Parents: Are you a Gardener or a Carpenter?


With the COVID-19 crisis closing schools and sending workers home, many parents will be spending a significant amount of time with their children in the next few weeks as children learn remotely. At HEI Schools, children learn through play because research has proven that this is an extremely effective and natural way for children to learn, and we recently released a family activities package so that this play-based learning can continue at home. But with all of this extra time to parent, one starts to reflect on what ‘parenting’ actually means. 

Alison Gopnik, a professor at Berkeley University in California, published a book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, about this very topic in 2017. She argues that we should stop using the term ‘parenting’ altogether and stop viewing it as “work.” Rather, as parents, we should let children develop on their own terms and simply enjoy the unique relationships that we have with them.

Gopnik relates parenting styles to that of a carpenter or a gardener. A carpenter has raw material, wood, and knows what they make with it before starting the project. A carpenter parent similarly believes that their child must become some particular sort of adult and molds them into this person through carefully monitored activities, books, schools and other influencing factors.

A gardener, on the other hand, has raw materials, seeds, and after planting them in the ground, tends the surrounding environment in order to best nurture the plant. Likewise, the gardener parent lets their child explore the world and develop naturally without imposing restrictions or expectations on what that looks like. Rather, the gardener enriches the child’s surroundings as much as possible while giving the child space to grow freely.

In Finland, many parents already take the gardener approach, cultivating a strong sense of independence in their children from a young age. At HEI Schools, we similarly allow children to explore the world and develop in a way that feels natural to them. We give them the freedom to be creative and actively participate in their own learning process. Because many of us are not able to meet in person, we want to start a virtual conversation. What does parenting mean to you, and how do you view yourself as a parent - a carpenter, a gardener or somewhere in between? 

Want to see what HEI Schools is like? Try out one of our family activities that we share on the HEI Schools Pinterest page that offers ideas for parents at home with children ages 0 to 6. We provide activities, routines and advice that follow the HEI curriculum.