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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
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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.
Luckily, there are forces at work that are planning for a brighter future. Louv explores the success that some European countries have had with greening their urban spaces. Cities across America are working hard to preserve their open spaces, and to create more livable communities. Sustainability has evolved from a buzzword to a metric of public planning. Meanwhile, educators are discovering the real benefits of natural experience, and these ideas are being increasingly incorporated into schools and communities. He describes programs that connect farmers and hatcheries with schools, giving students opportunities for hands-on experience that can prove life changing. He paints a picture of the future in which our kids (and their kids) actually figure out how to divide resources, land, and responsibility in ways that are truly sustainable and foster health, connection, and community. We have the resources, technologies, and responsibility to make this a universal priority for all of us right now. It may be what saves us all.