Our First Homeschool Conference Experience
Are you considering attending a Homeschooling Conference? If so, I hope you are able to attend one like we just did! We went to the OCEANetwork’s Oregon Christian Home Education Conference in Portland, Oregon. Afterward we felt so blessed and encouraged in our homeschooling, our parenting, our marriage, friendships and our own personal walks with the Lord. We will be going again.
How We Got There
A friend of ours told me about the conference and kept me informed of when it was time to register and I’m thankful. Without her prompting I may not have been motivated enough to sign up and go. Another motivating factor was that first time attenders are free, if you have little ones under the age of 5. Little did I know how nice of an experience it would be.
My husband and I drove up to Portland with my mom and two kids. We stayed with my sister and brother-in-law. This made it cheaper on boarding expenses and meals (we cooked and ate in). Plus our littlest isn’t taking bottles very well, so I could feel better about being with her to nurse all evening and night. We were so grateful for our family and this helped make the experience go smoothly. However, in the future we’ll make a weekend trip out of it so that there is more time for us to reflect and relax together after the conference in the evenings. We plan on adding it in our yearly budget.
The First Talk
The first workshop I attended was by a speaker named Mark Hamby, from Lamplighter publishing. This was the talk I was most excited to attend based on its title and description. The title was Raise Them Up; Don’t Crush Them Down: The Strong Willed Parent. I was not disappointed. It was the perfect lecture for me to start with. Mr. Hamby told his story of his difficulties parenting one of his children and the lessons God taught him about himself through the process. For me this was such an eye opener that I needed to learn, the sooner the better.
The whole talk (MP3 recording ID 13-104) can be purchased at a very reasonable price at Alliance Recordings https://www.alliancerecordings.com/ under Oregon’s 2013 Anchored in Christ conference. In fact all of the workshops and keynote sessions are available to buy, which really took the pressure off of choosing which talk to attend. I wish the teaching conferences I have attended in the past would have had this available.
My husband and I were planning to attend the first talk together, but at the last minute he decided to attend a talk with another homeschool dad from our church, on marriage by Jon and Ann Dunagan. (It’s funny how I can plan and plan, but then God shows us his plan. It’s good to be prepared but better to be flexible.) I didn’t anticipate that he would come away from the talk so encouraged. I guess my expectations were not very high for the level of involvement and enjoyment my husband would benefit from the conference. As a teacher, I knew I enjoyed conferences, but it was fun to share in that excitement with my husband. It was really nice that we were both excited about what we had learned and ready to share with each other.
Although there were nursing rooms (I heard), we spent the lunch breaks together in our car. This time helped us retreat together to talk, connect, share our excitement about what we were learning, and plan our afternoon schedule.
The second day, I had just come from the used curriculum book exchange which is always a joy for me- guilt free, purposeful shopping we had budgeted and planned for. Down in the parking garage, in our beat up Toyota, parked in a far corner of the garage next to a large pickup (hiding so I could pump), my husband let me talk first about everything but I knew something was different. It was a quiet excitement in him I haven’t seen in a long time. . My husband had attended a session on Training your boys to be men by one of his favorite speakers. (He had heard Jon Dunagan the first day talk about marriage and liked what he had to say.) He was eager to tell me about the talk, which was unexpected since I felt like I was dragging him to the conference in the first place. Turns out he was excited about his role in homeschooling, parenting, and was ready to lead us. He had a purpose and a divine calling to be more of a spiritual leader for our family. Wow! My husband’s genuine love for our family was so evident. I’ll remember that intimate (spiritually and emotionally) moment and keep it close to my heart. It was definitely something I did not expect in this conference setting.
The last day we spent the second half of our lunch time with friends. It was nice to reflect on the talks, get tips on which speakers and books were worth the time and money, and just relax and enjoy time with friends. (Plus we were out in the sun instead of down the garage, which helped too) I think next year it’ll be perfect to leave our kids at home with family so we can talk about the conference together in the evenings and spend lunch with friends.
Friends: Old and New
Homeschooling can feel isolating to me. Even though I hear all of the time how important it is to get plugged into groups, utilize resources, and make connections for home schoolers, sometimes I find it hard to be motivated enough to initiate on my own. I’m glad God has led me like he has into the idea of homeschooling, because I wouldn’t have gotten to this point if He hadn’t.
The conference was also nice because of the people attending. We were surrounded with people in all stages of homeschooling, on the same journey we were just stepping into. Strangers, but they understood us. We weren’t the odd ones out, rather we had a common value for the educational choices we were making for our kids. We didn’t have to defend our decision, we were encouraged in it. It was so encouraging and freeing (as is any event where you can be surrounded by people who agree with things that are important to you). It’s important sometimes, especially living in a city where the majority of people do not choose to live like we choose to.
We also saw people from a local homeschool co-op meeting we had attended. Just standing in line at Subway I received more encouragement from one of the moms! Hearing that her struggles and fears were so similar to mine at this stage of just beginning home schooling was such a relief. Something that my husband and I agreed was really good advice from her was that, “Sometimes doing what is good isn’t what is best”. That might sound confusing, I thought so at first. But her point was that there are a lot of good opportunities out there to choose from and we can become so busy doing all of the good opportunities for our kids, that we don’t give them the best. The best may be to stay home instead of taking a class to allow more time to read or have less stress in the home. The best may be to take advantage of classes your child really enjoys and will benefit from. That is something we’ll all have to figure out for ourselves. Because you know your family and children best, you’ll know what the best is. I find it helpful to remember it is ok to pass on good opportunities in order to provide the best for your child, children, and family.
We also connected with other homeschooling families in our area. Since the conference we have been making plans to get together and work together more. We’ve already shared resources and are talking about possibly starting a co-op of our own at our church. We’ll see how this all turns out, but it’s encouraging that the conversation has been started and I feel more comfortable in who I can go to for encouragement, suggestions, and help.
There is value in being around others who share your same passions, it is rejuvenating and refreshing! The conference provided many natural opportunities for this.
My Quick Survey Results: Saxon Math Curriculum
In the brief breaks between classes and standing in line at the book sales, I took the opportunity to talk to a few parents about the Saxon math curriculum. I’ve found that there seems to be controversy among homeschooling parents about using it. Here are the responses I heard:
- First, I was encouraged to hear that some people were still choosing to use it and liked it.
- A few homeschool parents who had used it themselves all of the way through their schooling experience said they did like it.
- Others homeschooling parents said they didn’t like it because it was too scripted and repetitive, which got boring and hard to make their child stick with.
- Others pointed out that some may not like the curriculum just because they aren’t going to like math anyway.
- The advice that stuck out the most to me was that the Saxon curriculum had holes in its scope and sequence content and to be aware that it is a bit outdated for the state testing that is currently required of kids. Just to check state standards every so often and make sure everything that needs to be taught is. (As a teacher I’ve already been doing this, I can’t help but double check.)
Do you like scripted texts?
Do you prefer using curriculum that is scripted (meaning it has every step and statement to say written out in the teacher's manual)?
To be honest the conference was smaller than I expected. Not in the options for classes or amount of vendors, but in attendance. It took place in just one wing of the conference center and there were more than a few empty chairs during the keynote sessions. One speaker referred to the declining homeschool rate, which was a surprise to me. He said the decline was a reflection of decline in church attendance too. In my own little world this past year, I have become aware of a culture I never understood, never considered learning about let alone being a part of, and never thought was more than a handful of ultra-sheltered families. The few preconceived notions of homeschoolers I’ve had are mostly all wrong. I find myself being drawn to this lifestyle in a manner and pace that is without a doubt God-directed. God has brought so many homeschooling families into my life this past year; I just assumed it was becoming more common.
I like to people watch. I’ve sat in a mall before waiting on friends just observing faces and snapshots of family interactions. I’m in awe of the many different combinations of features just in our faces that make us so recognizable to those we’ve met before and know. I love pausing to reflect on what makes us unique individuals and how in the midst of multitudes of faces that makes up our world at any given moment, God knows each heart so personally. At this conference I enjoyed my quick glances and observations of how families interacted.
During the keynote speaker sessions, I remember observing that there were so many kids and so little noise. In particular, I remember there was a young teenager maybe 13 or 14 ushering his younger brother in to sit in the row directly in front of us, pushing his little sister in a stroller. I couldn’t help but observe as they settled in. He directed his brother with a soft, calm word and the little boy listened and responded right away. The older brother then pulled the stroller, which was next to him on the end of the isle, closer to him as the little girl in it reached out for him. The boy then adjusted/angled the stroller so the little girl was facing the speaker up front. I thought that was so sweet, but wondered how long it would last. They all settled in so relaxed and quiet. I could see a sweet love the boy had for his brother and sister. Sounds silly but it kind of shocked me. I was so impressed with the manner of this young man interacting with his siblings.
His family came and sat down with them not too long after. The father came with a few more kids. After everyone was settled the mother came and sat down with them taking the littlest one in her lap. My attention went back to the speaker and I didn’t really notice them until the speaker was done. As we were leaving I quickly complimented the parents on what I witnessed with their son and two little ones. They looked like such kind people. It was a quick encounter. I know they must have their ups and downs too; it was just encouraging to see such peace in a family. I want that for mine.
PDUs for My Teaching License
An added bonus to all of this is that I received PDUs (Professional Development Unit) credit for attending. I emailed TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Commission) before the conference to check and see if this conference would be approved and they said yes, one hour of attendance equaled one PDU. It was just like any other teaching conference. I did get someone at the conference to sign a verification form (that I printed off of TSPC’s website) just to be sure and have some documentation- a normal procedure for me with each PDU event now.
I was a bit nervous asking someone to sign the form, but God covered that situation for me. I worried about it more than I should have weeks leading up to the conference. I had the form filled out and front and center in my notebook. We were early the first day, sitting at a table with a group of friends from church (other homeschooling parents we’ve been blessed with getting to know this year). My husband and I had just finished planning what classes we wanted to attend, so I thought I’d get the form signing out of the way so I didn’t have to have it on my mind the entire conference. I picked up my verification form, walked over to the registration desks- not really knowing where else to find someone qualified and with enough credibility that if anything were ever questioned by TSPC (who knows why, I’m just wary of government organizations like TSPC from past experience). I walked right up to the closest person first to make eye contact with me, even though there were many volunteer workers ready to help. It turns out she was recognized during the first keynote session as one of the main OCEANetwork people putting on the conference and was the conference registrar. It was easy, quick, professional, and done. Thank you God! It was one of those moments I felt God just took care of for me. That experience put me at ease and I focused on the true purpose of my being there: to learn how to best serve my family and God.
What We Learned
I asked my husband what he felt he learned from the conference and he didn’t miss a beat. He said it was how to try to encourage our son by not be overbearing, pushing too hard, or expecting too much, but by being patient and loving.
I really like this quote from an OCEANetwork online article:
“God has given these children to you as a special gift and stewardship. He chose the right parents for the right children. He knows your strengths and weaknesses, and your children’s strengths and weaknesses. You are the only ones that can decide what is right for you and your children.”
(P. 8, How to Select Home School Curriculum: Common Approaches to Christian Home Education, Dorothy Karman, http://www.oceanetwork.org/started/Choosing_Curriculum.pdf)
We can do a good job as long as we listen to God’s leading in our lives and receive grace, strength, wisdom, and peace for each moment. Homeschooling has been teaching me to make God front and center in each day and more common in what we talk about at home. Most of all, it’s taught me to depend on God daily. I think that’s what God wants me to learn, to come to Him and find what I’m needing.
I learned so much as you’ve hopefully read. Most importantly I learned I can do what God has called me to. One of my favorite verses is “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9. I understand this verse best when I’m feeling weak and unable to attempt the challenges life presents. Usually I find myself clinging to this when I’m about to learn something. In Him I find my strength to attempt, preserver, and accomplish whatever he leads me to do. Another year of home schooling, here I come!