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Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder Paperback – April 22, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Scientific AmericanUnstructured outdoor play was standard for me as a hyperactive child growing up in the rural Midwest. I fondly recall digging forts, climbing trees and catching frogs without concern for kidnappers or West Nile virus. According to newspaper columnist and child advocate Richard Louv, such carefree days are gone for America’s youth. Boys and girls now live a "denatured childhood," Louv writes in Last Child in the Woods. He cites multiple causes for why children spend less time outdoors and why they have less access to nature: our growing addiction to electronic media, the relinquishment of green spaces to development, parents’ exaggerated fears of natural and human predators, and the threat of lawsuits and vandalism that has prompted community officials to forbid access to their land. Drawing on personal experience and the perspectives of urban planners, educators, naturalists and psychologists, Louv links children’s alienation from nature to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, stress, depression and anxiety disorders, not to mention childhood obesity. The connections seem tenuous at times, but it is hard not to agree with him based on the acres of anecdotal evidence that he presents. According to Louv, the replacement of open meadows, woods and wetlands by manicured lawns, golf courses and housing developments has led children away from the natural world. What little time they spend outside is on designer playgrounds or fenced yards and is structured, safe and isolating. Such antiseptic spaces provide little opportunity for exploration, imagination or peaceful contemplation. Louv’s idea is not new. Theodore Roosevelt saw a prophylactic dose of nature as a counter to mounting urban malaise in the early 20th century, and others since have expanded on the theme. What Louv adds is a focus on the restorative qualities of nature for children. He recommends that we reacquaint our children and ourselves with nature through hiking, fishing, bird-watching and disorganized, creative play. By doing so, he argues, we may lessen the frequency and severity of emotional and mental ailments and come to recognize the importance of preserving nature. At times Louv seems to conflate physical activity (a game of freeze tag) with nature play (building a tree fort), and it is hard to know which benefits children most. This confusion may be caused by a deficiency in our larger understanding of the role nature plays in a child’s development. At Louv’s prompting, perhaps we will see further inquiry into this matter. In the meantime, parents, educators, therapists and city officials can benefit from taking seriously Louv’s call for a "nature-child reunion."
“[The] national movement to ‘leave no child inside’ . . . has been the focus of Capitol Hill hearings, state legislative action, grass-roots projects, a U.S. Forest Service initiative to get more children into the woods and a national effort to promote a ‘green hour’ in each day. . . . The increased activism has been partly inspired by a best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, and its author, Richard Louv.” —The Washington Post
“Last Child in the Woods, which describes a generation so plugged into electronic diversions that it has lost its connection to the natural world, is helping drive a movement quickly flourishing across the nation.” —The Nation’s Health
“This book is an absolute must-read for parents.” —The Boston Globe
“An honest, well-researched and well-written book, . . . the first to give name to an undeniable problem.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“One of the most thought-provoking, well-written books I’ve read in recent memory. It rivals Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.” —The Cincinnati Enquirer
“Important and original. . . . As Louv so eloquently and urgently shows, our mothers were right when they told us, day after day, ‘Go out and play.’” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Last Child in the Woods is the direct descendant and rightful legatee of Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder. But this is not the only thing Richard Louv has in common with Rachel Carson. There is also this: in my opinion, Last Child in the Woods is the most important book published since Silent Spring.” —Robert Michael Pyle, author of Sky Time in Gray’s River
“A single sentence explains why Louv’s book is so important: ‘Our children,’ he writes, ‘are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world.’ This matters, and Last Child in the Woods makes it patently clear why and lays out a path back.” —The Ecologist
“With this scholarly yet practical book, Louv offers solutions today for a healthier, greener tomorrow.” —Washington Post Book World
“The simplest, most profound, and most helpful of any book I have read on the personal and historical situation of our children, and ourselves, as we move into the twenty-first century.” —Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth
From the Back Cover
In his groundbreaking work about the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, journalist and child advocate Richard Louv directly links the absence of nature in the lives of today's wired generatoin to some of the most disturbing childhood trends: the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. This is the first book to bring together a body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional helath of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions to heal the broken bond.
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Top Customer Reviews
Nature deficit disorder is MORE prevalent in adults than in children, and we are passing the disease on to them by rearing them in a way that reflects our chosen values. It is something like parents who smoke and drink while telling their kids not to do the same. Not only is it an ineffective strategy, it is also a disingenuous one.
I really wanted to like this book, because I agree that exposure to nature is important, but let's find more empirical data to support that notion, then communicate an objective argument, and propose plans based on that evidence. Ranting about the evils of technology and how things were different "back in my day" is not going to inspire change in younger generations. While guilt and judgement are powerful motivators, it will take an inspirational, fact-based, and relatable movement to trigger a cultural shift.
There are things learned in nature, Louv posits, that cannot be learned anywhere else, not from books, or stories, or even the finest universities. Schools themselves may be partially responsible for our disenfranchisement from nature since the naturalist curriculum has been all but dropped from today’s scholastic regimen. Gone are the terrariums, the aquariums and the mini biospheres. Math and sciences such as microbiology and chemical engineering have taken center stage while naturalists have become the poor second cousins. And yet, where would the world be without naturalists like John Muir or Teddy Roosevelt? Without state and national parks is where had Muir and Roosevelt not had the contact with the natural world they’d both experienced as children.
According to Louv, in today’s world we’re “continually on the alert.” As more of the natural world is lost to pavement, the incessant images pouring from our televisions and computers and iPhones have become our constant companions. Louv doesn’t point a single finger, but a dozen. He considers various factors such as suburban sprawl which takes away the number of places a child can find solitude in nature, as well as a hyper-vigilant society that is always worried about where our children are and whether any harm may befall them. The latter is not a bad thing. However, it is significant to note that statistically, our children are in no more danger today than at other times in history. It just seems that way given our 24/7 newsfeed that inundates us with bad news and spares us the good.
Other factors: soccer practice vs. a hammer and nails. Louv surmises that while structured play provides exercise it is sorely lacking in the very thing that unstructured play provides to kids: time to breathe and grow and make connections they may not have made because every second of their day is accounted for; time to formulate opinions; time to dream. Kids gravitate to the corners of a playground, Louv says, the tree line, the rock formations, the nooks and crannies, the creeks. A wide open space with nothing but grass is a bore. Kids need less structure and more dimension to spur creativity. For Louv, building a tree fort in his backyard and keeping a turtle that his father had saved from being run over on the highway opened up more synapses in his brain and avenues in his life than winning any soccer game ever could. I’m not dismissing organized sports, simply making a case for a more well-rounded childhood experience.
Louv draws on study after study to prove his point and after ten years of research, felt comfortable enough to coin the term “nature deficit disorder.” Neither harbinger of doom nor bell toller, Louv offers positive suggestions about how to begin solving some of these very complex issues -- starting with getting the kids off the couch and back out into the yard -- and paints a beautiful portrait of where, with just a bit of effort, we all could be.