Hannah and I left the children with my sister-in-law on Saturday and drove to the Long Beach convention center for the California Homeschool Convention.
We arrived around 11:15 am and parked the car in the public parking lot right across the street. That was great. Even better was meeting a nice, young fellow who was driving away and gave us his parking meter receipt, valid for the entire day. We placed it on the dashboard and off we went.
The exterior of the convention center looked nice and modern.
Across the street from the convention center were Islands and California Pizza Kitchen. Since we were hungry and missed CPK since it closed doors in our town, we walked in and had a great Moroccan salad and a Gorgonzola pizza.
Well fed and ready for battle, we walked into the convention center.
The main hall was nice and open, not too crowded. To the right of the registration section, there was a table full of CDs with the recordings of the workshops. Each one was $6, with a discount for multiple purchases. Based on the lackluster workshop experience at my first homeschool convention in Escondido, North San Diego County, back in 2010, I decided to pass on them.
After the formalities at the registration desk, we walked downstairs into the exhibit hall. Coming from the size of the Milan Expo, I was a little underwhelmed by the size of the exhibit.
I was expecting to walk for hours among countless rows of never-ending exhibitors’ booths, spread across several buildings, coming home at night with sore feet, our backs broken by three bags of homeschool brochures and catalogs.
I guess I just miss the good old days.
This time I did not feel totally lost, unlike the first homeschool convention I attended two years ago. To an Italian whose only educational experience is the public school system, where all the decisions about textbooks and materials are made for you, and the only thing you need to do is show up, a homeschool conference — with all the different curricula and references to different teaching and learning styles, and personality types — can cause the same sensory overload as the Marrakech market.
This time I was prepared. I have read enough about homeschooling in books and magazines to almost look like a local.
The first stand we saw was the the Old Schoolhouse magazine one, followed by the one showing the Nest Family Bible videos. I was somewhat impressed with the latter; there were over 50 videos; some of them were about Old Testament characters, others about New Testament ones, and the rest were about historical figures like Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, and Galileo. The quality of the animation was good, with excellent music scores, very calming. The stories were very close to the biblical accounts. The DVDs were also interactive, with questions for kids about the episode just shown. Not only were the DVDs very impressive, but also the lady at the booth was a good saleswoman. She almost convinced me to purchase the entire set, which also comprised student workbooks, for over a $1,000, on the spot. After careful thinking, I decided to heed my father-in-law’s advice, “If you want an answer now, it’ll be a no,” and moved on.
We then walked to the Tapestry of Grace stand. Tapestry of Grace is a very popular curriculum based on the classical education teaching style, popularized by books like The Well-Trained Mind. This is the type of education I received back in Italy, and I have mixed feelings about it. It works well for certain kinds of students, like me, who are happy to seat for hours on end listening to lectures and studying boring, dry textbooks; but for other students, the ones like my brothers that have different learning styles and preferred spending their afternoon disassembling and reassembling motorcycle engines and parts, classical education can be pure torture; The folks at Tapestry of Grace — and most of the other major curriculum providers — understand this, however, and tweak their products to appeal to all kinds of learners, from the visual to the auditory and the kinesthetic. They offer living books and a pretty good instruction guide that works very well for parents (moms) that like to make the day-to-day school decisions and disliked being micromanaged by a teacher’s guide.
They also had a very cool map of the humanities.
There were many other interesting stands, from Simply Charlotte Mason to Maestro Classics, from Saxon Homeschool (can you say black and white and boring?) to Classical Conversations and BJU Press.
Even Signing Time was there; Signing Time is the series of DVDs we use to communicate with all our children before the talking stage. It’s fun for them to sign words like milk, cheese, apple, banana, good, hungry, and see that their parents understand.
We then came to the stand of My Father’s World. This was a curriculum I did not know much about. The banner said the curriculum combines the Charlotte Mason approach based on living books with classical education. The curriculum looks like a mix of Sonlight and Tapestry of Grace. Interesting, but the teacher (my wife) was not enamored with their teacher guide; too loose for her taste.
After that, we went to my wife’s favorite stand: Sonlight. She loves it because of the teacher guide, very structured and detailed. She knows she’ll have to tweak it if she combines Sonlight with math and science programs from other distributors (which we will, as will be outlined in a future post), but it’s nice for her to have a structured starting point on which to build her annual schedule.
Here’s the guide Hannah is in love with.
I’ve got to hand it to Sonlight; of all the homeschool curriculum vendors, they understand marketing. First, they were the only ones handing out a bag, so you saw all these people walking around with a Sonlight bag on their shoulder. Second, they placed a very prominent sign by their stand advertising the efficacy of their curriculum based on comparative test scores. What parent wouldn’t like that? Dr. Robinson may opine that the SAT scores are no longer what they used to be before the 1995 change, but still…
Our eyes saw many more stands, books, and materials, and our hands grabbed many a catalog, but that will be a tale for another day. In the meantime, all the pictures we took at the convention are available on our Flickr page. The few videos we shot are on our YouTube channel.