You can tell by the look in their eyes. It’s that “deer in the headlights” look coupled with the “my baby kept me up all night” look, with a touch of the “worried my kid will never learn” look for good measure. They come to our booth year after year, browsing our curriculum in a kind of haze. “First conference?” I ask some of them. They always answer, “How could you tell?” Truly, after eighteen years of going to homeschool conventions, I just know. In case that poor mom is you, let me share a few things I’ve learned over the years.

I have been attending home education conventions since 1991, first as a homeschool mom and then as a speaker and finally as an exhibitor. My husband and I have also helped organize and run our state homeschool conference in years past, so I have seen conventions from almost every possible angle. I’ll share with you my best tips and also some great ideas from “real moms” I interviewed for this article.

Amy Pak, the creator of wonderful timeline figures (http://www.homeschoolinthewoods.com/) talks about the need to refuel for her homeschooling journey. She says: “I go to conferences like a dry sponge, looking to absorb as much motivation as I can. With four children, there are always trials to go through in our homeschool, and I am interested to hear how others solved their problems and kept their eye on the prize.

“Like a run-down battery, I need recharging and refocusing, because inevitably by the end of the school year I can get a bit hazy about ‘why’ we did this in the first place. I can read Deuteronomy 6 until I’m blue in the face, but sometimes just an encouraging talk can clear the fog and remind me of my purpose once more. There is always something new to hear, and even something old that needs to be heard again.”

Amy continues, “Additionally, having my husband with me is especially comforting, as he is the ‘principal’ of our homeschool and wanted some say in what we were going to do or even be encouraged to take on teaching the children on a topic he loved!”

My good friend Donna Spann, homeschooling mom of six daughters (the eldest of whom is my daughter-in-law) and author of "Grains of Truth" (http://www.grainsoftruth.com/) has this to say about curriculum shopping: “Keep your eyes open. This is especially critical if you’re considering a major change (like from a traditional granddaddy of homeschooling curricula to something new and fabulous that helps children really get excited about learning). Hang around the booth and listen—you will undoubtedly hear folks who are using it talking about it. Ask them questions (you know how homeschoolers love to share ideas and experiences)—how many children do they have, how long have they been homeschooling, what is their favorite thing about it, what problems have they encountered and how did they deal with those, etc.”

Donna continues, “In addition to your main shopping list, make a second ‘wish list.’ Set aside a specific budget for the ‘impulse’—the ‘it’s too good to pass up and our homeschool/marriage/life would not be complete without it’ items. These items will be the last to be purchased and only with your wish-list budget or with money left over from your main curriculum budget.”

Here is a fun idea from Donna on how to make the convention the highlight of your year!