Because this my one 'professional development' day of the year, I like to make the most of it. I have developed some tips which I find helpful so that I end my day feeling as if it was a successful endeavor.
- Dress in layers. I find that the temperature of the different areas in the building can vary widely. Occasionally, it has been warm enough outside that a friend and I will eat our lunch out of doors (and need our sweaters/coats). At the same time, I always find that - particularly by afternoon - the session rooms can be stifling, so I want just a t-shirt. Dressing in layers leaves my options open. Also, be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. There is nothing worse than your feet aching just when you are starting to close in on that perfect math program. I also suggest bringing a water bottle to avoid dehydration-type headaches.
- Prepare ahead. Doing your homework ahead of time can make your time more efficient. I like to do two things. First of all, I like to make a spreadsheet listing all the resources I would like to purchase at the conference. I look at a couple of different catalogues and online sources to get an idea of prices. I don't necessarily have to get the cheapest price, but I do like to be in the ballpark. I check to see if the item is widely available used and list an approximate price for that, too. Often 50% off bins at the conference will contain resources that end up being cheaper than the same item used purchased online (with shipping charges). The second thing I do is go through the syllabus, reading the descriptions of the sessions and circling those ones I am interested in attending.
- Be baby-free, if possible. I would be the last one to suggest ditching your 6 week old to attend a homeschool conference. However, if you have an older baby who still needs to be with you, I highly recommend hiring a young homeschooled teen to play with your baby at the conference while you are in the sessions. Several of my friends did this and it worked very well. Most babies over the age of about 2-3 months will not sit happily all day, peacefully sleeping while you listen to speakers. I think this is a really important day for homeschooling moms and if it is possible to meet baby's needs at the same time as your own, that's perfect.
- Take in at least one 'inspiring' session (versus informational). Usually there is someone speaking at the conference who is well-known for leaving audience members feeling renewed and supported in their calling. I highly recommend choosing one of these types of sessions during the course of your day. The sessions that give information about specific subject areas are also very important and not to be missed, but be sure to leave the conference both equipped and energized.
- Consider skipping a session to shop and talk to vendors. Because I am an experienced homeschooling mom, I generally know what I am looking for and just go and get it. This year, however, I was looking for something less specific for my oldest daughter and took some time to talk to a vendor in lieu of attending one of the sessions. She was a wealth of information and very helpful, directing me to consider items I would never have found or looked at on my own. When sessions are in progress, vendors tend to be much less busy and can offer you excellent personal help.
- If you are a speaker, plan to miss the session following the one you are hosting. You will probably have lots of people wanting to speak to you and ask questions and you likely will not be able to get a good seat or will be late for the next session anyway. If there is a session you are dying to attend, I suggest having a friend (or talk to the speaker ahead of time to do this for you) save you a seat near the door so you can slip in late without interrupting.