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Home Other Books Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

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by Richard Louv

Algonquin books of Chapel Hill / Thomas Allen & Son, Ltd.

Second Printing 2008

Paperback, $14.95 U.S. / $19.95 CDN

ISBN - 10:156512605X

ISBN - 13:9781565126053

Louv’s thesis is that society today is teaching young people to avoid direct experience with nature. He also contends that such contact with nature is incredibly beneficial for the mental health and physical health of our youth. This is especially the case where such exposure is unstructured, letting the child’s imagination run wild. He then sadly quotes a San Diego fourth grader that he (sadly) prefers indoor play because “that is where all the electrical outlets are.” Louv’s book has become a rallying point for a movement concerned that youngsters today are deprived of contact with nature.

Last Child in the Woods refers to work by Edith Cobb who detailed how many great people through history and from diverse cultures invariably related how their inventiveness and creativity came from early exposure to nature. These seem to be rooted in ecstatic memories requiring space, freedom, discovery and exposure to all five senses. This is hard to get from a video game…

We are currently dealing with an epidemic of juvenile obesity while concurrently experiencing the biggest increase in organised sports in history. This suggests that organised sports might not be what kids are lacking to keep off extra weight. We are also dealing with an explosion of prescriptions for Ritalin™ and anti-depressants among youth. There is evidence that obesity, attention disorders, and depression can all be remedied through early and frequent exposure to nature. Such exposure is also essential for young people to grow into adults who appreciate nature and strive to protect it. We rarely appreciate what we cannot put a name on while kids who capture frogs, fish, and bugs are likely to know the names of such creatures.

Louv describes a young John Muir as a kid who fashioned a homemade gun and ran along the beach shooting seagulls. Yet this boy learned about nature and eventually grew to appreciate it to the point where he may have been the greatest environmentalist of all time. Muir ultimately founded the Sierra Club and is largely credited with saving California’s redwood forests and Yosemite Valley. Today the behaviour young Muir once exhibited is largely discouraged by society. Even environmentalists are probably to blame, leaving little room for youthful exuberance in today’s over-regulated parks. Boy Scouts are also moving aware from hands-on experience with nature, increasingly catering to computer camps rather than learning about fishing.

Louv looks at the biographies of many famous people through history and notes that many of them from Claude Monet to Eleanor Roosevelt claimed to be inspired by nature. But we are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature…

Traditionally seven types of intelligence have been described: linguistic; logical-mathematical; spatial; bodily kinaesthetic; musical; interpersonal; and intrapersonal. More recently, naturalist intelligence has also been recognised. Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Rachel Carson are suggested as being giants in this field.

Louv’s book sounds an alarm, but is not all doom and gloom. Addressing parents, teachers, lawyers, and politicians, he gives many prescriptions for how to reverse the general decline of exposure to nature in today’s young people. These prescriptions range from planting butterfly gardens to creating nature gyms to encouraging kids to play in the dirt. His views certainly challenge many conventional wisdoms, among them about the intrinsic merits of bringing computers into the classroom and some efforts by such groups as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

During a recent interview I conducted for an article about fishing with kids, Quebec environmentalist Daniel Green praised the merits of teaching kids to fish “so that they will notice when something goes wrong in the environment.” Similarly I hear staff at Montreal’s Ecomuseum say that kids today know all about tigers and elephants from watching television documentaries, but may have never seen or touched a frog or snake. Louv, Daniel Green, and Ecomuseum staff all seem to be singing the same song.

There is a movement afoot to bring author Richard Louv to Montreal, possibly around Earth Day, 2010.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September 2011 22:49  


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