I asked the Holy Spirit and a few wise older mothers to give me advice; then I came up with a four-step process by which I could evaluate books. It is not foolproof, but it's been surprisingly effective and has served me well for over thirteen years now.
Before I share my four-step process with you, though, let me recommend that you determine ahead of time the standard by which you'll judge your children's reading material then communicate this to your kids! If they know ahead of time what you will not allow and why, there will be fewer tears and complaints when you have to veto the cool looking book they've just pulled off the shelf. Most parents share some common concerns--foul language and graphic violence, for example--but even families who share similar values and religious convictions can vary when it comes to reading standards. Communicating with your children why particular content concerns you can put you and your children on the same team instead of at odds with one another.
Please, whatever you do, do not assume that just because a book is written for a certain age group it is appropriate for your child. The following are all themes that commonly show up in children's literature but which we chose to avoid (in addition to cursing and violence) in our book selections:
Like I said earlier, this four-step process is not foolproof, but it has proven to be effective the majority of the time. If you are ever in doubt regarding a book's contents after putting it through these four checks, tell your child you'll give it a more careful examination (or read it) before you give your approval. In addition, you can (and should) request that your child stop reading a book and bring it to you if he/she discovers content that is offensive, questionable, or uncomfortable. Not only does this train them to be discerning readers themselves, it gives you an opportunity to talk through any unsettling or defiling content your children may accidentally encounter.
Speaking of raising discerning readers, you can teach them to evaluate their own books. As a rule of thumb, I generally preview my kids' books for them from ages 8-10, telling them why I need to eliminate some books without going into detail. Then from ages 10-12 I begin to have them join me in the previewing process, discussing any content that is glaringly obvious. By age 13, I rely on them to preview their own books, bringing me only those they are unsure of. By the time my kids hit 16, I allow them to read whatever they want (with a few exceptions). Because I have trained their minds to be discerning and their hearts to love God and purity, I can rest assured they will be repulsed by ungodly content and will choose to read those books which align with God's Word. (By the way, this process works equally well with movies!)
I should also mention that before I evaluate any books, I say a quick prayer asking the Holy Spirit for guidance and discernment! God knows how much time I've got, and he knows my kids--better than I do! He wants their hearts soft and pure. I can trust He's got my back. And if offensive content gets missed, I can trust God's going to use that, too, to facilitate conversations which need to occur in order to train and disciple them. So what are the four steps by which I evaluate a book?
This evaluation system is not a guarantee. It is intended as a tool. It will not eliminate your need to preread some of your kids' books, but it will decrease your load tremendously. In addition, I pray it will give you a means of opening up healthy discussion with your children about their reading habits and what they put into their hearts and minds.
Philippinas 4:8 remains our family's standard by which we measure those things we read, view, listen to, and invest in: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (NIV).
Yesterday my inbox pinged as frequently as an old Atari game. Everyone was sending notices regarding the coronavirus, from my son’s high school and our church to the grocery store where I shop and the hotel chain with whom I have reward points. The seriousness of this disease and the potential for pandemic is not to be denied. And although I have struggled with the thought that everyone is overreacting, I also understand the need to take precautionary measures and protect the most vulnerable of our society. Which is why I understand the need to temporarily close schools.
Some school districts across the country, like ours, are providing instruction and assignments online, others are sending home packets of work to be accomplished or are altering their calendar year to accommodate the new “break.” Either way, students are now home and families are suddenly finding themselves temporarily homeschooling. Our family has been homeschooling for 19 years now, so I’d like to think I’m a “seasoned” homeschooler. In light of that, I thought I would offer a few words of advice for those of you who suddenly find yourself in this situation.
Learning at home does not need to look like learning at school.
There is a tendency in those who are new to homeschooling to try and replicate what happens in the classroom. It can feel very overwhelming for the uninitiated. If this is you, stop and take a deep breath. YOU DO NOT NEED TO REPLICATE SCHOOL AT HOME! So what does learning at home look like? The options are limitless!
Focusing on learning while at home has its own set of challenges.
While there is a lot of flexibility in homeschooling, there are unique challenges. It is often hard for kids (and parents for that matter) to get motivated to do schoolwork in the same spaces where the rest of life happens as well. This is even more likely to occur if your child is accustomed to going away for school. If your child is finding it difficult to focus, you might try some of these ideas:
Use this opportunity to teach important life skills.
We all have the best of intentions when it comes to making sure our kids have the skills necessary to succeed in life. But let’s face it, busy schedules sometimes crowd out those less formal lessons. The next few weeks might be the perfect time to focus on making sure your kids not only have the academic training they need to succeed but also the practical everyday skills that will serve them well throughout life.
Taming the screen monster.
It’s something we all fight on a regular basis anyway, but with many districts conducting school online, our children are facing even more screen time than ever. Though I am not advocating for a complete elimination of screened devices for down time, I do recommend encouraging your children to fill their extra free time with other diversions. Not only is this healthy, it also has the potential for strengthening family ties and developing lifelong hobbies! It is perfectly acceptable to not only put time limits on screen time but also to require your kids to meet certain criteria before they are allowed access to screened devices. The requirements at our house have looked different over the years, but I generally require my kids to have their chores and schoolwork done before they are allowed to game or watch. Hours of screen time can be earned based on physical activity and participation in other non-screen related activities. Below are some of our family’s favorite ways to kill time without turning on a screen.
Being together 24/7 is hard--give each other extra grace!
Ever notice how the worst fights always happen on family road trips? Having everyone together all the time in confined quarters inevitably leads to conflict. Personalities clash, tempers flare, feelings get hurt. This is normal. It does not mean you are a bad parent or that your family is dysfunctional. I have always joked that homeschooling brings out the worst in everyone...and then gives us the chance to work on it. Just recognizing that conflicts are likely to happen can help give perspective when things get testy. But here are some additional tips for facilitating better relationships now and in the future.
Don’t forget to have fun and make the most of it!
Let’s face it. These are tough times and this is a tough situation. But don’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve also been given a gift--the gift of time. Suddenly, we all have an excuse to slow down, to decompress, to reconnect. Look upon these 2-3 weeks as a chance to forge deeper relationships within your family. Homeschoolers know a secret you can discover too--play is every bit as important as learning! And it’s okay to put aside the books and worksheets for a while to watch a movie, play a game, go swimming, have a tea party, or try out a new hobby.
In just a few short weeks, everything will likely be business as usual. Seize the opportunity to snuggle, laugh, and play with your children...make beautiful memories while you can!
Aimee Fuhrman is a full-time homeschooling mother of four (some of whom are now grown) who moonlights as an author. She loves Jesus, encouraging others, books, knitting, and coming up with delicious allergy-friendly recipes. She lives at the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her husband of 25 years and their brood.