Submitted by Janell E. Robisch
Recently, I had the good fortune of attending my first ever statewide homeschooling conference. I’ve been homeschooling for years and always wanted to go to the annual conference of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, but with life as a mom, something always came up to prevent me from going.
This year, I volunteered to help out at the conference at the first available opportunity. When I feel committed, I am much less likely to back out and let the day-to-days of life take over, and sure enough, it worked!
When the day came, I felt a little like I was back in college, with roommates and some time to myself, as I enjoyed good food, good friends, and lots of late-night chatting. My husband stayed at home with our three kids, and I shared a hotel room with a couple of my area homeschooling friends, Adesa and June. We arrived Friday afternoon and headed over to the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center to drop off Adesa, who was the volunteer coordinator for the conference.
June and I took advantage of Friday afternoon to enjoy a couple of the local sites. Our first visit was to the Crossroads Art Center in Richmond, which was a short drive away from the conference center. The gallery, located in a strip mall, was a delightful find. It had a surprisingly large collection of paintings and photographs, with each artist or group allocated a mini-gallery in a cubicle-like space. We enjoyed musing and wandering the collection, but of course, we still thought and talked about our kids (as if it’s possible for a mom not to). I was inside only for a few minutes before I had picked up an art print card of a cute kitten for my cat-loving son.
Next, we drove deeper into Richmond, and June visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum while I took a much-needed break to hang out, read, and touch base with the family via cell phone. The area downtown is chock full of attractions, especially for the history buff, including the Museum of the Confederacy and the Virginia Historical Society. I definitely want to make time to take the kids to the Science Museum of Virginia and maybe the Children’s Museum of Richmond either through a co-op field trip or during next year’s conference.
I did not attend the Friday sessions because I have been homeschooling for years and have not really gotten into the sports debate, but I was happy to see that those sessions on beginning homeschooling and the Sports Access Bill were available. I was happy to take time later on Friday afternoon to visit the vendors and the Used Resource Sale (URS). I picked up a couple of books on CD for our long drives to field trips (we go on so many field trips, we may as well say we are fieldschoolers or maybe tripschoolers!). I also bought a book for me and some choice items from the URS. We do a lot of strewing in our house, and I wanted to get things that I knew would match my kids’ current passions, so a book on cats, an animal coloring book, an art journal, and a few other things were perfect finds! I also picked up loads of informational brochures, which are sitting behind me right now in a tote bag waiting to be sifted through.
Even before I went to the sessions, I found that the conference had been worth the 3-hour trip from Luray, but I’d go just for the sessions as well. As a seasoned homeschooler, I did make the mistake of going to a couple of sessions that I could have presented instead of attended (although I’m almost afraid to write that because someone is going to respond, “Great idea, Janell. We’ll sign you up for next year!”). My husband and I have been working and homeschooling together for years, and I’ve also started a homeschool co-op in my area; those sessions ended up being geared more toward beginners. While I was happy to learn how others were handling these situations, I guess I was looking for more meat on the nitty-gritty problems and details that arise when you are deep in the muck! However, I felt that the sessions were well done, and I was glad to share what I could in the hope that it might help a fellow homeschooler or two get through the growing pains of learning to make it work.
The remaining three of the five sessions that I attended were quite useful to me, and I don’t feel like I could have gotten the same information in such a short period of time anywhere else.
First was Sherene Silverberg’s session on “Homeschooling Your Gifted Child.” Boy, I really wished I had attended this session about 9 years ago when my 3 1/2 year old was reading fluently! There was still a wealth of information in her session as well as common sense and some really valuable advice. Sometimes you know that your child (whether gifted, special needs, or both) is different, but you continue to look for solutions in all of the “regular” places. Having Sherene point out some places to go for children like mine was immensely helpful, and I’m looking forward to exploring those resources.
Next was Jeanne Faulconer’s session on “Unschooling Unzipped.” What a terrific session! I would probably consider myself an eclectic homeschooler, but I’ve definitely always had elements of unschooling in the mix; sometimes, it’s been full-on unschooling (unschooling and its flexibility can be the perfect solution when both parents work full time). It was great to hear about the ways that Jeanne and others have used unschooling to nurture their kids’ interests and give them the kind of education that wouldn’t be possible in a traditional school or with traditional curricula. She also acknowledged that unschooling is a spectrum, just like so many other endeavors. I think my favorite quote of the session was the definition of unschooling attributed to Patrick Farenga: “allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear.”
In common with Sherene, Jeanne also introduced the concept of finding mentors for children to teach them beyond the levels that are possible for parents. As my oldest child nears the teen years, this is definitely something that I want to consider in a more conscious way. I realize that he already has mentors in our community, who have sort of become his mentors by accident, but having attended these sessions, I will be keeping my ears perked for other opportunities to help him and my daughters grow through official and unofficial mentorship opportunities.
The last session that I want to mention is “Real World Math: Making Sense of Algebra and Middle School Math” by Karim Kai Ani. Ani is a charismatic speaker and teacher, and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in the room wishing that he’d been my math teacher in school (although I’m sure that he is younger than I am!). I also liked the way that Ani targeted the tweens and teens in the room before the adults and that he was not afraid to concede when they got one up on him. His approach to middle school and high school math problems was not only concrete, with real-world applications, but also fun. As my son moves from middle school level math to algebra, I will be taking advantage of this approach (and Ani’s web site, Mathalicious, I’m sure) to first introduce the concepts as real-world applications instead of just abstract formulas and variables in a way that I hope my kids will find fun and engaging. All learning should be this awesome!
And those were only the sessions I was able to attend! I’m sure that I missed many more great ones. I hope that at some point VaHomeschoolers will be able to record and sell the session audios, but for now, I am happy to have gotten a copy of Stephanie Elms’s handout for her session “There’s an App for That?” and to have a great homeschooling community here in the Shenandoah Valley and in Virginia in general. We’re a lucky bunch of homeschoolers.
See you at next year’s conference! I’ll be back.