My sister, Susie, and I went to THSC last week and she had to share her thoughts about her first homeschool convention:
I am a life-long educator. I say that with a lot of pride, but also reverence. I know that it is a privilege to have been fortunate enough to do something I love and am passionate about in an incredible environment. I teach in the small, utopian private school my three children attended from preschool through 8thgrade. Our school is a uniquely tightly knit community and I can’t imagine a better place, but how do other people educate their children?
For most of my life I have looked at homeschooling with a skeptical eye. In recent years I have had reason to reevaluate my attitude as homeschooling has evolved and progressed to its current state. Over the last three days I attended the Texas Home School Convention (THSC). It was my first time at a homeschool convention and my mind and heart are forever changed by what I saw there.
As I drove up to the Woodland’s convention center near Houston I was immediately struck by the people making their way to the building. There were families everywhere. Moms and Dads holding hands. Kids holding hands with or carrying younger siblings. All of them chatting, smiling, laughing. It looked a lot like people heading into Disney World.
The purpose of the THSC is for homeschoolers to come together to attend seminars on topics of interest and to explore the exhibit hall offering a wide range of curriculum. There were some homeschool-specific seminars like “Homeschooling and the Law”, but there so many options that any educator would be fascinated by that I wanted to attend them all. They ranged in topic from “Critical Thinking: Elusive or Obtainable” and “How to Score Big on the SAT” to “Science Poetry: Perform to Learn” and “Experience Excellence in Writing”. Then there were topics you wouldn’t see at educational conferences, but that should be there: “Is Math Straining your Relationship with Your Child?” (this has to be true for 90% of the population at some point in their lives!). Another was titled “Talk with Me: How Conversation Stimulates Learning” (It seems simple, but how many teachers do you think are doing that?). There were several seminars about parenting, family management, and even marriage. I wanted to attend them all, but I was there to work so I only attended one presentation: Clutter Free by Kathi Lipp. (That in itself was life changing, but that’s my story and not so much about homeschooling except that these people are progressive managers of their homes and lives.)
I was there to help man the Entrepreneurial Arts Middle School MBA booth in the exhibition hall. I was there to sell curriculum. (Doesn’t that sound boring??? I can assure you it was anything but!) These people were here to invest in education, in the future of their children. Not only were the parents there to shop for curriculum, but the kids were there to weigh in on their choices as well! I was amazed to see kids taking parents by the hand and leading them to a booth and saying, “this is what I want to learn about” or “this is how I want to learn math.” I have never seen children so involved in decisions regarding their own education. That in itself was fascinating!
I am the fourth of 5 children so I know what it’s like to travel in a herd. Sometimes you get trampled. These people moved in efficient little units. Sometimes with just one child. Occasionally 4 or 5. They were casual, but cohesive as they explored the exhibit hall. There were some specific activities designed for kids, but kids also sometimes just accompanied their parents to an adult seminar and sat and listened or read a book or played quietly on the floor with a toy or puzzle. (In retrospect, I don’t remember seeing a single kid playing on a cell phone or iPad. I did see kids in conversation with their parents and siblings.) In the three days I was at the convention, I never saw a kid misbehave or have a tantrum. I find that astonishing. I know these folks were sort of on vacation and having fun, but I promise I haven’t seen kids that happy and well behaved at Disney World.
As I mentioned, I did manage to attend one seminar. Since it was about clearing your clutter it was mostly populated by moms with a couple of dads here and there. A few very young children accompanied their moms. I arrived just as the speaker was starting and sat behind a woman who was already focused and ready to take notes. About 10 minutes later, a young girl appeared. She could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old. She had a baby on her hip and was carrying a diaper bag and changing pad. She expertly handed they baby off to the woman in front of me and quietly said, “Dad’s at such and such, I’m going to so and so. I’ll see you when you’re finished here.” With that the young girl exited as quietly as she arrived and the mom proceed to nurse the freshly changed baby. All smooth as clockwork. I seriously felt tears well up at this beautiful transaction and I am not a crier. I suddenly realized I was surrounded by families who worked together in harmony. Not just parents hauling their kids along in life but kids contributing to the effort to learn and grow and become responsible adults.
Though the families hang together A LOT, the homeschool kids are capable and independent and savvy. I think the general perception is that homeschool kids are sheltered and won’t know how to function in the real world. The truth is that these kids have many more responsibilities than kids who sit in a regular classroom all day. They assist in deciding on curriculum. They help teach siblings. They help care for siblings. They learn to think outside the box. They are independent and intrepid. I can’t say enough good things about the kids at this convention.
No doubt home schooling is a huge undertaking. There were several seminars that focused on managing the enormity of the process with titles like “Maxed Out Moms” or “Overwhelmed.” My favorite title for this type of presentation was “Life in the Fiery Furnace: How to Avoid Homeschool Burnout.” I talked to many parents who attested to the fact that yes, it is a big job and it can be stressful, but beyond that and above all the enthusiastic energy that infused this event there was an overriding feeling of what I can only describe as Peace.
I came away from my first homeschool conference with the feeling that these homeschool people (the big and the small) know who they are and where they are going and are moving steadfastly in their own directions. It makes me hopeful for the future with these people in it. I can’t wait for the next homeschool convention!