecca says, “I was completely overwhelmed my first year attending a convention. I love information gathering and want as much as I can get before making a decision. Even after I have made a decision I thirst for more information, so I came home from the convention much poorer and heavily laden with books that my kids would never read. I decided that before my next convention I would be more prepared to me from going off the deep end.”
I had similar reasons at first. For many years, before I had a smartphone, I took a catalog of our family library, so I didn’t make duplicate purchases. I had cataloged all of our books on LibraryThing, so I printed a spreadsheet by Author and then Title and could double check.
I also found it important to have a list of the curriculum I was interested in reviewing for purchase. I always checked prices ahead at several different online vendors, then left columns for convention pricing.
Similarly, Rebecca “keep[s] a list of resources by subject that I currently own or I am interested in purchasing. If I am interested in purchasing, I also list the best online price and website to be able to compare to convention prices, the convention vendor, and questions I have about the product.”
Then, she has a form for when she makes a purchase so she can track her spending.
Before the convention
Before either of us makes a resource list, though, we create our Vision and Goals for the upcoming year. By having a clear idea of where we want to go and what we want to do, the items to review list becomes very manageable.
Rebecca goes one step further, she puts a copy of that in her binder. She has worked through courses like the free webinar linked above,
She has worked through courses like the free webinar linked above, Plan Your Year, and/or Focus and Align from Read Aloud Revival (available to members only). Then she adds printables of those key ideas that she is working toward and put those in her binder as a reminder of her priorities.
I may have to add my philosophy, vision, and goals this year.
Both of us use one of the binders with the clear cover where we can slide our schedule for the weekend. I always plan who and what I’m going to hear and when I’m going to head to the vendor hall before I step foot in the convention center. I like to have a clear plan for the weekend. Rebecca took her daughter a year ago, so she included the sessions her daughter was going to attend on her sheet.
Rebecca uses her front pocket very well. “My inside pocket has my address labels that include my name, address, phone number, and email. These make filling out forms, contests, and mailing list a breeze. I also keep my Audio CD and MP3 order form, which comes in my welcome packet, there so to start filling out so that I can place my order early and beat the crowds.”
I keep my audio form there, and can’t emphasize enough Rebecca’s recommendation to order your CDs early. I really like the idea of having a set of address labels. (Note from Pam: This is GENIUS!) I also toss any receipts in that front pocket.
I carry a backpack for the weekend, so I carry a pen and pencil bag there. I like carrying a variety of colors of Sharpie pens and often use one color per day for note taking (but sometimes I mix it up). Rebecca puts a pencil bag in her binder with her Ticonderoga pencils and Post-it Notes.
She has a separate folder to collect any brochures, handouts, or papers she may collect. I try not to accept any of that kind of thing, but if I do, I shove it into one of the back pockets of my binder or the manilla envelope my registration materials come in. I stick the convention booklet in the back cover pocket of my binder and then ignore it the rest of the weekend. Rebecca puts the vendor hall map there.
How we use our convention binders
At the convention, we use our binders in very different ways.
My schedule usually takes me to lectures every session. I do try to find one or two sessions back to back where I walk through the vendor hall, but mostly I go to talks. I take copious notes because, in general, if I’m not writing I’m not paying very good attention.
I keep a pack of college-ruled loose leaf paper in my binder and write a lot. I actually have notes from the last six conventions in my notebook. I find that I always go to talks by the same speakers and that often hearing a talk a second (or third or fourth…) time means I can clarify or add to my previous notes.
I simply pull them out and use a different color of pen. I also find that different ideas stand out more as I mature on this educational journey.
My note-taking has two non-session pages. The first is a book list. I keep track of every title mentioned by every speaker I hear (or as close to it as I can!)
The second is a “Big Ideas” list. This is where I gather the words and phrases that have been repeated or sum up the specific takeaway ideas for my convention.
As I review between sessions or at the end of the day, I also tweet direct, meaningful quotes.
Rebecca takes notes on her post-it notes and has a collection space on a page protector for those. However, she really uses her binder in the vendor hall, while I rarely reference mine there anymore.
“I use my binder to keep myself from being distracted by the bright and shiny. If I want to add something to my homeschool plan, first I read my Rule of Six and ask myself if it fits within my rules? I read my goals and visions and see if it is inline with what I have already decided after much prayer and long conversations with my husband. I look at my list of resources and see if I already own it (yep I have bought the same thing twice before) or own something similar. If I still want it, I write it on a sticky note and add it to purchase page with the price and vendor so that I can think about it some more and buy it the last day.”
After the convention
After the convention, we both process the ideas we learned. Rebecca sorts her post-it note collection and often finds a common theme that helps her reshape her thinking.
I often do some writing and sharing of what I’ve learned on my blog or with my online community in some way. I three-hole-punch my schedule and put it in front of the notes for that year with a Post-It Tab.
Throughout the year when I’m feeling the need for inspiration or a general kick in the pants, my convention binder is one of the first places I turn. Re-reading notes often reenergizes me and helps me be motivated to continue on.
When you go to a homeschool convention, do you have an all-encompassing binder? How do you use yours? Do you do a lot of pre-convention prep? Or refer to it afterward? How do you carry forth the things you have learned or seen into your everyday homeschool life.
She is the author of the free ebook: I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will: Charlotte Mason’s Motto Explained for Upper Elementary Students.