SummaryTara compares Catholic homeschool conferences to mini-retreats where you can page through the textbooks, speak with the counselors, and renew your spirit.
When I began my homeschooling journey nearly two decades ago, I had some clear reasons for wanting to school my children in the home.
Even before the first student entered our family, my husband and I discerned a call to educate our own children. Yet even the best laid plans can get derailed if we don’t have a sufficient support system in place to keep us on track. Home school conferences are one rail in my system.
I remember the first conference we attended. My now young adult sons were in elementary school. We lived in an area where Catholics were in the minority and Catholic homeschoolers were non-existent (apart from us).
By the grace of God, we discovered Seton’s IHM National Catholic Homeschool Conference.
Our First Homeschool Conference
In fact, I think that my husband was the one who stumbled across the conference information. And though it required a bit of detail juggling (pet sitting, travel arrangements, hotel reservations) and penny-pinching (gas, food and hotel), he thought that it was a good investment of our time and resources. So, we arranged a weekend trip to attend the conference, which was a 4-hour drive from our home.
Since the IHM Conference presentations are geared toward parents and many of the talks are recorded, children are generally not allowed into the talks (babies and nursing tots are welcome). We had to bring our children along, so my husband and I discussed ahead of time which talks he wanted to attend and which I needed to hear. Then we traded-off between managing our children and sitting in on the presentations.
Hope and Expectation
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from that first conference since I had nothing else with which to compare. However, what I lacked in expectations, I more than made up for in hopes. I went to that first home school conference hoping to find resources, counsel and encouragement.
I was not disappointed.
Homeschoolers may be naturally more independent, but that doesn’t mean they always want to be different. My eldest children, and first students, occasionally asked why they couldn’t just be like all of the other kids, who got to ride the yellow school bus and lug backpacks. Even though I knew that they were best served in the homeschool setting, I still wished for a way to help them to understand the value and normalcy of our choice.
Our Kind of People
The first thing that struck me when we arrived at the IHM Conference were the people (lots and lots of them). And not just any people, but people who looked like us: diverse, Catholic families pouring out of various-sized vans. Perhaps it might seem inconsequential on the surface, but spending a weekend surrounded by scores of fellow believers, who shared our same purpose, was both affirming and inspiring.
We befriended another family at that first conference. They had children who were roughly the same age as ours. As it turned out, we were staying in the same hotel a short distance away. We enjoyed the shared companionship so much that both families spent a day touring the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception together, after the conference.
In addition to the blessing of friendship, our fellow conference attendees showed my children what I could not: that they were not alone and that they were perfectly normal.
Literature and Textbooks and Brochures, Oh My
Living in a homeschool oasis, we had had limited access to curriculum. Without Catholic homeschool mentors, I had no clue as to how many resources were readily available to me at that time. As a result, I chose some Christian, but non-Catholic, curriculum for my very first, 1st grade student.
While the core information that my son learned that first year was solid, I often found myself having to correct misinformation or add in Catholic clarifications. I wanted better, more orthodox resources, but I didn’t know how to find them.
Strolling the vendor aisles at that IHM conference, I felt like a kid in the toy store. Suddenly the curriculum possibilities and choices were endless. Having hands-on access allowed me the opportunity to compare textbooks and curriculum providers. Of course, conference-pricing (discounts offered on some items purchased at a conference) and not having to pay shipping costs were icing on the cake.
The Conference Advantage
I suppose one could argue that the Internet has opened the resource market for homeschoolers today. However, I’d still contend that many parents feel overwhelmed by the numerous choices and under-prepared to make a firm decision.
Seeing and touching textbooks, speaking with counselors, and hearing the experiences of fellow families goes far in terms of aiding parents in picking the right resources for their homeschool.
Lastly, but certainly not least, among the benefits gained at that conference (and every other one that I’ve attended since) was the refreshment of body, mind and spirit. IHM conferences, especially, are like mini-retreats.
IHM Conferences offer me a day (or two) outside of the ordinary. The mix of practical and spiritual insights and advice spark new ideas and renew my resolve. Even after all of my years homeschooling, I’ve never come home from a conference without something new – a novel idea, a changed perspective and usually some new teaching tools.
Fruit That Continues to Grow
With all of the information bombarding us daily, there is a temptation to discount the value of attending a homeschool conference in person. You might reason that you have ready access to curriculum samples, educational articles and teaching tools with the click of your mouse. However, staying the course as a homeschooler often requires more.
When the hard days have come, when new challenges begged my resolve and when I’ve doubted my decisions, that’s when I’ve really reaped the benefits of having laid a firm foundation of support beneath me.
On the toughest days, the real life experiences, spiritual advice and tangible resources that I’ve taken home with me from every IHM Conference bolster my confidence and provide me with clear direction. And that kind of support continues to bear fruit year after year.