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What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

by Alison Gopnik

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-374-22970-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An internationally recognized leader in the field of childhood learning debunks the concept of “good parenting.”

Gopnik (Psychology and Philosophy/Univ. of California; The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, 2009, etc.) is a grandmother and the director of a cognitive science laboratory. Her firsthand experience of the complexities of being a parent in today's society has led her to challenge the accepted view of “parenting.” It is “not actually a verb,” she writes, “not a form of work, and isn't and shouldn't be directed to the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult.” Rather, parents should simply provide children with a loving, nurturing environment in which they can learn and thrive. The insatiability of children's curiosity is legendary. As Gopnik notes, research has shown that “pre-schoolers average nearly seventy-five questions per hour.” Contrary to the traditional parenting model, which sets specific educational goals for children, parents can play a crucial role simply by responding to a child's questions. “Parents don't have to consciously manipulate what they say to give children the information they need,” writes the author. They learn through rough-and-tumble play, careful observation of their environment, direct interaction, and the let’s-pretend games they invent for themselves. “Pretending is closely related to another distinctly human ability,” writes Gopnik, “hypothetical or counterfactual thinking—that is the ability to consider alternative ways that the world might be.” In the author's view, it is imperative for caretakers and educators to nurture young children's curiosity, and they should also allow adolescents to experiment and learn by apprenticeship. Gopnik concludes that recognizing the dichotomy between the goal-oriented carpenter and the nurturing gardener is an appropriate metaphor for our broader cultural values. “Just as we should give children the resources and space to play, and do so without insisting that play will have immediate payoffs,” she writes, “we should do the same for scientists and artists.”

A highly thoughtful and entertaining treatment of a subject that merits serious consideration.