November 9, 2010

Last Child in the Woods

My mother and I were talking the other day (we do that sometimes) and she mentioned that she had just finished an interesting book about nature-deficit disorder and the importance of getting kids outside.  She graciously mailed her copy to me and I just finished it a few days ago.

Written by Richard Louv, this book discusses why we need nature, what has happened to create the disconnect between children and nature and what steps we can take as parents, and as a community, to change this.

It was a fascinating read.  He presented several studies to support his ideas, but most of the information was anecdotal.  I felt that while it was well-written, the language is just a little too scholarly which makes it inaccessible to the average parent or community planner.

As I read the book I kept wanting to give a copy to the housing office so they would see the importance of allowing free, open play spaces instead of small playgrounds.  I wanted them to relax their rules about building forts and treehouses and allow us to walk in the "undeveloped" areas.  But I knew the language of the book would stop them from reading it and/or understanding it.

Many of the author's ideas, and those of the experts he interviewed, are a little 'out there'.  I do not see our society embracing, or even accepting, a move to a planned rural community where everyone has their own garden and each person works to support the needs of the community.  We're not there and we are not moving in that direction.

I have seen my children become more calm, more cheerful, more talkative as we spend more time outside.  Each of them, at different times, have told me how much they love to be outside, how it helps them feel calm and that they love to "get away from it all."  They seem more grounded and more at peace the more time we spend outside.  My house is also cleaner since they aren't around to mess it up!

I took away the following ideas I hope to implement in our family:

1.  More time outside.  Lots more.  And try to spend time outside in different weather.  Just because it's raining doesn't mean they shouldn't go outside.

2.  Try to find natural spaces for them to explore.  This is hard.  We live in a planned community and the trees are 1-year-old (tiny little things).  We also live in West Texas and there are no forests, no beautiful green places, nowhere to hike or explore.  It's mostly cacti, and cacti and a few more cacti.  We are searching out places though and are trying to learn to appreciate the beauty of where we are.

3.  Learn to identify the plants, trees and animals in our local area.  As Louv pointed out kids know more about the rain forest than they do about their own backyard.

4.  Allow them opportunities to interact with nature.  I'm the kind of mom that tells them not to pull leaves off trees or pick flowers or move rocks to look for bugs.  "Leave no trace" is my motto.  Well, I'm trying to change that.  We're pulling acorns off trees and peeling them apart to see what's inside. We're opening seed pods and digging in the dirt.  We're touching and feeling and smelling.  As much as possible we try to do minimal damage, but I want them now to know nature, not just know about it.

5.  Continue with our nature study.  The author expressed concern that there is a shortage of people who can teach geology, biology, and other 'nature' type classes.  I want my boys to have that knowledge, whether they use it professionally or not.  We're slowly building a library of natural science books and investing in tools like magnifying lenses, microscopes, binoculars and such.

6.  Plan for nature experiences.  I've found that if I don't plan on taking them on a hike or camping or to 'be' outside, then it doesn't happen.  We are now putting it on the calendar.  On this day we WILL go to the river or into the wash or whatever.  This also creates an anticipation which makes the experience more magical.

Overall I highly recommend this book.  The language can be a little stiff, but it's worth slogging through.  It's a fantastic motivator for overcoming any hesitations you might have about getting outside.


  1. I've heard good things about this book, but if it is a drudgery to read then I doubt I would get through it. I am terrible like that lol!!

    Does he give some kind of recommendations on how much time kids should spend outdoors. I know the more the better but for city kids sometimes that is unrealistic...does he give anything in terms of hours per week or something similar?

  2. Kylie - I don't remember that he gives a specific amount of time to be outside but he does endorse the Green Hour people who encourage at least an hour outside a day. Louv also really likes the schools with outside classrooms and kindergartens held in parks and such, so in some ways he advocates the whole day outside!

    My boys and I are sometimes just going outside on a blanket or folding chairs to read our school books or do math worksheets or play "educational" games. We're in our yard, with no bushes or trees, with the next house a few feet away, but we're outside. We do find bugs and birds and can see the clouds though. Other times we actively try to "be in nature." Truthfully, we have to drive to find what most people would consider 'nature' so we do the best we can during the day when we have no access to the car and spend our evenings or weekends going to 'nature' places. After our schoolwork is done I let them play outside at the playground, but that's mostly running around on a basketball court or on the flat grass or swinging and going down slides. The trees they planted here are as tall as my kids!

  3. I read this a couple of years ago and had to look up my review because I couldn't remember if I liked it or not. I said,
    "I don't know if I'd recommend this one because it just seemed wordy. But I liked the overall message. Perhaps I got antsy reading about hiking with my kids instead of actually going hiking with them."
    I bet that if we adults just got down on our knees and looked at things as children do (turn over a rock, compare grass and tree leaves) we could show them the amazing things in nature even if all we have is a nearby park.
    I love your posts, btw!