By Dinah Whitton

Spring is finally in the air – birds are singing, temperatures are rising and homeschool conference season is in full swing!

Four years ago I attended a home education conference for the first time to learn more about the possibility of homeschooling a preschooler and a struggling learner. Who knew that I’d end up being a successful parent educator to all four of my children?! Each year as I re-evaluate our progress, my husband encourages me to take some ‘professional development days’. Twice a year our kids happily embrace ‘daddy the substitute teacher’ for a few days while I attend local conferences. Typically I spend a night away from home, soak up some inspiration, gain new insight, and leisurely browse the vendor hall. Last year was particularly memorable as I carpooled with two amazing homeschool mom-friends. We went out to dinner, stayed up and talked like teenagers and hit the conference with renewed vigor.

But, this year things were a little bit different.

While I’ve always known about the youth sessions, I actually didn’t think my 15 year old would be interested in attending. But, when I started to plan our annual homeschool PD day with my mom-friends, our teen daughters thought it might be fun to tag along. We attended the 2019 OCHEC Convention in Ancaster, Ontario during the first weekend in May. Since this particular convention is hosted on a university campus, our girls had a little sample of dorm life. While the moms debated which sessions to attend, the girls quickly found their way around the campus and later reunited with us for lunch (at different tables, of course). It was obvious that they had more fun just hanging out with each other despite the youth sessions we hoped they’d find interesting. We enjoyed dining on take-out food in our rented dorm house and we all stayed up way too late chatting. Apparently teenagers still like jumping on the bed and having pillow fights; so, I couldn’t resist pulling a little prank on them. The looks on their faces were priceless when I snuck up to the door and yelled “BOO!”

Despite being tired the next morning, we attended various informative and inspirational sessions. Thanks to the wives only session, we now have some incredible inside jokes. We were all shocked to hear the girls actually say they really liked the youth session called “honouring your parents”. Wonders never cease!

We walked around the vendor hall browsing and talking. Encouraging one another, bouncing ideas and suggestions around as we mentally prepared for the next school year. There were plenty of homeschool experts speaking on all kinds of subject matters. But, the best part of this weekend was watching the homeschool students spend time with one another. My daughter and her friends were among dozens of other teens at this convention. My heart was overwhelmed with seeing the beauty of friendship flourish within our homeschool community. This was a poignant reminder of why we homeschool in the first place. We all have specific and valid reasons for choosing to home educate; but, at the end of the day it comes down to the overall well-being of our children. Watching my daughter simply hang out with her friends, seeing her smile and genuinely happy is worth it all. It’s an added bonus that I get to hang out with my mom-friends and laugh hysterically during my homeschool PD days. The camaraderie of my homeschool sister-friends goes beyond learning about homeschool methods, curriculum or co-ops. This village of incredible human beings continues to inadvertently help my family to thrive. I’ve learned never to underestimate the power of friendship. From the youngest to the oldest (moms included), we all need each other. Whether you’re a new homeschooler or a veteran, staying connected can be the glue to your sanity during those tough days. And, on the good days it’s great to have some like-minded friends to celebrate and appreciate those precious moments.

Homeschool conferences don’t have to be just about hearing expert speakers and buying new curriculum. You can be inspired as you prepare for the next school year and strengthen your village through the power of friendship. The next time you have the opportunity to attend a conference, gather your homeschool colleagues (and your teenagers!) and make your PD day memorable!

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