That said, a convention is a major time and expense commitment (if you're like me and buy curriculum and other goodies at the convention, that is). Here are a few tips for anyone new to the Land of Sessions and Talks bordered by the Sea of Curriculum.
1. Dress comfortably. You paid to go. Plan to be there all day. While there you'll either be on your rump listening to helpful advice or walking from booth to booth perusing products. Comfortable shoes are a must. And if you want to avoid stares, modest clothing is strongly advised.
2. Bring something to carry your things in. What you bring may depend on the convention. Some will allow rolling carts - the kind that look like plastic milk crate with a handle (my favorite). Some won't. Backpacks work well if you don't plan to stock up on anything heavy or bulky like texts or the latest boxed science curriculum. I've even seen people bring small rolling suitcases. At the very least, bring a light bag to put papers and handouts in. Whatever you bring be aware that you'll need to cart it around with you everywhere and so everyone with their little carts can get a little crowded and confusion can occur. Mark your things well so someone doesn't mistakenly take off with your next year's Math! Lastly, plan out your shopping so that you can get your heavy items at the end of the day and not have to lug it around for so long. Ask me how I know...
3. Go listen. You didn't seriously just pay admission to go shopping, did you?! You can do that from home. Go and listen to some of the talks. Take a moment after check-in to plan who you're going to listen to and when (if ever) you're going to visit the curriculum hall. Most conventions now have the option of purchasing CD's of talks you miss. I even sometimes buy CD's of ones I went to that were especially good or helpful just so I can hear it again later when I've just about given up on home education. (Yes, it happens.) If you're a planner type, you can always plan who you're going to see by looking at schedules online.
How do you choose who to listen to? I usually try to fit in a session that talks about something I'm having trouble teaching or that my kids are having trouble grasping. I also usually attend at least one talk on worldview and another on family issues/raising kids and most often something that will encourage me to keep homeschooling. Doing a little research on the speakers beforehand really helps. I don't usually attend sessions that are about how to use a specific curriculum but I can see how that would be helpful if I was new to that particular product or couldn't decide if we were going to switch to it or not. Usually these product sessions are noted as such.
4. Budgeting. Perhaps I should have listed this first. For me, the curriculum hall is my proverbial candy store. I want it all! Well...it seems that way sometimes. The last couple of years I have had much success with budgeting for the convention and my purchases there. My experience has been that I don't usually find deep discounts, but for certain things I can at least save shipping costs and can talk to a representative directly to answer any questions I have. I research ahead of time to see what things I will definitely use for the next year and add that up. That's my base budget. After that I'll add things I'm looking at but want to see in person first before deciding. Then, there's the wants. Oooooh, the wants! Since I haven't yet won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes (though I'm feeling good about it this year) I do have to put a limit on my budget at some point.
Figuring out my budget actually happens sometime in January for me (hey, that's now!). I then save up cash. Yup, the green stuff. And that's what I take with me to the convention to buy curriculum. When its gone, its gone so I'm forced to make wise decisions and pass on the frivolous stuff. As a bonus, I've found that some vendors will give me a slight break (a dollar or two) when I pay cash. If you are comfortable waiting till the last day of the convention, sometimes then you can find additional discounts on merchandise (because the vendors don't want to have to ship it back with them). But, be warned that if you wait till then, some of the more popular items may be gone. Some vendors are willing to give you a special code for an online discount that's good for a certain amount of time after the convention in that case.
Just as an aside I'm going to mention to please be respectful of the vendors. While some are big companies, others are mom and pop outfits that make their income from selling items at these conventions (with no small cost to themselves in doing so). While we all want a bargain, taking up time at the "mom and pop" booth asking questions, taking their time away from real customers, and then finding a better price at the big discount book booth and purchasing there is just rude. Especially when its done over a trifling amount. Support small business. After all, that's how a lot of our homeschool products got developed.
Off my soapbox now...
Yet, on that same topic, I do fret sometimes as to whether I'm making a good purchase for my budget or if I could do much better online. To help avoid that, I do a little homework before heading out. I look up curriculum I'm interested on the homeschool supply websites I know that historically have the best prices and record those. I make sure to take my sheet with me and compare prices that way (keeping in mind what I would be paying out for shipping if I bought online). I use some free forms from DonnaYoung.org to help me organize my list. This little trick has saved me lots of time from fussing about whether I should buy online or at the convention. And, really, with as many vendors that show up at conventions these days, you could easily spend hours trying to make decisions. Go prepared and save yourself some time (and aching feet).
Another thought with budgets - food. Ya gotta eat sometime. I haven't been to a convention yet that let you bring in your own food, either. I'm sure you've guessed that the food provided in the convention area isn't inexpensive. But, you can get around this by bringing your own food but eating it outside or retiring to your vehicle for a lovely dine-in experience. Chances are there are fast food restaurants nearby too (though, I've been warned that going to a Chick-fil-A near a Christian homeschool convention is only a good idea if you're willing to dine with half the other convention goers) Bringing some money for a bottle of water or other refreshment is probably wise, but be aware that you most likely won't be allowed to bring it in with you to any of the sessions unless you can put a cap on it and stow it away.
5. Kids. I understand having to bring kids along. We've done it in the past with our babies. But, on the whole, I would suggest that if possible, go without the kids. If you are able to go as husband and wife, how great to get to be encouraged together! Homeschooling is a joint effort, after all. If you're able to escape the kids and go as a couple, I think that's ideal. But, I have gone a few times on my own or with a freind which is also nice. For the kids, attending sessions and walking through rows and rows of curriculum really isn't all that exciting. They'll get bored. Whether you want your kids to be involved in any tracks or special activities put on by the convention is completely up to you. I have no experience with these myself.
If you do bring your kids expect that when you attend sessions you'll have to leave your stroller in the hallway for space considerations, and you should sit near the back or a door so you can take care of any noise problems. Many sessions are recorded and keeping your kids quiet is just being courteous for the others who came to listen.
Teens, on the other hand, usually have the option at many conventions of participating in sessions designed just for them. While I don't have experience with these, either, I am very interested in them. They often include sessions on worldview and faith - topics I would love for my kids to hear from people more eloquent in their presentation than myself. And, there are more and more college and college prep booths popping up at conventions that your teen may want to investigate.
So, there it is. Do you have any suggestions for attending a convention?