Up until about 3 or 4 months ago, the 2020 homeschool convention season was just about to kick off. But that also meant you needed to live within travel distance to whichever venue was hosting the event. Admission costs to conventions usually aren’t too steep, but the airfare, gas, lodging, restaurants, and any other incidentals start to add up. Then you still want to buy all the shiny, sparkly new homeschool products right?
We were just thinking about the state of mass gatherings in the future this past weekend. I was sadly looking at the Green Day concert tickets my husband bought me for Christmas. I don’t think we will be making it to Fenway Park this coming August… But then we saw that a small local concert venue in our area is hosting “drive-in” concerts in their parking lot. That got us thinking–what inconvenient restrictions will you accept in order to still sort-of experience an event?
Personally, I don’t think a small drive-in movie style concert, with cars parked in every other parking space, is exactly an acceptable live music experience. But then again, the venue is selling out their 75 available parking spots and are booking more shows. Is this just a passing novelty for cooped up and bored music fans, or the start of a new normal? Is there even a parking lot big enough for a Green Day sized audience? I doubt it.
Especially if the recent RealClear Opinion Research poll is even halfway accurate. Suggesting that 40% of families may be more likely to continue homeschooling their children when this coronavirus pandemic ends, we need homeschool conferences even more than before!
If future homeschool conventions adopt a grocery store COVID-19 model, are face masks, directionally marked aisles, and 6-foot spacing sufficient? Can we limit the number of people coming into the venue with tape on the ground and lines wrapped around the building? Is limiting people to 1 or 2 per booth at a time enough?
But one of the biggest booth attractions is actually touching the printed instructor’s manuals and flipping through the books. I’m not sure how you would even sanitize a paper book with a Clorox wipe or spray it with Lysol without ruining it. And no one will trust taking a piece of candy from our bowl. Would you take a bookmark or brochure from our rack?
Then again, digital is the way of the future. If this pandemic lockdown is any indication–and if it is possible to telecommute to work, have karate classes via Zoom, and on-demand the latest DreamWorks movie release–why not host widespread online homeschool conventions? Our Build Your Library Virtual Homeschool Convention Booth went pretty well, except for the backward video. (If you saw it, we may have figured out what went wrong with my phone’s camera 🙂 )
Necessity is the mother of invention. We are bound to have robust and well put together conference-at-home models very soon. Of course, these new opportunities require massive change. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but there may be some significant benefits with these new methods.
Most notably, economic and convenience. Your travel time will be cut from whatever miles away you were driving or flying, to simply walking into your living room. Pricey hotels are exchanged for sleeping in your own cozy beds. Restaurant meals and finding gluten-free-friendly meal options are as easy as whipping up lunch in your own kitchen. That is a lot cheaper.
As far as convenience goes, zero actual travel would be nice for both attendees and speakers. Another benefit would be more options to hear talks. I would imagine all of the talks would be recorded. There have been many times I would have liked to sneak away from manning my booth to poke my head in to hear one of the in-person presentations. I have also heard many convention-goers struggling to decide which talks to go to when more than one is scheduled at the same time. If all of the presentations were recorded and then made available as an online video or webinar, anyone can watch at any time.
I do see some other geographical benefits too. First, the logistics involved with finding convention space, blocks of hotel rooms, and everything else necessary in planning a large event is now minimal. Also your “Northeast Convention” could now be virtually attended by homeschoolers from any state (or country, for that matter).
For our virtual convention booth livestream, we did pull out tables and set up just like we were at a conference hall. We even hung up the Build Your Library banner across the bookshelves in our living room. Besides the questions running across the Facebook feed, the lack of social interaction did feel a bit odd. Perhaps a Zoom meeting would be more interactive, that way people can actually talk and ask live questions.
Is this the way virtual homeschool conventions will evolve? A convention web page with hyperlinked lists of Zoom meetings for vendor booth discussions? Give vendor web pages a link so you can virtually peruse their homeschool products? Then a list of guest speaker livestream spots, turning into recorded video presentation links afterward?
Video speaking engagements would be more convenient for the presenter too. No longer would they have to make travel arrangements and schedule dates in different states. They would just have to carve out the presentation time slot and sit in front of their laptop. I think this could really open up and expand the list of “guest speakers” at these conventions. Even smaller organizations may be able to lure in some bigger names if they just need to secure a modest speaking fee, not including travel expenses.
I really haven’t made up my mind how I feel about this. There is something about standing at an actual booth, displaying your wares, and interacting face-to-face with customers. Online conferencing may offer many advantages, but old school habits will be difficult to let go of. I am really interested to see who pioneers the next wave of online homeschool conventions, and what they look like. If anyone is going to figure this out, it will be the people who run the big comic book conventions. Or perhaps everything will just be back to normal in 2021. Or 2022…
Do you think our old conventions will open up better than ever or worse than before? Some homeschool conventions already had declining attendance, while others still had pretty good showings. If they do come back, will this cause people to not take in-person homeschool conventions for granted and attend in force? Or will people remain leery and stay home?
Are you interested in “attending” virtual conventions on your laptop or smartphone? Or will you hold out to see if the face-to-face events make a comeback? Personally, I hope I’ll get to see some of you at a conference again someday.
What will you miss most if the convention halls remain empty? What would you want to see the most in a virtual homeschool convention? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.
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