This past weekend I got to attend the IHM Catholic homeschooling conference in Fredericksburg, VA. It went from 9am – 9pm Friday and then 9am-4pm Saturday, and was a fantastic experience for me as someone just starting out in the homeschooling world.
The best part for me was the wonderfully Catholic nature of this conference. It seems like among the people I know here, there are a lot of great active, friendly, and devoutly religious Catholic families, none of whom homeschool. There are also a lot of homeschoolers, but the ones I know are either non-religious or devoutly Protestant. And, while I love all these various people dearly, and value their insight and experience in various different things, I was feeling a little bit of an outcast in whatever circle I was in. So, a conference where everyone was already doing what I want to do was very reassuring.
Among the Catholic elements I really loved was that every day began with the Rosary, that there was confession offered all day on both days, that many of the speakers were priests and nuns, and even just the sheer number of religious there who weren’t speakers (and obviously weren’t homeschooling parents). Almost every session began with a Hail Mary, and many of the speakers addressed the spiritual components of and spiritual solutions to homeschooling difficulties.
There was also a fairly large curriculum fair, although not quite as large as the pictures I’ve seen from other conferences. I had made a tentative decision before I even got there that I was not going to invest in any full curricula or anything that would be a huge investment. It was great to see products like MathUSee, RightStart Math, etc. in person because it gave me a good idea of whether I could see something working for us. Of course, I still ended up spending about $120 on various books, mostly dealing with issues of how to identify temperaments and learning styles, etc. (like I didn’t already have a huge backlog of books to read). Four of those books were autographed by the authors, though, so that’s definitely worth paying full-price for.
Since we are just starting out, and especially since technically we are delaying kindergarten rather than officially starting homeschooling, I want to take it really easy academically this year, and focus on creating good habits, routine, discipline and structure. And that was a recurring theme among the various speakers – that if you build a foundation of good habits, discipline and organization, you can teach any child everything they need to know.
I got to meet a couple of people during breaks and meals, most of whom have been doing this for a long time already. That was inspiring, in a different way than listening to the speakers. Despite their impressive street-cred – one of them homeschooled 12 kids all the way through and is now helping her kids homeschool their kids, it is easy to be a little in awe and assume they must be some kind of super-mom to have done that. Meeting others who are still in the trenches, so to speak, helps me think I can do it too.
Funny story: I belong to a Facebook group called homeschoolers, a lot of whom are Catholic. Before the conference I had posted that I was going to be attending and had asked if anyone else was. I didn’t really get much of a response, so I assumed that there might be one or two people there, but didn’t plan on meeting any of them. So, after one of our sessions, I was in line to speak with the speaker, and I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me. This was a pretty brief conversation, mostly about the fact that she was from Pittsburgh, which is where Dan is from. We said hello a couple more times in passing during the conference after that, but didn’t really talk again. So, when I got home, I went back on the FB group to post about how great an experience it was and asked if anyone else had been there. Well, guess what? Yep, Lisa from Pittsburgh turned out to be one of our group members! Weird how we picked each other to speak to without realizing we already knew each other, at least online.
I did end up attending a whole lot of sessions, even though I was a little worried that I would get burned out from all that sitting and listening. I didn’t need to worry; every speaker was different, and interesting. My favorite sessions were the Beginner’s sessions which were very inspirational, the sessions on organizing and time management by Colleen Billing, and oddly enough, two sessions by a Carmelite nun, Sr. Mary Joseph Heisler, one on how love is our vocation, and one on finding time for silence in the middle of our busy workdays. A thought from her that I’ve been repeating ever since “God does not plant desires in our hearts, and then leave us on our own without giving us what we need to fulfill them.”
Two other sessions that really stood out to me were one by Laraine Bennet about temperaments (I ended up buying two of her books to find out more about the subject; I’ll probably post a review when I’m done reading them), and one by Andrew Pudewa about the importance of music. That last one was fascinating, as he talked about scientific research describing actual changes in the brains of mice exposed to different types of music. He convinced me that I need to find some sort of music instruction for my kids, and better sooner than later.
So that’s my experience in a nutshell (yes, it’s a really big nutshell; I am enough out of practice in writing that brevity will take me some time, I think). I’m more convinced than ever that this is the right path for us, although I’m still not sure what precise path we are going to follow (in terms of eventual academic philosophy). I’m excited about starting school this fall, and I’m even more eager than I was to get our house and time organized so we are ready to go when we do officially begin. The kids are excited too, because I’ve been talking a lot about the various things we are going to do and how much fun it’s going to be. I can’t wait to see what the fall’s going to bring!