What can conference season look like in a homeschooling family? We can manage these days with lots of flexibility, some extra fun, involve the kids on some things, and give opportunity for independent learning!
This part of the year can be very beneficial to the entire family – the teaching parent can take a few days (or whatever is needed) for “professional development” (“P.D. days”) like other teachers do. I wrote about some of these things in the post, Thinking About Attending a Homeschool Convention/Conference?
Most conferences in Canada did not/do not offer a children’s program within the conference. Occasionally, the teens might have a separate program offered but usually, homeschool conferences are just for parents.
And now, many moms are attending conferences online, typically while the children are still around and dads are working. Sure, some might be able to have Grandma or a friend or teen help to keep little hands and minds occupied with fun but not everyone has this. And while kids can watch a video or so at the same time, I think we’d all agree that it isn’t a great idea for the entire length of a conference.
For a number of years when all of our children were young, Rob and I had some really nice, older babysitters to care for our children while we travelled to a few homeschool conferences. So for the kids, it meant new adventures with people who liked stories, crafts, and sometimes hikes to interesting places!
But for the days while I was packing/unpacking boxes of books and organizing display plans, etc., and also right after returning from a conference with catalogues from other vendors to read and some new items for our family (because I’d shop there too, of course), what would our kids do? And even now, what do they do?
- For some of these days, our family have enjoyed a “March break” in April instead and spent more time outdoors in our yard or on the deck, before the black flies and mosquitoes arrived! (Actually, we named it our “Pre-Black Fly Break”! 😃) One can sit in a lawnchair and read while children dig and build in a sandbox!
- Because we had/have a homeschool-related business, our kids liked to help make signs, glue pictures on display boards, and find books for me from our inventory! (Later, they helped with official counting and learning how to add shipping/taxes with Daddy too.) They came up with their own webnames and had little paper nametags (taped with a safety pin) to “work” alongside us. (When they played, they even made up funny commercials advertising some of the items!)
- Often, we’d purchase a “special item” for each child (e.g. activity book, gadget, paper dolls, colouring book on construction, puzzle, stickers, paint-with-water book) as a treat for them. Once, I remember it was a new board game for all of them to share. Oh, conference time can be exciting, not just for the parents!
- What about setting up an indoor “tent”? Kids love to play in the living room in one and it can be as simple as a large bedsheet draped over pieces of furniture! “Picnic” lunches can be special too!
- With conference sessions often online nowadays, arranging part or full “P.D. Days” is a helpful idea and I still do this at times. (Or it might be as little as a lunch hour where I eat elsewhere with earplugs to listen to a session.) Otherwise, I juggle the tasks of homeschooling during online conferences but I try to make this season a delightful one for our kids!
- Another thing I sometimes do is to have the Bible read for us (e.g. in a dramatized audio version word-for-word) while the kids and I follow along in our Bibles for devotion time. It begins our mornings a bit differently than just a parent or child reading and adds a “special touch”. The kids realize that having family Bible time together remains a priority, even though “Mom” might have a devotional or Bible speaker within the conference program.
If it’s not a school break, then they had/have schoolwork even if I was/am involved (as a mom taking in or as a leader giving back). But it frequently involves a change in routine or format. Here are some of the ideas that I think work well:
- Larger projects that they spend time researching and being creative with. My favourite projects to assign during this time period are:
- a science fair project or similar independent visual presentation – own topic. (You could assign a history fair project or geography project or even math topic instead. The point is to ask for a measure of research to be done on a single topic that a student has current interest in, and to practice good presentation skills – written summaries, creative titles, neatness, margins, visuals, charts, graphs, creativity, verbal interview, etc.) I hope to blog about this year’s science fair and how to plan those kinds of projects after conference season and then I’d update this page with a link. 😊
- a storybook. This is a story written, edited, illustrated, and “published” by each student in the family. Then we read them together! 😊 I write more about this on the post called, How to Make Books With Children.
- a speech. Last Saturday evening, we took a few moments as a family to hear 3-5 minutes speeches which four of our kids had been working on. (I only had read over one of them so the rest were a surprise! We heard facts about Ireland, a postage stamp (with points arranged in an acrostic, e.g. S- Sticky), a vacuum cleaner (with a funny, imaginary story), and a Bible topic (with memorized verses). 😊
- home economics-related projects – varied. It could be as simple as spending some time picking rocks out of a garden or planting seedlings in the kitchen or preparing large batches of food for the freezer – while I listen or as something to do with kids before or after listening to a session. Our kids like making stuff in the kitchen! (This morning, I enjoyed some sourdough bread which Tulip (webname) has started to grow/make recently.) Perhaps it is planning for spring – how many chicks should we get, how can we build something, etc.. Siblings can take time to discuss and draw out “their” plans together and even research the ideas themselves. I don’t have to be part of every discussion; they can come up with plans to present to Rob and me and use this time to do more than play or read together. If they have the ability/maturity, they can also make things such as build a bat house, tie a quilt, or make homemade play dough! 😊
- “homework” – projects which perhaps should have been completed by now but aren’t. They can use this time to finish them up, of course!
- Occasionally pair children if you have this option in your home – where one child can read to another to practice reading aloud or a pre-teen can teach younger sibling.
- Kids can have fun planning and making some meals if they’re mature enough! They might be able to add toppings to English muffins to make pizzas, spread sandwiches, dole out canned or frozen fruit with granola, etc.. At the moment, Bachelor Button (webname) is cooking our supper and has decided to make a big batch of carrot cake – yummy! Dandelion is his “super-supper-helper” and made a pudding pie!
- Educational toys – puzzles, board games, toys which are not as typically played with – perhaps puppets or special building kits. This is a good time to use them!
- Other hands-on educational items which hold a child’s interest for a while and are safe for the child’s level (e.g. manipulatives).
- Keeping up with things like math workbooks (or just use this time to review with short drill pages or fun math puzzler pages), spelling lessons, maybe journal (if that is what your family does), reading comprehension/reading literature on their own. Mapping skills can also be presented in an easy-to-follow workbook format.
- Painting – bring out paints, aprons, a few sheets of paper per student – own choice for what to paint or give a simple assignment (e.g. paint one page with a patterned look of dots, stripes, etc.). This is what my kids did for part of this morning! Today, we’re not in our yurt for “school” because of an online conference I’m at, it’s a big snowstorm right now, plus Sunflower is on crutches.
- Audiobooks – stories, music.
- Rather than watching as many educational/literary movies during the year, think about offering a few as part of a (rainy/stormy?) conference week (e.g. Charlotte’s Web, Heidi, Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables series (old version), The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Lassie Comes Home, Homestead Blessings, Moody Science Films, etc.).
- Allow some time for noise (when you’re not listening to a session)!
- Blow bubbles from the porch! (Children can learn about surface tension and solutions in a video or book.)
Where “Mom” Is
- Communicate ahead of time to your spouse and children that it will be “conference time”. (Afterwards, remember to summarize important points of sessions to your spouse so you can discuss these and continue to pray together for God’s direction in your home.)
- Perhaps keep attractive stickers near you – to reward younger children for “extra things” you notice throughout the day (e.g. for being extra kind to a sibling). Help them to know they are still loved by Mommy even though her attention is not as much on homeschooling these days. Don’t forget you are supposed to have “eyes at the back of your head”; in other words, keep your ears open to listen to what is happening if your back is turned. Giving them extra hugs and kisses is great too!!!
- Consider joining newsletters of vendors and speakers that you find very helpful (because their newsletters will likely continue being very helpful), rather than joining just to get various items “for free”. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with e-mails.
- If something is online, it can also be a time to fold laundry, wash windows, wipe out cupboards, sew/knit, exercise, etc. if you’re not writing many notes.
- If there are several sessions, choose only the sessions you think will really benefit you the most and leave the rest to prevent overload. Check first if a session has a handout of notes already for you as it can save your time in writing. Take notes on a clipboard or similar. I like to use pastel-coloured paper so I can find it easier to refer back to later.
- Consider using freezer meals or ordering in pizza or meals with paper plates! Juice boxes, muffins, bagels, or mini-cereal boxes for breakfast can be quick and easy as well as fun! Perhaps you can share the day(s) with another family in your area too.
Have fun! 😊