I look forward to the last weekend of May every year. The NCHE Thrive conference is our state homeschool conference. I, admittedly, have not been to many homeschool conferences, expos, or conventions. My first experience was when my oldest had just turned five and we were just getting our feet wet. It was overwhelming. I wanted to buy all the things. The speakers were all also representatives of curriculum companies. Every talk I went to left me feeling like I HAD to buy what they were selling or I. WOULD. FAIL.

One thing I love about the NCHE Thrive conference is that the talks are not seller driven. Some of the speakers do represent companies and often have tables in the vendor hall, but if they mention a product, it is briefly and usually at the beginning or the end of the talk… not sprinkled throughout. I can know when I go to hear a speaker, I will not feel compelled to buy their product. Now, they do have a category for vendor talks. This is clearly laid out in the conference program and schedule. No surprises.

This was my third year attending the NCHE Thrive Conference. This was my second year attending as one of the speakers. I delivered one talk on minimalist homeschooling. I will likely create a series here on the blog to share what I taught. The general idea being that we don’t need all the things to homeschool. Every now and then it is a good idea to take a step back and remember what your goals and values are for homeschooling. How can you get rid of all the things, activities, social engagements, sports, etc. that do not fit in with those goals and values? One of the biggest lessons I have learned in our homeschooling journey is that nothing is a given. Especially in North Carolina, you do not actually HAVE to do a specific set of subjects or a specific curriculum, or a specific number of hours in a day, or routine, or… well, you get the point.

My second talk is where I share our journey into unschooling, or delight directed homeschooling. If you would like to know more about how I define unschooling or delight directected homeschooling, please CLICK HERE. I share in my talk about how I personally have had to go through a de-schooling of sorts. I was educated through public and private schools. I hold a degree in Early Childhood Education and taught in the public school system before my children were born. Learning to let go of the classroom mentality was tough. Creating a vision and goals for my children that is deeper than academics and rooted in faith and Scripture has held us to the course of homeschooling even through tragedy and trials.

Because I was speaking, it was hard for me to want to go and sit in other talks when I knew I needed to prepare. I did get to be part of the leader’s lunch as well as the leader’s talk. I serve on the board of directors for a local homeschool group and a few of us attended the talk. If you are not aquainted with the laws of homeschooling in your state, I highly recommend that you do so. If you do not have a group like NCHE who monitors and is aware of homeschool chatter on a higher level, I hope you find one. It was reassuring to me to know that people who are more adept at politics and law are advocating for homeschoolers. People get nervous when the government shows interest in homeschooling on a local level, but I feel if we keep to the shadows and never let people peek inside our homeschools, there is a mystery that will not be to our advantage. If we are open and allow the world to see that what we are doing is a good thing, many homeschool myths will be debunked.

The highlight of the conference for me was meeting Josh McDowell. He has authored so many books and spoken to so many audiences. He was one of the first authors I read as a young Christian and started my interest in apologetics. He wrote such books as More Than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. As a young man and athiest, he set out to intellectually disprove Christianity. His plan did not go the way he thought and he met Jesus along the way. I had the opportunity to chat with him after his keynote session on Friday morning. I shared with him that neither my husband nor I were brought up in Christian homes. We came into this whole parenting and marriage thing quite naive, but with hearts to honor Jesus in the choices we made. God’s faithfulness is so much bigger than our own stories or abilities. Josh (he told me to call him Josh) put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re really doing things right.”

Oh man was I on cloud nine?!?! I had no words in response. I thanked him for his time and skipped merrily on my way.

I also had the privilege to hear Andrew Pudewa from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. I have to confess that I never thought I would cross paths with Mr. Pudewa. I have often let the experiences of others sway me away from classical education and IEW. In my experience, some of the most stressed out homeschool moms I have ever met have been classical moms. Please note… this is just my personal experience. I am not saying all those who engage in Classical Education are stressed out. I was so pleasantly humbled listening to his talk. He shared many of the same concepts I had shared in my talk about developing and pursuing passion in children. He shared about not worrying about the test results or the grades. He didn’t say these exact words, but essentially to look for the joy in the journey and not be bogged down by the boxes we think we have to check. I watched several young middle and high school boys approach him at the end of his talk and express gratitude for his teaching and for IEW.

I often share that if I can teach my children to read and to write, I will count our homeschool journey a success. I am excited to look more into IEW for the coming year. My son has expressed a desire to go deeper into the elements of writing, specifically story telling. I think we may have found just what we need in IEW.

It took me three days to make it through the vendor hall. I find that wearing a speaker badge sparks conversation. I enjoyed hearing from different vendors and networking with other homeschoolers in leadership. At this point in my homeschool journey, I am not necessarily looking to purchase curriculum. However, I think vendor halls are great for seeing and touching books and flipping through pages. It is unbelievable how much great stuff is out there for homeschoolers.

I have been known to buy things at conferences and then leave them on the shelf, lonely and abandoned. When I shop the vendor hall now, it is to find something fun to take back to my kids. I found some Manga style books for my older two. For my son, it was a book about the elements of Manga. For my daughter, I got The Wizard of Oz, illustrated in Manga Style. My nine year old LOVES the Imagination Station books so I bought her two. My littlest loves to observe and draw so I found a How to Draw Baby Animals book for her. I did pick up a couple of books for myself, several free pencils, some mints, and a handful of business cards.

If I was giving advice to conference go-ers, I think these would be my top five:

  1. Be prepared for extreme temperatures from one room to the next. The hotel where we stayed and conference room where I spoke had air conditioning issues, but the convention center where the vendor hall and other talks were hosted was FREEZING. Layer up so you can put on or remove as needed.
  2. Take a lap around the vendor hall before you even consider buying anything. In fact, maybe leave your purse or wallet in your room so you aren’t even tempted.
  3. Bring snacks. If you stay at a hotel room with a mini fridge and microwave, you could plan at least a couple of meals to eat so you do not have to eat out for every meal. As a speaker, I like to stay on site so I can retreat to my room to work on my talk. Also… there is a great breakfast offered at the Embassy Suites!!
  4. Get to know your conference schedule. You will receive a book of some sort when you arrive. Study it and plan for the talks you would like to hear. Honestly, if the speaker hosts a podcast or has a You Tube channel, I do not really feel bad if I miss those talks because I know I can hear those speaker at another time. I look for what is relevant to my time of life as well as the years that are coming. You can always purchase the talks to listen to later. Do not feel pressured to go to a talk in every session. You will get WORN OUT!
  5. Take time for breaks and fellowship. Many of my friends and people from our community went to the conference. There is something special about hanging out with friends outside of the normal scenes. For many of us, it meant spending time with just each other… not each other with our kids. There is a coffee shop around the corner from the hotel in Winston Salem. I spend much of my time hanging out there with my friends and processing what we have been hearing. Bonus points, this particular coffee shop has amazing gluten free goodness!!! (Camino in Winston Salem). Oh… and carpool and share a room with friends if you can. It helps cut down on your costs.

There is something incredibly special about being surrounded by people who speak the language of homeschooling. The pretenses are down. The need to defend or express that our children are, in fact, socialized is not needed. It is a fun, challenging, tiring, and encouraging time. One friend shared that you walk away feeling like you are doing everything right and you feel like you are doing everything wrong… but you know that you want to keep going and trying and that it is worth it.

When the homeschool conference is over and you come home, you’ll find that while you may have changed, things look very much the same as they did three days before. You come with all kinds of knowledge to vomit over your unsuspecting family. They may or may not be ready to receive your new found wisdom with the enthusiasm you had hoped. You may find yourself wanting to go back to the room full of shiny curriculum and that new book smell. You’ll want to be surrounded by those whose only job is to encourage you and spur you on. You’ve come down from the mountian and the view is not so spectacular. But that’s ok and you’re ok. Take some time to ponder over what you learned and what you saw. Replay those late night talks with friends. When the conference is over and life moves on, remember those commitments you made to yourself and take one day at a time.

Do you have a favorite homeschool conference you attend? What advice would you give to someone who was going for the first time? Be sure to comment below.

If you are interested in some amazing and encouraging talks, the NCHE Thrive conference has all the talks from the 2019 conference available HERE.

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate with Amazon. Purchases made through links on this post provide our family with a small commission. Thank you!

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