Last month we headed up to Nashville for the year’s first Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Conference.
I had never been to one of their conferences, and was seriously wondering whether it was worth all the effort to get me, my babies, my pregnant body, and everything we needed for a three day stay four hours North for–what? I mean, I like homeschool conferences, but I’d never driven four hours for one. I know, I know–normally I’m all for the open road, but lately (maybe it’s being 5 months preggo? ya think?) I’ve become more of a home body.
Add to that, the only way we could really afford to pull off this little family trip was to eat every meal in our hotel room. So, the three days leading up to the conference, I was in full production mode, making crockpot meals, bread for sandwiches, and plenty of snacks to keep me, my stomach, and my toddler quiet during sessions.
As soon as we got there, though, I realized how worth it the whole thing was. And it just got better from there.
Jesse (8), Lydia (17 months), Seth (4), and Claire (6) in one of the indoor tropical gardens.
The venue that Teach Them Diligently chose was kinda nice…as in, it was so nice, it would be a reason NOT to move to Nashville just so you have a valid excuse to have to stay in a hotel when you’re in town. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel is 47 acres under roof–much of which is glass. There’s multiple atriums–glass roofed courtyards–that are large enough to house restaurants, shops, full sized trees, waterfalls, and even a river…with a boat…that you could ride in.
Just the hour we spent checking in and getting situated was worth the drive for the wonder and delight in the kids’ faces as we made our way around the venue.
But then the sessions started.
Each Teach Them Diligently conference is a little different, with a wide variety of speakers. Thursday evening in Nashville this year was Ken Ham. I just love him as a speaker–dynamic, animated, with a stellar wit and awesome accent. We love the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter and it was great to hear updates on that project since we visited the site last year.
The next morning we ate a quick breakfast in our room–quiche (good thing I brought a crockpot–our room didn’t have a microwave!) and the peanut butter oatmeal muffins I’d made at home the day before. Then we scurried to get Jesse and Clair into their pirate outfits–the children’s program was hosted by Patch the Pirate and there would be a contest for the best costume! My heart kinda burst to see them off, all decked out, and grown up enough to confidently walk into a room full of children they didn’t know, sure they were gonna have fun.
In fact, the whole conference was rather surreal for both Jeremy and I. We grew up homeschooled and homeschool conferences were a regular part of the yearly routine for our families. Both of us commented that it felt so weird to be the parent, the one pushing the stroller, the one herding little bodies through the exhibit hall and bribing them to play quietly during sessions. It made me feel rather grown up (something you know I have trouble feeling even now in my 30’s!).
In between sessions I would slip back to the room and prep the next meal so it was hot and ready for a quick lunch or dinner during breaks. This was really so much easier and cheaper than eating out!
There were so many sessions to choose from–it was incredible! My favorites were the ones taught by Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason. The first workshop I went to her was incredibly helpful–she profiled the five main homeschool styles (Traditional, Classical, Unit Study, Charlotte Mason, and UnSchooling), and there was an interactive test for you to take to help you discern which fit you and your family best. It was no surprise to me that I scored heavily in the Charlotte Mason style, since I was raised on CM, but I also leaned heavily toward UnSchooling (which I think is a poor title–I think it should be called “Lifeschool”. Anyway.) This session really helped me zone in on which sessions to choose for the rest of the weekend.
“You know you’re a booch addict when…” I was the one saving seats with homemade Kombucha tea.
I got great encouragement for the season I’m in, of balancing a 2nd and 1st grader, preschooler AND a busy toddler. I guess I forgot how NOT alone I was in this, and I was delighted at all the practical takeaways I got from seasoned homeschooling moms for how to manage the chaos that school days are with so many little bodies.
Jeremy’s favorites were the Benham Brothers and Jon Dunagan–both of whom will be at the next event in Atlanta!
It wasn’t till Saturday that I actually made time to browse the Vendor Hall and I realized I could have spent the entire weekend there! The greatest benefit to the Vendor Hall for me is to actually be able to get my hands on books and curriculum, to see inside the books and touch the tools and be able to see if things would be a good fit for my family’s needs.
I actually experienced a bit of an epiphany in the Vendor Hall that afternoon and got really clear vision for next year’s homeschool, when I’ll have three kids in school, plus a toddler and an infant. For me to be excited about something that, when you type it out looks rather intimidating–well, that’s what can happen when you’re around a bunch of other excited, experienced homeschoolers for a whole weekend!
In the Lamplighter booth I met a new instagram friend, Allison, and later got to chat with Crystal Payne for a while. These one-on-one conversations were truly a highlight of the weekend for me!
At last, I made myself to the Homeschool Launch Booth where I’d planned to meet a blogging friend of mine, Aurie. There I discovered a comfy couch to sit on and realized what a cool thing was going on. This booth was especially for beginning homeschoolers to talk through their questions and fears with a seasoned homeschooler. No fee, no selling anything–just helpful conversation as new homeschooling families try to sort through all the information and material pouring over them at the convention.
That’s when I realized that my favorite part of convention were the conversations–in the halls, between sessions, and in the vendor booths–the best part of this amazing weekend was the meeting of minds and the encouragement of gathering with other families all passionate about the same thing.
Instead of the exhausting weekend I had imagined it would be, I came home on a complete high, energized by all the great sessions, inspiration, and interactions we’d enjoyed. I had a solid plan for next year’s homeschool, as well as renewed energy to finish this year well.
I immediately began scheming how I could make it to another Teach Them Diligently Conference as soon as possible. This wasn’t that hard, because Jeremy was equally open to the idea–after all, the next conference was right next door to us in Atlanta. Have I mentioned I love that guy?
Lydia chowing on a strawberry as we shared lunch in the atrium with some friends who also drove up from Alabama for the conference.
Our whole family benefited so much from the weekend–Jeremy thought it would be worth it to catch the conference again since it’s coming so close to us . Jesse and Claire loved the children’s program (bonus: my little pirate won the prize for the best dressed–go, Jesse!) and Seth thrived on all the one-on-one time with Mommy and Daddy (he wasn’t interested in the children’s program). Lydia did great–sleeping and snacking and playing through sessions, and enjoying the toys, activities, and even animals in the Vendor Hall.
Lydia chowing down a breakfast cookie. Lydia did a lot of chowing that weekend.
So it is that we’re going back to do it all over again in Atlanta next weekend. We’ll be at the convention for all of Saturday–if you’re there I’d love to meet you! I’ll actually be volunteering in the Homeschool Launch Lounge and look forward to a whole day meeting and encouraging other homeschool families!
Do you homeschool, or are you thinking about it? If you’re anywhere near one of Teach Them Diligently’s Conferences this year, I totally recommend checking them out. You can see schedules and speakers for their Atlanta, Dallas, and Sandusky, Ohio events at their website.
Also, if you’re not sure what kinda homeschooler you are, check out this great post demystifying homeschool styles from my friend, Pam–she profiles each of the five methods and her list of pros and cons can help you figure out what your style is. And I’d love to hear:
What style are you?
And will I see YOU in Atlanta? I hope so!
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