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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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,236 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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, controll

Kindle Edition, 317 pages
Published August 9th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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 ·  1,236 ratings  ·  167 reviews

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Aug 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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, ...more
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: green
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 ...more
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
Steve Solnick
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Paul L'Herrou
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
Pooja Goyal
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
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
Erika RS
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, physical, parenting
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
Kathryn Beal
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
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
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 ...more
May 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Title belies what it is - an interesting look at evolution and development of humans
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.
Daniel Palevski
Aug 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: parenting
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 ...more
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
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
David Tybor
I was really looking forward to this book after reading her essays in the books "This Idea Must Die" and "What Will Change Everything?"

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
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.
Patsy Tindell
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Bartlett
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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’
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 ...more
Sarah Roberts
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't give it 5 stars because it took me so long to read, but this book about parenting (which wasn't even used as a word until the 1950s!) and the way we modern Americans view ourselves as carpenters "building" better humans. Gopnik goes on to detail why this almost universal view is fundamentally flawed, particularly when looked at through the lens of what we know about child development. And how much more happy we'd all be if we viewed ourselves as working to provide a good "garden" and the ...more
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Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD. from Oxford University. Her honors include a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada University Research Fellowship, an Osher Visiting Scientist Fellowship at the Exploratorium, a Center for the Adv ...more

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