Three days to convention time!
With lots of children and lots of stuff to see and do, things can get crazy at the convention, but it is all manageable. In all the times we've attended, my children haven't wandered off, broken anything or embarrassed us ... except that one time when Dinosaur had a temper tantrum and started stripping. Good thing Hubby had taken him to the loading dock before the clothes started flying off that boy. That was just that one time. Otherwise, we have figured out how to keep our kids safe, clothed and mostly happy at the convention. Here are some suggestions on how to help your children enjoy the experience.
Children under the age of 5 are not admitted into the children's program. As of last year, they may attend any session with an adult. In general, none of the sessions are terribly inappropriate for children, but some may be terribly boring for them. Keep in mind, the sessions are all recorded. If your child makes any noise, even a happy noise, you must take them out of the room immediately.
If your baby squawks just as you are getting him latched on, I feel it is silly to hop up and leave, as he will be nearly silent once he is nursing. I don't know if HEAV would agree. Just be conscientious of the fact they are recording. I believe there are also two nursing stations somewhere in the convention. That's nice if you need a quiet spot. I'm more the nurse-on-the-go sort of gal myself, and you will see plenty of women discreetly nursing in sessions or in the exhibit hall.
I find it helpful to wear my babies at the convention. Strollers can get in the way and may even be a fire hazard in popular sessions where the rooms get quite crowded. A sling, wrap, mei tai, soft structured carrier, or back pack carrier will keep your baby close, safe and comfortable while your hands are free to take notes and shop. If we use a stroller we try to park it in the hallway during sessions.
To be ready to leave fast if your child gets noisy, it's best to stay in the back of the room. That area should also have room for your toddler or preschooler to play. I like to bring a play blanket and multiple busy bags. Any of the ideas from this busy bag site are good. By giving your child just one small bag of toys at a time, you can control the clutter and keep your child engaged. If you have to leave, you can quickly bundle up the toys on the blanket and go. It's also good idea to have a snack and sippy cup for your child.
The exhibit hall can be tricky. While you may be enthralled by all the cool stuff, your preschooler may not be entertained. In fact, she may be tired and over-stimulated. We have found it helpful to take a wagon with us for children to ride in. A child can have a snack and drink while we shop and their legs won't wear out. In the afternoon, we have the child lay on a blanket in the wagon. A sweatshirt under their head and a blanket over them makes for a nice spot to nap. For some reason some of my toddlers would not nap in a stroller, but the wagon allows them to stretch out and staring at the ceiling tiles lulls them to sleep.
Another idea for managing little ones at the convention is to hire a mommy's helper. Find a teenage friend who will be at the convention and ask them to watch your littles for a session or two each day. You could also swap child care duties with a willing friend. However you do it, a wise mama won't expect to attend all the sessions. Children get tired of being perfectly behaved (if they can manage it at all.) They need naps, breaks, play time and food. It's okay to miss a session so that your child can have a much needed nap in the hotel room or some quiet corner in the convention center hall-way. You can always buy the MP3 of the entire convention and listen to any sessions you missed and maybe you will strike up a fun conversation with another mother while your child rests. It happens.
Children 5-12 years of age can sit in sessions with an adult or participate in the Children's Program, Heroes of the Faith. My children love the Children's Program and talk about it all year long. The group that runs the program is careful with security. You will be required to show the badge or bracelet they give you in order to drop off and pick up your child. The program starts at 7:30 a.m. each morning and runs until 6 p.m. There is a lunch break and you must take your child out of the program, feed them and then return them. They do not give the children food during the program, so I suggest packing a snack to fend off the crankies while you figure out dinner.
Children over the age of 13 have many opportunities available to them. They can attend the Miracle Mountain Ranch Teen Track. They can participate in Institute for Excellence in Writing's SAT/ACT Essay Strategies Workshop on Thursday afternoon. There is also a chess championship for grades 12 and below. If none of that appeals to your teenager, they are allowed to attend sessions on their own. Certain sessions are even marked in the program as being of particular interest to teens.
The idea of taking your children to a three-day event that attracts thousands of people is overwhelming at first. With a little planning, preparation and realistic expectations, the HEAV convention can be a fun and educational experience for everyone. We always come away equipped, refreshed and feeling ready to pursue another year in our life of learning.