“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reports a fourth-grader. Never before in history have children been so plugged in—and so out of touch with the natural world. In this groundbreaking new work, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression.
Some startling facts: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community. The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind.
Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards. Last child in the Woods is the first book to bring together cutting-edge research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development—physical, emotional, and spiritual. What’s more, nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and ADD. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Even creativity is stimulated by childhood experiences in nature.
Yet sending kids outside to play is increasingly difficult. Computers, television, and video games compete for their time, of course, but it’s also our fears of traffic, strangers, even virus-carrying mosquitoes—fears the media exploit—that keep children indoors. Meanwhile, schools assign more and more homework, and there is less and less access to natural areas.
Parents have the power to ensure that their daughter or son will not be the “last child in the woods,” and this book is the first step toward that nature-child reunion.
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv brilliantly captures the trouble the next generation faces from disconnecting from nature and connecting into technology. I chose this book, initially, when my Introduction to Education teacher referenced it in one of her lessons about learning styles. The idea of children losing touch with nature seemed surreal to me, but Last Child in the Woods tells the stories of children who have lost their connections, or never had connections, to nature. Throughout the entire book, Louv talks about a variety of concepts with children and nature, including natural play restrictions, mental health, education, re-entering nature, nature camps, and how to bring children’s curiosity of nature back.
Louv travels the world to discover various techniques different countries use in their education. Countries, such as Norway, do not have the similar scares of kidnapping and missing children reports as the United States does on a daily basis. Instead, Norway’s communities are interconnected to provide a sense of safety to its populations. Due to the “bogey man”, as Louv references society’s fears, children in the United States are more prone to staying inside than chancing going outside which hinders a child’s curiosity. Louv not only talks about a topic such as children staying inside, but all of the above mentioned topics as well which are connected to one another.
In order for Louv’s book to gain credibility, he interviews numerous people from children to parents to advocates for the environment. On occasion the facts would overwhelm me while reading due to the information overload, but after taking a breath and rereading a few times, the facts would pleasantly surprise me. A few people Louv kept throughout the book were his children. He shared personal stories to reinforce ideas and concepts through anecdotes which gave breaks to the facts. For example, one story Louv shares is a hiking trip he took his oldest son Matthew on with one of Matthew’s friend and his friend’s dad. The friend’s dad doesn’t inhibit his son’s curiosity for nature, but rather teaches the child to “be aware” instead of “be careful” which allows the child to continue curiously running through the forest, off the path. Louv also ends the book with an anecdote of taking his children up to a cabin and reading from a book called “Lion Hound.”
Overall, the book really delved deep into how nature affected a child’s mind, positively, and how society could gain back, and is beginning to, their connection to nature through urbanism. Cities, like Chicago, are beginning to “green up” their rooftop spaces, for example, by adding grass and plants to grow which lowers cooling costs along with various other costs. Entire villages and towns are becoming interconnected through nature paths and fewer roads which promote cleaner travel, such as walking, biking, or carpooling. The end of the book allows readers to envision a world of green rooftops and children running through streams, examining the organisms living in the water, before chasing a squirrel through safe woods. While the idea may be utopian, the basic principles of nature curiosity and an end to nature-deficit disorder, a term used often by Louv.
Much love, XOXO,
~A Writer Named Charley~