Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv
If you only have time to read one book about why it's so important for your child to stay connected to the natural world, this is it.
In fact, Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder should be required reading for anyone who is concerned about humanity's growing alienation from nature and the consequent diminished use of the senses, spiraling attention difficulties, and increased rates of physical and emotional illnesses.
“NDD”, Louv says, can be detected in individuals, families, even whole communities. In part, Louv blames the incredible time pressures to which we submit ourselves and our kids. Given everything else we're trying to cram into our lives – work, school, sports teams, music lessons – Nature is getting the very short end of the stick. But the author also attributes a large part of the problem to the increasingly dominant role that computers, television, and other technologies play in our lives. “Children prefer to connect to electrical outlets” rather than to the world around them, Louv observes, and the health impacts are substantial. Two-thirds of American children can't pass a basic physical: 40 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls ages six to seventeen can't manage more than one pull-up; and 40 percent show early signs of heart and circulation problems, according to a new report by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
For parents worried their kids might get hurt playing outside, Louv asks, “So where is the greatest danger? Outdoors, in the woods and fields? Or on the couch in front of the TV?”
One inspiring solution, suggests Louv, is to re-imagine your city or suburb as a “zoopolis,” a word that rhymes with “metropolis.” Louv believes cities can be transformed into much more natural habitats through intentional land planning, creative architectural design and targeted public education. Doing so will “re-enchant the city” by bringing animals and plants back in and make it possible to reside with Nature, rather than apart from it.
Louv makes a compelling argument. Nature, he says, “offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture's fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy; a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”
Clearly, Louv delights in observing that “nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees… Nature – the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful – offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot. Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity.”
Immersion in the natural environment cuts to the chase, Louv reminds us, exposing the young directly and immediately to the very elements from which humans evolved: earth, water, air, and other living kin, large and small. Without that experience, he says, “we forget our place; we forget that larger fabric on which our lives depend.”
Last Child in the Woods convincingly argues that direct involvement with Nature is essential for healthy childhood development, as well as for the physical and emotional health of both children and adults.