Homeschool co-ops are amazing.  There are seasons when every homeschool family can benefit from the experience of camaraderie, community, and group learning.  Sometimes there really is no substitute.

The thing is, I’m a homeschooling mom.

And I’m a textbook introvert.

I know there are varying degrees on the introvert/extrovert scale (if that’s a thing).  But I’m pretty sure I’m a double introvert.  Take most things on a standard list of introvert characteristics, double the intensity of each, and you have me.

No, I don’t have a social disorder, I’m not a hermit, and I am in group situations multiple times a week.  But I have lived in my current neighborhood for about 6 years now, and most people I regularly associate with still think I’m a mystery.

How does such an introvert balance the benefits of participating in a homeschool co-op and still allow space for individual needs?

Well . . . let me tell you my experience.

1. Co-ops offer opportunities for homeschooling parents to socialize and make friends.  Even introverts need friends.

It’s taken me settling into adulthood to be comfortable being such an extreme introvert, accept my limitations, and not feel like there’s something wrong with me.  I’m terrible at engaging in small talk.  I know logically that small talk is supposed to help you get to know someone.  It just seems pointless at the time.  Can’t help it.

I consistently find myself giving yes or no answers with no follow up questions or conversation to engage the other person.  And I don’t always realize I’m doing it until I sense the other person starting to feel awkward.  At this point I think others are more uncomfortable with my introvertness than I am.

I’m incredibly different to interact with in a one on one situation.  In fact, I have some friends who don’t realize I’m such an extreme introvert.  These are the friends I only see one on one when we get together with our kids for play dates.  Once I get to know someone a little better, the “small talk” comes easier because it starts to feel more genuine to me.  We chat, “hang out,” and laugh no problem.

If this is you, acknowledge it and accept that this will be your experience.

You’re not weird. Well, you are because you homeschool.  But you’re a normal introvert.

If you meet people you think are interesting and would be fun to hang out with, invite them out in a small group setting.  Meet at a park or in your home so kids can play while you have adult conversation.  Ask a couple ladies out for a weekend lunch or late evening milkshakes when there might be opportunity to meet up without kids.  It helps if people can see you in situations where you aren’t so guarded.

 

2. Know when to say no.

I’m not necessarily shy, just introverted.  I do try to stretch myself and join in activities that don’t come naturally to me.  Especially when I know it’s something my kids will enjoy.  Sometimes I end up enjoying myself, and sometimes I feel just “meh” about it.  Instead of being energized by being out and around friends, it can be very draining.  Even when I have fun.  After bigger outings or get-togethers, I need down time and quiet to re-center, recharge, and feel normal again.

This is generally how introverts function.  Know this about yourself and allow time for it.  Don’t schedule things back to back to back.

You’ll burn out.

You don’t have to do all-the-things all-the-time to give your kids a great education.

If it’s not working, take a break and try again another time or just opt out if it’s not for you.  And you don’t have to find friends at your homeschool co-op.  You’re an adult and can choose to find friends wherever you please. There’s no need to force it.  Just go with the flow.

You can always join a different group or consider drop-off programs or activities to meet your child’s social needs. You can even initiate a small group that meets in your own home.  There are many options.  You don’t have to make yourself miserable thinking that you must do things a certain way.  It’s your homeschool.  You get to choose.  And if you’re thoughtful in your choices, your children can still get their needs met without the need to drain all the life out of yourself.

A woman looking down at the floor

3. Co-ops are great places to learn about differing viewpoints and educational philosophies from experienced homeschooling moms.

I often find myself in situations where people are talking about something I don’t know anything about (imagine that).  There are many moms way more experienced than I am.  I don’t like chiming in when I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I enjoy listening intently out of interest.

And there is so much to learn!

( Or I check out and happily escape to my rich inner-mind-life and think about something else–he he.)

In all seriousness, you can learn a lot online from searching through blogs, websites, and forums.  But being there in person is a different experience that can be well worth it.

Don’t feel frustrated if you can’t get a word in edgewise.   I  don’t like having to talk over people or feel like I’m yelling to be heard.  Accept that this will likely be your experience and know that you can ask questions or discuss things when there are fewer people around.  Just sit back and soak it all in.

4. People will want to hear what you think (because you seem to be listening so intently).

For some reason, people cannot fathom the fact that I’m perfectly content to sit and listen.  People seem to feel the need to “include” me by putting me on the spot.  In my own mind, I’m actively listening and participating, mulling things over.  I feel included already.

I am aware of the fact that my communication skills are lacking.

I’ll work on it.  We’ll work on it.

One of the hardest things for me is when I’m in a larger group situation and somebody asks for my opinion, putting all eyes and attention on me.  Although it doesn’t logically make sense, I have sort of a fight or flight physical reaction to this.  I instantly turn into a deer in headlights or one of those fainting goats.  Every articulate thought I might have had turns into, “Meh-he-he, Meh-he-he!” (Not literally, of course, but ya know.)

The processor that connects my brain to my mouth completely shuts down and I got nothin.’

Learn to have automatic responses on hand like, “Let me think about that and I’ll get back to you.”  Or “I haven’t considered that before, I’ll have to look into it more and see what I think.”  Learn to be comfortable with the fact that you can’t always form an opinion on the spot.  Embrace it and move on.

I think that’s why I enjoy communicating through writing.  It gives me a chance to slow down and think about what I’m saying before I say it.  And if it doesn’t sound right, I can just delete it and try again.  You can use this to your advantage by participating in conversations through social media.  Most co-op groups will also have a Facebook page.  Use it.

5. Choose to teach a class you’re interested in.

If you are required to volunteer to teach in your co-op, choose something that interests you (the kids can smell apathy).  And choose an age group or class size that feels comfortable to you.  Some days it’s a struggle to want to put the effort into getting all your kids ready and out the door on time for co-op.  Especially for an introvert who enjoys being a homebody most days.  It’s even worse if you are dreading your teaching time.

Right now I have a toddler and a preschooler.  My comfy place is teaching our small, mild-mannered group of preschoolers where I can juggle my littlest ones without too much trouble.

Boy blowing bubbles

I once tried to teach bubble science to a boisterous group of 6-8 year-olds with a baby on my hip who screamed literally the entire class period.  That was definitely not an introvert friendly experience.  I don’t recommend trying that.  At all.

Listen to me, and don’t be crazy!

 

Introverts, what are your tips for making co-ops work or your family?

 

Let’s do this thing!

Heather Tinker

Photos from Unsplash