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The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

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One of the world's leading child psychologists shatters the myth of "good parenting" Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call "parenting" is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, One of the world's leading child psychologists shatters the myth of "good parenting" Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call "parenting" is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong--it's not just based on bad science, it's bad for kids and parents, too. Drawing on the study of human evolution and her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting" won't make children learn—but caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.


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One of the world's leading child psychologists shatters the myth of "good parenting" Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call "parenting" is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, One of the world's leading child psychologists shatters the myth of "good parenting" Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call "parenting" is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong--it's not just based on bad science, it's bad for kids and parents, too. Drawing on the study of human evolution and her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting" won't make children learn—but caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.

30 review for The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I bought this book because I loved this piece in the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, I think that piece boils down much of what is interesting in the book itself. I find Gopnik's persona--part enthusiastic grandmother, part knowledgeable researcher--very appealing, so I never found the book difficult to read. But it did feel, in spite of its brevity, a little meandering and somewhat meager in its central insights. The analogy that gives the book its title--parents need to be like gardeners, I bought this book because I loved this piece in the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, I think that piece boils down much of what is interesting in the book itself. I find Gopnik's persona--part enthusiastic grandmother, part knowledgeable researcher--very appealing, so I never found the book difficult to read. But it did feel, in spite of its brevity, a little meandering and somewhat meager in its central insights. The analogy that gives the book its title--parents need to be like gardeners, creating sustaining environments for their children and enjoying them for their own development, including its surprises, rather than like carpenters, who follow sets of rules to produce something according to a blueprint--is the most vivid and helpful insight here. There's a long section on play and how important play is for child development and for a number of other mammals as well. This might surprise some readers, but perhaps I am so convinced of this point already that aside from articulating more clearly what play gives children (theory of mind, the ability to problem solve and to produce counterfactual possibilities), this section of the book was not as much of a revelation. Gopnik does point out that when we try to "teach" children things, they learn less--that they should be given open territory to explore in rather than have an adult trot out a map, and that was extremely interesting, particularly when she described some of the experiments her lab has run on this idea. Another section on technology felt riddled with truisms (we always worry about new technologies, children are always early-adopters, we have no idea what that will mean for the future, but usually, some older technologies are retained alongside the new devices that dominate culture). I like Gopnik, and I wanted to love this book, and I did love its endorsement of caring for children as a central part in giving life meaning and also of producing an ethical engagement to society--that what seems like the selfish narrowness of caring for one child can in fact be drawn upon to foster social choices that support all children. But again, this sounds a bit platitudinous, no? Mainly, I think Gopnik is adding to the contemporary conversation about "parenting" by saying we should parent less, be available more. And that feels helpful, but it also feels like it's as far as this book really goes. Oh, wait! But maybe the best bit is the part where she describes preschoolers' unfocused attention and explains that adult brains of psilocybin are closest to preschooler brains all the time.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    In some ways, this is a book that is best summarized by its title. When we act as parents, Dr. Gopnik is telling us, we should think of ourselves more as gardeners than as carpenters. The relevant difference is that the gardener is focused on growth, but doesn't usually try to insure details such as exactly how many leaves grow on the plant or where, just that there be about the right amount of leaves growing. A carpenter, on the other hand, usually does a lot of rather precise measuring and cut In some ways, this is a book that is best summarized by its title. When we act as parents, Dr. Gopnik is telling us, we should think of ourselves more as gardeners than as carpenters. The relevant difference is that the gardener is focused on growth, but doesn't usually try to insure details such as exactly how many leaves grow on the plant or where, just that there be about the right amount of leaves growing. A carpenter, on the other hand, usually does a lot of rather precise measuring and cutting, insuring a certain final outcome where all the pieces fit together. Gopnik appears to be concerned that modern "parenting" (she dislikes the verb, by the way, preferring the noun "parent") is becoming too similar to carpentry in its aspirations, and not enough like gardening. The devil is in the details, though, and that is why the book is worth reading, even if you already know (and in my case, agree with) the thesis suggested by the title. Gopnik has spent decades, now, studying the mental processes of small children, and how those change over the first few years of life. She's also been a mother and a grandmother, which may seem only to provide anecdotal information but which I think may serve as a useful reality check on her theorizing. Unlike, say, Freud or Skinner, her theories on child psychology pass the test of contact with reality. Gopnik is a person of strong opinions, for example believing that much of the "mess" of childhood, and the apparently purposeless play, is not just an inevitable but a productive part of human psychology. I believe it was Gopnik who I first heard voice the idea that children are society's R&D department, and that even if it were possible to teach them the "right" way to do things more quickly than we do, it would at least sometimes be unwise to. This contributes to, for example, her dislike of the trend in modern schools of nixing unstructured play in recess time, in favor of study of the topics likely to be covered in standardized testing. But beyond opinions, and even beyond her own research, she is thoroughly familiar with everything that has been discovered about child psychology in the last few decades, and she maintains a good mix of personal anecdote and reference to rigorously controlled scientific study. A larger question is why more of that science doesn't find its way into how we raise and educate children today. I suspect it is because a lot of what has been discovered, would suggest that more of our children's education should resemble apprenticeship or vocational training, and that is exactly the opposite of what most of the education sector of our country has been pushing for. As the percentage of the population who go on to 16 years or more of schooling before doing "real work" goes up, and the percentage of our economic and financial sector which is reliant on that goes up (student loan debt is now bigger than credit card debt in the U.S.), any indication that we should be backpedaling on that in favor of education methods outside of the classroom (and standardized tests) is struggling against some pretty big industries (and their lobbyists). It will probably take a student loan crisis on the level of the 2008 mortgage crisis to cause any serious reappraisal of the goals and methods of education in this country. However, just because you can't change the way the nation educates its children, doesn't mean you can't tweak how you educate your own child (or what you look for when choosing others to help do it). Whether the topic is play vs. study, how worried we should be about electronic devices and social media, or how to deal with adolescents being the way they are, she helps us to bring the immense amount of scientific study in the last few decades to us, in a way that we can understand and apply.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I heard a great interview with this author about the difference between "parenting" and "being a parent" (I mean, think about it: Do I "wife" my husband or "daughter" my parents? What would that even look like? I'm not trying to change them.) The book mostly hits the emphasis on child psychology with kind of a little "what parents can do" tacked on the end, which is okay, but I kept hoping for more link between theory and practice for individuals and communities. There is a nice chapter in the e I heard a great interview with this author about the difference between "parenting" and "being a parent" (I mean, think about it: Do I "wife" my husband or "daughter" my parents? What would that even look like? I'm not trying to change them.) The book mostly hits the emphasis on child psychology with kind of a little "what parents can do" tacked on the end, which is okay, but I kept hoping for more link between theory and practice for individuals and communities. There is a nice chapter in the end where she talks about other policy implications beyond child care, but the connections to the science are, there, rather loose. Anyway, I usually like hearing about the personal lives of the scientists, but there was a little too much Berkley here to keep my eyes from rolling (little "Augie" --I could stop there--enjoying vegan frozen yogurt at the farmers market) and to keep me from wondering how we apply these lessons to lower income, or even just not elite, families? For many kids, overscheduling would be a laugh, when parents can't even afford piano lessons, and techno-fear is less about what iPhones are doing to kids' minds and more about whether their kid can survive school without one. It's not that Gopnik doesn't ever mention other types of families, but that she seems to acknowledge them in the abstract and from afar--the anthropologist's perspective rather than the neighbor and friend's.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steve Solnick

    Exceptionally lucid and humane overview of a vast amount of scientific research on learning and cognitive development. The subtitle and cover are a bit of a misdirection - this is not a gauzy parenting how-to book. Instead, it's a thought provoking, richly detailed and well-written exploration of how we learn by imitating, by listening, by playing, and how learning changes in schools (not usually for the better) and is changed by technology (not so much for the worse as you might think). The imp Exceptionally lucid and humane overview of a vast amount of scientific research on learning and cognitive development. The subtitle and cover are a bit of a misdirection - this is not a gauzy parenting how-to book. Instead, it's a thought provoking, richly detailed and well-written exploration of how we learn by imitating, by listening, by playing, and how learning changes in schools (not usually for the better) and is changed by technology (not so much for the worse as you might think). The implications for parents are there - and the final chapter attempts to tie the preceding chapters together with an elegiac meditation on parenting. For me, though, the meatier earlier chapters were the real revelation, delivering without being too heavy handed, the message of the title: As parents and caregivers we should seek to nurture our young and accept they'll be different from our imagined progeny; we should not think our job is to build replicas of ourselves guided by our, or society's, blueprint.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul L'Herrou

    Written with authority by an academic (UC Berkeley) and grandmother, but does not read at all like an academic writing. It was a joy to read. She writes about such things as tip-toeing through her dark garden hand-in-hand with her grandson so as to not awaken the tiger in the avocado tree. She explains child development and the need to let children develop in their own ways rather than trying to shape them into a parent's vision of who they should be. Confirmed my experience with our 2-year-old Written with authority by an academic (UC Berkeley) and grandmother, but does not read at all like an academic writing. It was a joy to read. She writes about such things as tip-toeing through her dark garden hand-in-hand with her grandson so as to not awaken the tiger in the avocado tree. She explains child development and the need to let children develop in their own ways rather than trying to shape them into a parent's vision of who they should be. Confirmed my experience with our 2-year-old grandson and gave me insights to my own development in childhood. Highly recommend this book to all parents, grand-parents and other relatives of children as well as anyone who teaches or works with children. Informative and fun to read!

  6. 5 out of 5

    L. Lawson

    The premise of this book can be distilled from its title (which makes it a great title): there are two parenting styles--the gardener (who gives kids fertilizer, space, and a reason to grow and lets them do it) and the carpenter (who exactly measures every facet of the kid's life with the intention of making him/her grow up a certain way). I already fell into the gardener space before reading this book, but the argument presented in the book helped steady me in my choice. Only through play, expe The premise of this book can be distilled from its title (which makes it a great title): there are two parenting styles--the gardener (who gives kids fertilizer, space, and a reason to grow and lets them do it) and the carpenter (who exactly measures every facet of the kid's life with the intention of making him/her grow up a certain way). I already fell into the gardener space before reading this book, but the argument presented in the book helped steady me in my choice. Only through play, experimentation, trial, error, and messiness will a person grow into who they are. My job as a parent isn't to fit my child to my measurements (or anyone else's); my job is to give them the tools, time, and space to find their own measurements and grow into them.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pooja Goyal

    Given the author has written a ground breaking book like 'The Scientist in the Crib', I had high expectations of 'the gardener and the carpenter'. Unfortunately, I felt disappointed throughout the book. It was a mish mash of the author's personal experiences with her grandson Augie, some research that she has done and some references to other studies. The Book meandered through a meadow of ideas without building up on any particular one. The main theme she explores is a powerful one but that can Given the author has written a ground breaking book like 'The Scientist in the Crib', I had high expectations of 'the gardener and the carpenter'. Unfortunately, I felt disappointed throughout the book. It was a mish mash of the author's personal experiences with her grandson Augie, some research that she has done and some references to other studies. The Book meandered through a meadow of ideas without building up on any particular one. The main theme she explores is a powerful one but that can be addressed well enough in an article rather than a book. It is one of those books that would have been better as an article.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erika RS

    This was a fairly quick read that packed in a lot of depth. The central premise of the book is that "parenting" as a verb, as an act of trying to produce a certain type of adult, is a endeavor that does not work well and makes us less happy. Instead, we should think of being a parent as providing an environment where the unique relationship between children and those who care for them (parents or otherwise) can help them learn about and explore the world. Humans have a long period of childhood re This was a fairly quick read that packed in a lot of depth. The central premise of the book is that "parenting" as a verb, as an act of trying to produce a certain type of adult, is a endeavor that does not work well and makes us less happy. Instead, we should think of being a parent as providing an environment where the unique relationship between children and those who care for them (parents or otherwise) can help them learn about and explore the world. Humans have a long period of childhood relative to most animals. This childhood provides a chance for a long period of exploration, learning, and variability. Parents transmit their cultural and technological knowledge to children and children take that and shape their knowledge so that eventually they can shape the world themselves. However, learning generally does not happen through the intentional education that we provide when we set out to provide enriching experiences to our children. It does not come from flash cards, educational videos, tutoring, or any of the many other aids that we provide to help train children how to perform well on tests. Instead, children learn most effectively through observation and conversation. Children imitate adults in very intentional ways. They do not merely copy behavior. Instead, even from an early age, children work on inferring the goal and knowledge level of the person they are watching and will explore and vary their imitation to try to accomplish the goal more effectively. Children also ask questions quite intentionally. When children form endless chains of whys, the questions generally work to strengthen their ability to predict how the world works. ' Children learn best through play. That does not mean that unstructured environments are the best for learning (although they are likely better than overly structured environments). Rather, what works best is when adults provide scaffolding: rich environments which trigger curiosity about interesting topics, pointers for when children want to learn more, and perhaps most importantly, a playmate. Play is delicate though. As soon as play starts to feel required or like work, it will stop being play and learning will grind to a halt. Young children are focused on the broad, messy process of exploration. As children get older, they work more on developing their ability to exploit the knowledge they have. Older children work on refining the skills they have until they can perform them with ease. Older children are more sober and reliable, in many ways, than teenagers. During the teenage years the brain once again prioritizes exploration, this time exploration into the world of independence. It is commonly believed that the teenage brain is quite immature and as a consequence that, perhaps, we should give teens less rights and responsibilities until they are older. However, this model is wrong in a small but important way. The teenage brain is immature, but the prefrontal cortex control that will make a teenage brain into a sober adult brain does not develop at a certain age. It develops through use. Thus, instead of giving teens less responsibility and then throwing them out into the world as adults, we should be giving them more responsibility sooner -- but in an environment where the consequences of their actions ramp up slowly. Parents are often concerned about the affect of technology on children. Gopnik points out that as much as we are seeing change now, past technologies like reading, trains, and telegraphs caused at least as much societal change as the internet. Yet now we barely think of these as technologies anymore. Technology is disorienting when it is introduced to adults because we no longer explore playfully (partially because our brains are less plastic, but also because we do not let ourselves). Our children will develop new techniques and new norms for dealing with technology. This does not mean that technology doesn't have an impact. Written text, fast travel, and instant communication have changed the course of human existence -- and not always for the better. New technologies such as the internet continue to do so. However, what we do not need to worry about is that our children will be adrift on the technologies of today. They will see them as natural. As an aside, one of the interesting things about reading is that readers have significant portions of their brain that are specialized for reading. This is despite the fact that reading has happened much more recently than could have been accounted for by biological evolution. The reading brain co-opted processing centers, such as visual centers which detect edges, to become so efficient that reading is both fluid and involuntary. The mind is incredibly adaptable. Gopnik ends on a chapter about how we value children. Having a child is choosing to take part in a special relationship that will change a person forever. Parents, in a very real well, do not just consider their children's interests as important as their own. Parents seem to literally treat the interests of their young children, as their own interests. Yet raising children also has traditionally been a community task. Care takers throughout a community have had roles in making sure that children have both the material and social resources they need to thrive. This is something we have lost in our industrial and postindustrial society. Figuring out how to modernize this sort of community care which is not based in generics but in specific relationships is a pressing problem of our time. Gopnik also points out that taking care of parents as they age is a similar problem. As a society, we tend to treat it as a problem each family needs to solve individually, but we could structure our society to value care taking and provide better support for care takers. Anyone who cares about children, whether or not they have or plan to have their own, should read this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jaap Grolleman

    'The Gardener and the Carpenter’ should have been a long blogpost. I’m reminded why I dislike most non-fiction so much: every essay is being dragged out to 250 pages because then it can be sold as a full book. I’d be happy to buy these books for the same price if they’re shorter — but I get annoyed when filler is wasting my time. I bought this book after reading 'Meet the parenting expert who thinks parenting is a terrible invention’ from The Correspondent — which appealed to me. Parents shouldn’ 'The Gardener and the Carpenter’ should have been a long blogpost. I’m reminded why I dislike most non-fiction so much: every essay is being dragged out to 250 pages because then it can be sold as a full book. I’d be happy to buy these books for the same price if they’re shorter — but I get annoyed when filler is wasting my time. I bought this book after reading 'Meet the parenting expert who thinks parenting is a terrible invention’ from The Correspondent — which appealed to me. Parents shouldn’t try so hard to mould the perfect child, but provide a safe space in which the child can grow up and explore and make mistakes. (This also matches how my parents raised me.) And that article gripped me in a way the book never did. The book’s amazing message is clear from the intro, but then Gopnik goes into metaphors about dieting and the Lyme disease, and examples about cavemen fighting mammoths, New Caledonian crows, or the Ju/‘hoansi people. And when Gopnik compares babies to vole field mouses, there’s a feeling of cult that reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (who compares humans to lobsters). But better authors pull of tricks Gopnik can’t. In one page, she goes from mentioning that monkeys are able to identify T’s, to using a quote from Socrates to prove her point. Unlike better books, Gopnik’s message isn’t holistic and doesn’t fully convince me, and difficult topics are often concluded with “Science still has a lot to discover”. In a chapter about technology Gopnik tries to be a Yuval Noah Harari, but makes a poor futurologist. Calling young people ‘digital natives’ is enough to trigger my bullshit-meter. And people don’t talk to the whole world on the web — far from. Neither do her one-liners strike me as true: “We don’t care for children because we love them, we care for children because we love them.” On the upside, the chapter on teenagers is great — and the overall message deserves being heard. But it should have just been a blogpost, or at most, an essay.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Beal

    Things I love about this book: - The scientific research and studies she presents. The research on play backs up the philosophies of RIE parenting + Magda Gerber. Giving kids lots of free and independent play time fosters creativity and investigation. Children are little scientists, and they have surprisingly sophisticated methods for figuring out the world. Loved learning more about how children learn. - The way she breaks down the traditional "parenting" model. I've read quite a few books on p Things I love about this book: - The scientific research and studies she presents. The research on play backs up the philosophies of RIE parenting + Magda Gerber. Giving kids lots of free and independent play time fosters creativity and investigation. Children are little scientists, and they have surprisingly sophisticated methods for figuring out the world. Loved learning more about how children learn. - The way she breaks down the traditional "parenting" model. I've read quite a few books on parenting and raising children, and there is a plethora of contrary advice out there. I love the way Gopnik explores how children are not blank slates to be molded the way parents wish, but individuals who need consistency and security to grow and interact with their environment. - Her thoughts on screen time. She had a fresh perspective on screens and technology that I hadn't heard before. Things I hated: - Her conclusions about public policy. I get that she's a scientist, and she is looking at society as a whole, but forcing everyone to pay for public daycare and elderly care is not a solution. In the final chapters, she is basically advocating for socialism! It would be better if she stuck to psychology and left economics to economists. - Her nihilistic view on human nature.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    Don't buy this book. Here's what it says, but better: We are doing our children a disservice by attempting to prescriptively "parent" them in the modern sense. Children do not learn or become successful adults by being instructed and molded. They learn through discovery and by example. We (parents, grandparents, teachers, society at large) would do better to get out of their way, let them play, and love them unconditionally. There. Now you know the good stuff, without hundreds of pages worth of Go Don't buy this book. Here's what it says, but better: We are doing our children a disservice by attempting to prescriptively "parent" them in the modern sense. Children do not learn or become successful adults by being instructed and molded. They learn through discovery and by example. We (parents, grandparents, teachers, society at large) would do better to get out of their way, let them play, and love them unconditionally. There. Now you know the good stuff, without hundreds of pages worth of Gopnik's stilted, annoying writing style, the same studies you've already learned about in every other parenting book, and unrelated anecdotes about Gopnik's perfect grandson eating organic vegan sorbet and how thankful she is she got an abortion at age 40. There's also some decent information (again, though, buried in chaff and rambling) about schools, technology, and how important it is to read to kids and encourage them to read, but you can get all of that information elsewhere in better books.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    With insights from evolutionary biology, the latest work in child development, philosophy, and personal biography as a mother and grandmother, Gopnik has created a beautiful book about being a parent, as opposed to "parenting". Gopnik argues that being a parent is about love and care, and not about shaping a certain kind of future adult - being a gardener who creates an environment for things to grow rather than a carpenter who builds something from a plan (her metaphor that became the title of With insights from evolutionary biology, the latest work in child development, philosophy, and personal biography as a mother and grandmother, Gopnik has created a beautiful book about being a parent, as opposed to "parenting". Gopnik argues that being a parent is about love and care, and not about shaping a certain kind of future adult - being a gardener who creates an environment for things to grow rather than a carpenter who builds something from a plan (her metaphor that became the title of the book). I found the science fascinating, and Gopnik's writing style engaging, so despite the density and ambitious scale of this book I never felt it was a heavy lift as a read. And the conclusion she comes to is so very spot on for me: essentially that we need to value care and love as things that are valuable in their own right, despite all the pressures of an outcomes obsessed culture.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Siim

    The underlying ideas are presented in a convincing manner with evidence from the recent academic studies. The author introduced many causal relationships how the conditions in the environment influence human development. However, it would have been more impactful to provide examples on how to create such environments in the first place. Having listened to the audio book version of this title, it was at times difficult to follow as I noticed that my mind switched off even though the ideas were int The underlying ideas are presented in a convincing manner with evidence from the recent academic studies. The author introduced many causal relationships how the conditions in the environment influence human development. However, it would have been more impactful to provide examples on how to create such environments in the first place. Having listened to the audio book version of this title, it was at times difficult to follow as I noticed that my mind switched off even though the ideas were interesting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    Title belies what it is - an interesting look at evolution and development of humans

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jane Shirley

    I appreciated the conclusions of this author/researcher but found the book very difficult to follow and too much a personal account and strayed from the science.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Palevski

    This book was a great read. Off of a strong foundation of recent significant findings about childhood development, Alison Gopnik makes an enjoyable book filled with historical context and her own personal anecdotes about being a daughter, mom and grandmother. My main takeaway from this book is that kids are meant to be flexible and we shouldn't be trying to constrain them into some idea of what we think is best for them. Our world is unpredictable, and the one reason humans have outlasted all oth This book was a great read. Off of a strong foundation of recent significant findings about childhood development, Alison Gopnik makes an enjoyable book filled with historical context and her own personal anecdotes about being a daughter, mom and grandmother. My main takeaway from this book is that kids are meant to be flexible and we shouldn't be trying to constrain them into some idea of what we think is best for them. Our world is unpredictable, and the one reason humans have outlasted all other animal species has been our ability to adjust, adapt, experiment, and learn from others. In fact, this idea of human development and cultural learning perfectly carries over from a recent book I had read - The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. For me, this was convenient because it took some of the findings and learnings from this previous book and made them into more practical implementations for me at home.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Perri

    I loved this book which shows how being a parent has changed over the years, what we have learned from studies, and how caretakers and their young ones can best take advantage of what we now know. Essentially, we can stop the constant teaching, shaping, pushing children (carpenters) and allow them to explore, thrive and interact in a safe environment (gardeners). This seems enormously freeing not to be responsible for the fairly recent overwrought,angst-filled drive to PARENT the kids. I especia I loved this book which shows how being a parent has changed over the years, what we have learned from studies, and how caretakers and their young ones can best take advantage of what we now know. Essentially, we can stop the constant teaching, shaping, pushing children (carpenters) and allow them to explore, thrive and interact in a safe environment (gardeners). This seems enormously freeing not to be responsible for the fairly recent overwrought,angst-filled drive to PARENT the kids. I especially liked Gopnik's perspective as a grandmother and their importance historically, biologically and their relevancy still today for healthy development. There's a thoughtful, even-handed approach to how technology might affect the young generation with the reminder of how technology usually feels to the older generation. There's many wonderful philosophical discussion points such as the tension between the unique love your own magnificent human creation and the philanthropic love for all children. I just found this a very hope filled book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    A scientists of childhood learning refutes the current trend of parenting, that is, deliberate parental interventions aiming to produce a child of a particular character or one who will succeed in certain worldly affairs. She calls this the carpenter approach because you are following a plan to produce a specific product. Instead she promotes parents giving children a safe and loving environment in which they can explore, discover and realize their potentials, whatever those may be - like a gard A scientists of childhood learning refutes the current trend of parenting, that is, deliberate parental interventions aiming to produce a child of a particular character or one who will succeed in certain worldly affairs. She calls this the carpenter approach because you are following a plan to produce a specific product. Instead she promotes parents giving children a safe and loving environment in which they can explore, discover and realize their potentials, whatever those may be - like a gardener providing soil, water, etc, not to make bonsai or topiary plants but to let the plants thrive and bloom according to their nature. I agree with her critique of modern parenting, but some of the scientific material did not hold my interest, especially that from evolutionary psychology which features quite a bit. After a while I found myself just reading the first sentences of paragraphs, then slowing down when something interested me. The book would have been better as a long article.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo

    I wrote a more in-depth review of the book here: Alison Gopnik's The Gardener and the Carpenter - a Short Review but here's the closing paragraph: I enjoyed this book for separate reasons. The meticulous explanations of scholarly work, complete with extensive notes and bibliography, attracted the scientist in me that wants to know the science and history behind learning and child development. The larger themes of what it means to learn, to play, and to be a parent were attractive to me for differen I wrote a more in-depth review of the book here: Alison Gopnik's The Gardener and the Carpenter - a Short Review but here's the closing paragraph: I enjoyed this book for separate reasons. The meticulous explanations of scholarly work, complete with extensive notes and bibliography, attracted the scientist in me that wants to know the science and history behind learning and child development. The larger themes of what it means to learn, to play, and to be a parent were attractive to me for different but perhaps more satisfactory reasons. If only one of these areas is interesting to you then the book may be less enjoyable but still worthwhile in my opinion. To get the most out of it, it helps to be both a scholar and a parent, like Gopnik is but don't let that stop you from reading it, as it is well written and enjoyable for any caregiver or invested person.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David Tybor

    I was really looking forward to this book after reading her essays in the Edge.org books "This Idea Must Die" and "What Will Change Everything?" https://www.edge.org/response-detail/... https://www.edge.org/response-detail/... Basically, humans have successfully turned kids into adults for thousands of years, but "parenting" is a relatively new concept ("to parent" wasn't a verb until the 1940s), and school isn't much older than that (~100 years). She argues that our evolutionary history pushes bac I was really looking forward to this book after reading her essays in the Edge.org books "This Idea Must Die" and "What Will Change Everything?" https://www.edge.org/response-detail/... https://www.edge.org/response-detail/... Basically, humans have successfully turned kids into adults for thousands of years, but "parenting" is a relatively new concept ("to parent" wasn't a verb until the 1940s), and school isn't much older than that (~100 years). She argues that our evolutionary history pushes back against the idea of being Carpenter parents (building/shaping kids into a certain type of adult), and instead supports the idea of being Gardeners (giving kids a safe environment and some tools, and then seeing what they grow into). Cool ideas, but unfortunately buried in a couple hundred pages of cheesy jokes and grandma anecdotes.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeslyn

    Despite some tough going in the early and final chapters, Gopnik again shares fascinating insight on early childhood development, as well as the development of the parent-child relationship through adolescence. Given the title, I would have liked to see more concrete suggestions on how to better foster the gardener approach vs carpenter (this was better highlighted in her assessment of modern schooling). The discussion of all that is wrong in the U.S. school system was a frustrating read simply Despite some tough going in the early and final chapters, Gopnik again shares fascinating insight on early childhood development, as well as the development of the parent-child relationship through adolescence. Given the title, I would have liked to see more concrete suggestions on how to better foster the gardener approach vs carpenter (this was better highlighted in her assessment of modern schooling). The discussion of all that is wrong in the U.S. school system was a frustrating read simply because there were no good answers/suggestions - it read as if no one in the U.S. has a handle on effective "gardener" teaching, which may very well be true, but not encouraging to read. I wasn't expecting the book to just tell me nice things, however, or what I wanted to hear, so it's still four-star worthy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hamilton Carter

    If you, like I, agree with the premise of the book, (that allowing children to have free play is arguably as if not more beneficial than constantly placing them in classes), then there's little reason to read the book. Dr. Gopnik reiterates scientific studies that lend credence to her premise, but if you're already on board, these are of little use.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patsy Tindell

    The author encourages parents and grandparents as well as society itself to provide a safe and loving environment for children, an environment that allows exploration, experimentation, and messiness. She believes this will work better in the long run than the method that begins training babies to gain entrance to top universities. Her book includes a massive bibliography and generous notes and also shares personal experiences as well as opinions. I was never tempted to stop reading.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jason Braatz

    You may skip this one and you wouldn't be missing out on anything. Dr. Gopnik makes the case succinctly that the act of play for children is an incredible learning tool; perhaps their best learning tool. Yet she also makes a case for the public school system, albeit one that's more modernized than today's scantron-to-success model of learning, is the best system we can come up with. I was hoping for more insights on the prior point. If it's known a priori that children learn best with play and not You may skip this one and you wouldn't be missing out on anything. Dr. Gopnik makes the case succinctly that the act of play for children is an incredible learning tool; perhaps their best learning tool. Yet she also makes a case for the public school system, albeit one that's more modernized than today's scantron-to-success model of learning, is the best system we can come up with. I was hoping for more insights on the prior point. If it's known a priori that children learn best with play and not through a well-rehearsed series of lectures on the pythagorean theorem, why isn't there a call to a better system (ala homeschooling or an alternative means by which we raise our children)? The author states several times that the modern public school system is indeed only a couple hundred years old. There's really nothing requiring it, no great study of it (believe it or not) other than a public need for a babysitting service. Could we therefore talk about the elephant in the room? While the book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive doesn't spell out a solution either, I felt it drew a more compelling argument on the thesis that Dr. Gopnik was trying to make with this book. All that aside, there were a few nuggets of wisdom: On neurodiversity: Instead of drugging children's brains to get them to fit our schools, we could change our schools to accommodate a wider range of children's brains. On technology and whether the iPad generation is a bad thing: Socrates thought writing was a terrible idea. On the state of the educational system today: Being the best test-taker in the world doesn't help for discovering either new truths about that world or new ways of thriving in it. On Dr. Gopnik's own personal decision making skills: When I was forty I unintentionally got pregnant, and decided to have an abortion. Finally, her optimism for the system we have: In the end, the human story of parents and children is surely more hopeful than sad. Our parents give us the past, and we hand on the future to our children. Simply put, Dr. Gopnik is in a terrific place to open up a public debate on what schools should look like in 2020, specifically, how can we improve on what we have today. With the insurmountable talk of healthcare by our political class, education has gotten swept under the rug, along with childhood development. I was hoping for a call to action. I was hoping for new ideas. While there were a few nuggets here and there, her argument is circular (ad naseum) and she doesn't appear to me as a kindly grandmother at all, despite the window dressing as such. She appears to be a Berkeley professor who has developed oversimplified explanations and tests for everything, and whom otherwise couldn't hold a job outside of the ivory tower.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Relf-canas

    Pleased to have read this book. It synthesizes the 'new science' well. If you are a parent circa 2020, you will recognize yourself in many sections. I'd say it is beautiful and even lyrical in places. I'm sure I have brushed by its author in my too-numerous-to-count jaunts to the East Bay. I would not mind sitting down at the 4th St. Peets (if only) to talk about my child and kids' learning in general. I came away with new knowledge and insight--and facts to share with others.Gopnik offers an eq Pleased to have read this book. It synthesizes the 'new science' well. If you are a parent circa 2020, you will recognize yourself in many sections. I'd say it is beautiful and even lyrical in places. I'm sure I have brushed by its author in my too-numerous-to-count jaunts to the East Bay. I would not mind sitting down at the 4th St. Peets (if only) to talk about my child and kids' learning in general. I came away with new knowledge and insight--and facts to share with others.Gopnik offers an equal parts conversational and academic discourse on child development, and as the title advertises, its explanation of key studies/scientific data offer basic milestone/historical context for those who are not schooled in the field. I liked the discussion of stages of thinking--the toddler brain, for instance and how its multi-valent focus is normal whereas when teachers complain that a child's distraction is a nuissance or a pathology, instead, she posits, it is the natural way of things. It is the necessary job of the child's mind at that stage. I also liked the way she described how mono-focus is perhaps the un-natural state of the mind, that our very young 'world' of education as it is done today--imposed on the much older human species. I also found myself intrigued by her ideas about apprenticing and the way different eras and cultures have trained their young--to do the business and cope with mastering the skills necessary to make their way/survive and thrive in that society. She shares an interesting fact that I suppose I never really thought about much: that apprentices of yore used to begin at around 7 years old. It was an enjoyable read -- she has a relatable style; no doubt honed over the years by teaching, communicating to research communities, families, parents, "alloparents," interacting with children (and childish adults). She has probably become well versed in modulating her writing to suit many different ages, a talent that likely comes with the territory. I recall standing in the bookstore on Fillmore in San Francisco and noticing this title. It's been on my stack for some time now, and after four months of sheltering in place I thought maybe I'd see whether it would shine a light on how I might remedy any parenting I'm doing on a daily basis. I feel it is a celebration of the bond I have with my child and also gives me some ideas about how to deepen my appreciation for the whole darn circle of life.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Are parents carpenters who shape kids into predetermined products? Or gardeners who grow kids into something that they will become? The author believes it is the latter. Lots of interesting research were presented to make her case: 1. Mirror neurons do not really lead to imitation. It’s very complicated. 2. Adults’ intention matter. If an adult is an expert, children over-imitate including useless extra actions. If the adult is not an expert, children did the most efficient way, imitating less. I Are parents carpenters who shape kids into predetermined products? Or gardeners who grow kids into something that they will become? The author believes it is the latter. Lots of interesting research were presented to make her case: 1. Mirror neurons do not really lead to imitation. It’s very complicated. 2. Adults’ intention matter. If an adult is an expert, children over-imitate including useless extra actions. If the adult is not an expert, children did the most efficient way, imitating less. If adult is doing a ritual (series of actions that produce no useful outcome but important for social bonding), they over-imitate. If they see 2 adults do things differently, they imitate the one who deals with them later. 3. Adults’ tribe matter. Children only over -imitate if the adult speaks their language. 4. Children’s attachment style matter. Normal kids go with the mother when young but more correct answer from stranger or experts when older. Anxious needy kids go with the mother always. Avoidant kids are ambivalent. They also go with the majority opinion. 5. Children ask questions to understand the causal truths. 6. Children learn from generic sentences to learn essentialism. e.g. if an adult says ‘birds fly’ they assume all birds fly; ‘this bird flies’ does not have the same effect 7. So children learn best by observing many people do different things, and talking to different people as well 8. Playing with others make one sociable; playing with toys 9. Children pay more attention to expected results and will explore an unusual toy more 10. Pretend play helps children understand how others think 11. Teaching narrows the scope of children’s thinking. Children just do want the teacher does and will not explore all the possibilities something can offer. However if the teacher guides children to come to their own conclusion, they learn it much better 12. Reading and Math is critical so that children can learn and do things in the modern world. 13. In puberty, peer approval is most important to teens. They learn about social norms. Schools are however making them into exam-scoring machines. So? Let children learn from everyone, and let them play, take risks and even party. They will then be able to really learn and grow into great adults. I enjoyed this book very much.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    When I picked this book up, I thought it was sort of a "parenting" book. In fact, it's a science-y book, one that you might read if you're writing a term paper on child development. The last thing it is, actually, is a "parenting" book, because the author is against "parenting", and for "being a parent." As to the title, a carpenter is someone who follows a blueprint and consciously tries to build a specific thing, while a gardener is more passive, preparing a nurturing environment, staying atten When I picked this book up, I thought it was sort of a "parenting" book. In fact, it's a science-y book, one that you might read if you're writing a term paper on child development. The last thing it is, actually, is a "parenting" book, because the author is against "parenting", and for "being a parent." As to the title, a carpenter is someone who follows a blueprint and consciously tries to build a specific thing, while a gardener is more passive, preparing a nurturing environment, staying attentive to changes in the weather and soil, but letting the plants grow as they may. According to the author, parents should be gardeners, not carpenters. I think what Gopnik seems to mean by "parenting", (the carpenter model) is the "Tiger Mother" model of raising a child - hovering, pushing, insisting, having a specific life path mapped out for her child. But I didn't feel Gopnik ever clearly defined her terms. On the first page she writes of "parenting": "The goal is to somehow turn your child into a better or happier or more successful adult ." That in itself doesn't seem to be that bad of a goal. I wanted my children to grow up to be happy, successful adults (not financially successful, but successful as mature, fulfilled people). But overall, I get what Gopnik means. As parents, we need to give our children lots of love, the space to explore, and to try things and fail without us constantly hovering, while always providing a stable, soft place to land. We cannot - or should not try to - insist that they be concert pianists, or lawyers, or football players. We need to let them find their own path, and be parents just for the joy of the experience. Also, interestingly, Gopnik mentions some studies of children as they learn about some gadgets from adults. If the adults acted like experts on the gadget showing the children how it worked, how to get the buzzer to sound, etc.,when left alone the children would exactly mimic what the adult had done, even if there were 10 unnecessary motions before getting the buzzer to sound. If the adult acted unsure, like they were also learning about the gadget, then when left alone, the kids would cut to the heart of the matter and just do whatever was necessary to make the buzzer sound. Kids are smart.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan Bartlett

    I always enjoy Alison Gopnik's unique combination of philosophy, developmental psychology, and cognitive science. A lot of the hard science felt duplicative with her previous book The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life (which was published in 2008 but I read earlier this year). However, I very much enjoyed the frame she put around the research in this book — implications for being a parent (Gopnik would never use the word parenting), rath I always enjoy Alison Gopnik's unique combination of philosophy, developmental psychology, and cognitive science. A lot of the hard science felt duplicative with her previous book The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life (which was published in 2008 but I read earlier this year). However, I very much enjoyed the frame she put around the research in this book — implications for being a parent (Gopnik would never use the word parenting), rather than the meaning of life more broadly. Her central thesis is very much around creating a healthy ecosystem where children can thrive in many different possible ways, based on the needs and wants of the children themselves (i.e. being a gardener), versus trying to mold children into a very specific image of what you want them to be (i.e. being a carpenter). For me, at least, the temptation is always to be a bit too much the "carpenter," and I find it helpful to have the scientific basis for pushing myself into more of a "gardener" mindset. Gopnik's view is really that you need to focus on the basics, and try to chill about everything else. I was surprised to find that philosophy extends even to the effects of screen time on young brains — which will make me feel a bit less guilty about being on my phone around my child. Near the end of the book, Gopnik writes: As caregivers, we give children a structured, stable environment, and that's exactly what allows them to be variable, random, unpredictable, and messy...Part of the point of parents and especially grandparents is to provide a sense of cultural history and continuity...To be a parent, as opposed to parents, is to be a bridgeable between the past and the future. What I can't do, and shouldn't do, is expect that my children and their children will exactly replicate my values, traditions, and culture. That nicely sums up what I would like to be as a parent. I enjoyed the book for presenting that philosophy and sharing the empirical studies of children's cognitive development that support taking that approach.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lara Freidenfelds

    One of my favorite books to recommend to new parents is The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. In it, cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik argues that babies approach their world like scientists, hypothesizing about how the world works and testing their ideas to hone their understanding. She describes her and her colleagues’ clever experiments and the adorable ways babies and small children respond. Gopnik takes obvious delight in small children. Unlike so many o One of my favorite books to recommend to new parents is The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. In it, cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik argues that babies approach their world like scientists, hypothesizing about how the world works and testing their ideas to hone their understanding. She describes her and her colleagues’ clever experiments and the adorable ways babies and small children respond. Gopnik takes obvious delight in small children. Unlike so many other books for parents that are about how to make your child smarter-better-stronger, Gopnik’s basic message is, “babies are amazing! Look at all the cool stuff they can figure out!” It’s fun to read, and geeky parents are likely to find it makes parenting more enjoyable. It might be annoying that my toddler keeps throwing his food off the high chair tray, but at least I can appreciate that he’s exploring the properties of gravity. So when Gopnik published her latest book last year, I was excited to check it out. It’s called The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children. The cover photo, of a mop-topped preschooler picking wildflowers in a meadow, gave away Gopnik’s argument before I even opened the book. A parent, Gopnik says, should think of herself as a gardener cultivating a wildflower garden, rather than a carpenter constructing a perfectly designed piece of furniture. It’s a different kind of work. She argues from a combination of evolutionary biology and cognitive science that a parent’s role is to create a safe and nurturing space for her child’s exploration, not to turn her child into a particular kind of adult... Read the rest here: https://nursingclio.org/2017/06/15/th...

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Roberts

    I enjoyed this book, which is very accessible and easy-to-read. It contains many interesting summaries of scientific experiments and research about human brain development and learning, which are very thought-provoking. I found these the most interesting and helpful for what I bought the book for - considering how I should behave in raising a toddler. I could have done with some more practical tips of how to provide a diverse, safe and secure environment, but overall I am left feeling that maybe I enjoyed this book, which is very accessible and easy-to-read. It contains many interesting summaries of scientific experiments and research about human brain development and learning, which are very thought-provoking. I found these the most interesting and helpful for what I bought the book for - considering how I should behave in raising a toddler. I could have done with some more practical tips of how to provide a diverse, safe and secure environment, but overall I am left feeling that maybe I’m making it too complicated and I should get back to work and let him get on with it (which was broadly the ethos anyway)! More interesting to me was the section on older children’s learning, schooling and technology. Although there weren’t really any hard and fast conclusions here, I hope that it will help me to be more understanding in dealing with my step-children. It certainly helps to explain why they are so different in character. The final section on public policy and ethics in relation to caring generally is little more than a manifesto for the author’s views and not lengthy enough to fully do justice to the different arguments/perspectives in this area and its interaction with other policy considerations. Although I will take some things away from this book, it hasn’t overall changed my view on anything and I feel a bit dissatisfied with the overall conclusion/reflections on mortality!

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