Thursday, January 24, 2008

1/21/08 Conference Fun in Sandusky, OH

From the moment we arrived at the Kalahari Waterpark Resort in Sandusky, Ohio we had a complete blast. The conference was for unschoolers (homeschooling in a non-traditional, child-led, interest-based, life learning approach) a style of teaching we have adopted since being on the road.

Unschooling Conference in Sandusky, OH

When we have met up with unschooling teens and parents in the past, we have always felt a great affinity – the kids are easy to befriend, the teens are seriously “cool” and I feel like I’ve known the parents forever, and this time was no exception. Many people recognized my picture from my blog and greeted me like a long, lost friend. Sarah immediately fell into a pack of teens and left Dave and I to move into our mini suite, before I headed down to hear one of the lectures.

All the lectures were held in the late afternoon/early evening so that everyone could spend the day at the Waterpark. Some family’s had two parents attending or a grandmother to help so they were able to attend classes while one parent managed the children. However, the attendees of the evening lectures were mostly parents with older children or teens which was perfect for me. It was easy to make friends with similar interests and experiences.

The first evening I was starving and tried to pry Sarah out of the teen lounge to take her to dinner. She’d already made friends with a teen from Pennsylvania and they wanted to have dinner together. As I made my way to a restaurant, I heard another family talking to their teen on the phone trying to get their daughter to come dinner with no success. You guessed it, their teen Ann was with Sarah.

I asked if I could join Ann's family for dinner since I had been abandoned by my teen daughter too. You’ll never believe it – Ann’s family owned a KOA! What are the odds of Sarah hooking up with someone who understood completely about being on the road?! The dad had all kinds of questions about what I look for in a campground and then we got into a conversation about 30 vs. 50 amp power and internet access when the mom’s eyes rolled back in her head. Ellen was completely bored out of her mind so we switched topics; it was so easy to talk to her, it was like we’d been friends forever.

By the following day, Sarah and Ann were telling fellow teens that they were engaged to be married. Maybe a little background is in order... 75% of all the teens that hung out in the lounge were male. Sarah easily makes friends with boys, but she doesn’t want a boyfriend right now. She enjoys cruising conferences with an entourage and collects groups of kids to do silly things and hang out. She likes to joke that she is a lesbian. It’s a great strategy -- the boys don’t try anything with her, she can comfortably hang out and be one of “guys,” and it adds an air of mystery about her. Ann picked up on the joke and the two walked around arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand further supporting the punch line. Fortunately, Ellen (Ann’s mom) was ok with the spoof, so for the rest of the week we teased one another about who would make the centerpieces and what type of wedding cake we should have.

We had a moment early in the conference where we thought Dave’s backpack had been stolen from the teen lounge. It didn’t make any sense. Dave was playing on his computer at a nearby table. There were only other unschooled teens in the room all evening. When he went to get a power cord, his backpack was missing. He called me and I came to help him look. We were stunned, there was little of value in the backpack (unless you were Dave) and we couldn’t imagine someone stealing a backpack with three hardcover books, computer/gameboy/telephone chargers, Magic cards and some snacks. At the end of the night I got a call that the backpack had been found in the teen room. The person reported that everything seemed to be there – the Gamebox, Digital Camera and lots of expensive games. It all became clear; it was obvious that someone had picked up Dave’s backpack in error and was going to be very distressed when they went to use their gaming system and found hard cover books instead. The next day the backpacks were exchanged and everyone was happy.

Each day Sarah would throw herself out of bed at the crack of 11:00 am and come back after midnight. The teens were easy to check in with – they had their own lounge when they weren’t at the Waterpark where they played games, watched movies and made new friends. Dave didn’t feel much like socializing but enjoyed the Waterpark and thought the food was great. Dave had hoped to play a lot of Magic but the teen lounge was mostly kept dark for watching movies and playing video games so it wasn’t conducive to card games. Truthfully, we had a fantastic hotel suite and Dave was enjoying having the living room and dining area to his self while Sarah and I conferenced and socialized. He did a lot of Geometry, read Manga and played Runescape.

There was a wonderful dance one evening where a local father donated his equipment, lights and services as a DJ. It took Dave five minutes to get spiffed up for the dance. It took substantially longer for Sarah. Sarah wore a lovely silver skirt that coordinated perfectly with her favorite plaid high top Converse, a bright blue t-shirt with silver lettering “Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day” and her hair completely curly with gold glitter. Yes, it did take her more than five minutes to get dressed, but she looked outstanding!

Dave and I went on a field trip to Milan, Ohio and the birthplace and museum for Thomas Alva Edison the inventor of the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb. The Museum had many of Edison’s early inventions, documents where he asked for discounts from suppliers and many of his patent applications, and family mementos.

I was scheduled to give a talk on the last evening of the conference, but many of the people I met weren’t staying till the end. I heard the comment so many times, that I was worried that I would be in the room by myself. I broke down my two hour time slot into two sections – the first on the story of the “Grand Adventure” and the second hour about how to follow your own dreams using my research for the book I’m writing tentatively titled “Letting Go and Setting Free.”

I was thrilled about the number of people who attended, and with the questions afterwards. During the first hour I ran a slide show in the background -- I’ll need to get feedback as to whether it added or detracted from the talk – but it was a blast to put together and the kids and I enjoyed the process.

The second hour morphed into an interesting group dialog that veered off the topic I’d prepared. Next time I'll give out the handout first, skip personalized introductions and get right into twelve obstacles that stop people from moving forward to their dreams. The good news was that I got to know some of my fellow parents better resulting in some lovely friendships.

We made many new friends interested about our life on the road who offered invitations to visit when we were in their states (probably 2009 if our travel plans hold). We will definitely go back next year – the conference was worth the drive from New Mexico!

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