Jordan and I signed up in May to attend the Love to Learn Homeschool Conference August 4th. My sweet, wonderful parents agreed to keep Ivey and Robert all day, while Suzi was out of town visiting her Nana and Papa (Jordan's parents). So, that's right, Jordan and I drove over two hours to Charlotte and attended this event all by ourselves! It was amazing--both the conference and our ability to concentrate sans kids.
This homeschool conference is much, much smaller than some. I know there was a big one in Atlanta recently--lots and lots of vendors and curricula to see and buy, probably tons of tempting manipulatives. And that would've been great. But we really didn't have much money to spend and are pretty happy with what we've got curriculum-wise, so maybe it was better that I wasn't tempted. We chose this conference because of its focus on unschooling and relaxed homeschooling, which I wanted to learn more about.
There were a few neat vendors at this conference, but we only shopped at one. I approached a table overflowing with gently used books, toys, games, and manipulatives for awesome prices. It prompted me to ask the lady supervising it if she ran a shop. She said no, that she had children aged 6-22 and these were all things they'd outgrown or that they had extra of. Wow. We bought a few books and several dinosaurs for the kids, among a few other things--a volcano kit, a water science set, a peg board pattern set, and some puzzles.
Then we moved on to the sessions. Several times we ran into a conflict--two sessions we wanted to attend at the same time--so Jordan and I went to separate sessions. The first one I attended was "Always Unschooled." The lady who taught this said that she--like me--started researching and trying to plan when her firstborn was a baby. Then she realized that 99% of the information and skills you use everyday are learned outside of school. (Think about it--what information have you used recently that you learned in a classroom?) Children--and adults--absorb and retain what is relevant and interesting to them. It was especially comforting to hear how her son learned to read much later than is thought to be normal, but eventually did it in a way that worked for him and went on to be very successful as an adult in college. Suzi is not reading yet, and it's easy for me to freak out over this since I began reading at four and loved it.
Next I went to "Organize Your Homeschool," which was a useful session for its practical suggestions even though I thought the presenter's teaching style was too strict for our family. She discussed the best ways to use bookshelves, binders, baskets/boxes, small containers, letter stacking trays, calendars, lesson planners, timers, and... the trash can! There is something about organizing that gets me excited. Unfortunately, my teething baby boy probably isn't going to let me get much done for a while!
After lunch I attended a file folder game make-and-take workshop. The lady brought her laminator and a binding machine and helped us make games for our kids. It was fun! Here's the one I made for Suzi. You find the missing letter in the words and velcro the oval onto the right cup. I'd like to make some more games sometime soon, but I want to figure out a way to use different materials that are durable and yet do not require lamination.
Jordan and I went to a unit studies session that was a lot of fun. The mom who presented it had photos of her kids, right down to the baby with a pacifier in his mouth, dressing up and reenacting the Boston Tea Party off their bunk bed. Hilarious! I bet Suzi would be all over that! This mom also cooked food from each region of the United States for a unit, and sometimes they'd invite grandparents or friends over to see the kids perform and share what they'd learned. What better way to prove to skeptics that the kids truly are learning?
My favorite session took place the last two hours of the conference. I'd already absorbed about all I could take in one day, and my brain was fried. But Jordan and I went together to this one because I knew we needed it--an unschooling Q&A/role playing. Two amazing ladies (the one who sold us all the great stuff and the teacher of the first unschooling session) sat on a desk in the front of the room and answered all our questions. Some of it was deep. Finally I asked my burning questions, the things that held me back and sometimes took the joy out of our learning. The things that scared me and made me double-guess myself. I think I may have to save that whole discussion for another post. But, long story short, I left feeling much more relaxed and hopeful about our upcoming kindergarten year!
Stay tuned for a second and probably third post on this subject. It's just too much for one!