Monkey See, Monkey Do – Do Your Kids See You as a Learner?


The old proverb “monkey see, monkey do” holds true to parents and learning. I often have parents ask me what they can do to encourage their struggling child in school. My first question is always, “What are you reading?” This catches parents off guard because they do not see the connection between their reading habits and their children’s education, but as with most things in life, learning is something that when modeled by parents carry over to a student’s overall attitude about education. Every blog or self-improvement book I read says the same thing: Readers are leaders. Follow my train of thought that parents who read are leading their children well in the area of education.

The question then becomes what should a parent be reading? I suggest reading a variety of books in order to be well-rounded and expose yourself to new ideas which often leads to personal learning and growth. If you are one of those freaky people who keep charts (Scott Barber), you can chart out your books, check them off, and easily assess the different genres you are reading, or you can be like me and have 10 semi-finished books on your nightstand. Either way, here is a basic template to organize your reading this year.

Non-fiction – The options here are limitless. Books on parenting, spiritual encouragement, hobbies, psychology, current research, and self-help books all fall in to this category. Some suggestions:

Generation iY – Tim Elmore (or anything by Elmore)

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell (also The Tipping Point, Blink, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath)

Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis (also The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce)

Drive – Pink

Don’t Waste Your Life – Piper (I read this every year)

Freakonomics – Levitt

Current fiction – Reading current fiction can keep you abreast with culture and gives you something to talk about at parties when the conversation hits a lull. Click below to access the New York Times Best Sellers List.

All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), World War Z (Brooks), and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (Fowler) are at the top of my current fiction reading list this year.

Classic fiction – Books in the literary canon are there for a reason: they are timeless. If you hold off on this category until next fall, I plan on allowing people to “audit” my AP class by reading along with my students and participating in a Google hangout each month to discuss the current book. My students teach me so much, and I would love to share what I learn from them with to the community. Think of it as a virtual book club. If you can’t wait until the fall, here are my favorite classics and modern classics:

Frankenstein – Shelley

To Kill a Mockingbird – Lee

Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck

Macbeth – Shakespeare (stop whining and show that you’re a mature reader)

A Prayer for Owen Meany – Irving

The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver 

Biography, Autobiography, or Memoir – If you spend any amount of time with me, I will inevitably ask you to tell me your stories. I am fascinated by people’s lives and their stories. We can learn so much by taking time to read about someone else.

Into the Wild (Krakhauer) – My son gave me this book for Christmas, so it moved to the top of my reading list. Parents, anytime your kid recommends a book to you, read it. I loved trying to figure out why Brandon liked this book so much; maybe it was the Emory connection or maybe it is the only book he has read recently that he thought I could understand. Anyway, I was enthralled by McCandless’ story and an added bonus is Krakhauer calls Thoreau “prissy.” (Sorry for the discourse. I am focused again).

Unbroken – Hillenbrand

The Life and Legend of Chris Kyle: American Sniper, NAVY Seal (Mooney)

The Blind Side – Lewis (be forewarned, this book coupled with Radical by Platt was what pushed us to become foster parents)

The Things They Carried (O’Brein) – This collection of short stories blurs the line between fiction, nonfiction, and autobiography. Regardless of how you classify it, read it.

Regional literature – Reading books about where you live or by local authors is like being inside of a secret club. You get references, jokes, and nuances of the novel that people who live in other regions just don’t understand. And no matter how good or bad your region is portrayed, regional literature will cause you to embrace your heritage. I’m Southern, and here are my favorite Southern authors:

Rick Bragg

Sue Monk Kidd

Pat Conroy

William Faulkner

Flannery O’Connor

Truman Capote

Creating a list of my favorite Southern authors is much like making a list of foods I crave when I am on a diet. There are simply too many to name.

Young Adult – I put YA on this list because the primary focus of my blog is advocating for Generation Y and what better way to understand a generation than by reading what they read. Interestingly, I remember a statistic that I heard on a NPR interview with John Green this summer that the largest demographic reading YA fiction is women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. (I fall in this category in case you’re wondering; I have to say that as often as I can for the next few months).

Harry Potter series (Rowling) – Some people wouldn’t place HP in the YA genre, but I can put it where I want to since it’s my blog. (I’m hating now but don’t waste your time on Twilight).

Hunger Games (Collins) – The first is the best but read the series.

The Fault in Our Stars or Looking for Alaska (Green)

The Lightening Thief series (Riordon)

Divergent  (Roth)Girl power!

My final advice is to read books as a family. Not only does this give your child a safe place to practice reading aloud, families can grow and learn together. Some suggestions for family reading are

Finding Your Way (Gravitt) – If you have teens who are navigating through the college and career maze, this book will help focus and direct thoughts and conversations.

Love Does (Goff) – We read this with Brooke last year and loved Bob’s stories and challenge to live life to the fullest.

The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis) – simply magical

Billy Collins poetry (Sailing Alone in the Room, Aimless Love, The Trouble with Poetry) – Yes, you can read poetry. Billy Collins goal is to make poetry accessible to every, and his poems are such a great entry point to poetry that even young kids will be able to join in the conversation. Imagine how smart you will sound at the water cooler the next day.

Shel Silverstein (A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree) – Silverstein writes for kids but speaks to adults.

Seven – Hatmaker’s chronicle of her family’s experience in simplifying their life.

This list is by no means exhaustive or even my all-time favorites; it is simply a starting point for those wanting to read more. What you read is not nearly as important as the fact that you are reading.

I would love to know what you are reading or what you would add to this list.

3 responses to “Monkey See, Monkey Do – Do Your Kids See You as a Learner?

  1. I have gone back and read some classics that I read when I was high school (30 plus years ago) – and of course since I have some life experience now, the books mean something entirely different to me than when I read them in high school; East of Eden, Pride and Prejudice, Ann Karenina. I just checked out of the library – Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. The movie has been on TNT recently so wanted to read the book.

    I think you should add to the list:
    Someone Knows My Name – Lawrence Hill
    Fortunate Son – Walter Mosely

    • Great choices!! The problem with lists is once I start, it’s hard to stop because there are so many good books, and like you said, they all speak to us in different ways at different times.

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