Friday, January 8, 2010

Somewhere out in the blogosphere I saw this book, "Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv and I knew that I would have to read it. I waited nearly 3 months in a list of people trying to get a hold of the only copy in our library system. Now I have it and only for 2 more weeks before I have to turn it in for the next person to enjoy. I am going to try to write a *brief* summary of the book, but I highly recommend it for parents, educators, and anyone involved with children to get an idea of the implications of raising our young ones so separated from nature.

The New Relationship Between Children and Nature

Louv starts off the book by showing what kind of world our children are being born into. My grandparents' generation was very much in contact with farms and natural life. My parents' generation may have been removed from that one step, but they still would have family or friends in the rural settings. Even my generation might still retain an element of that contact. The vast majority of the children today, however, are growing up in very urban environments, having far less contact with nature than anyone before them. Due to highly regulated housing communities, fear of litigation, concerns over crime and lack of access, more and more children are growing up indoors. Fort-building has been replaced by TV; exploration by Wii. As one 4th-grade child being surveyed explained, "I like to play indoors better 'cause' that's where all the electrical outlets are." It is yet to be fully revealed what the outcomes of these changes will mean, but it coincides with an increase in children with obesity, ADHD, depression, diabetes, and on and on.

Not only are our children further removed from nature, the very definition of nature is less and less clear in this age of technology. Animals have been cloned; research is being done on how to change nature's colors (i.e. tree leaves changing when toxins are in the air; butterfly wings in the pattern of brand logos, etc). On top of the morphing of nature, "fake" nature replaces the real thing: Rainforest Cafes, videos of nature, synthetic rocks...

Why the Young (and the Rest of Us) Need Nature

We innately know that nature is necessary for our health and well-being, but it is only recently that more and more studies are being done on how nature might effect us on all levels of existence from creativity to self-image, from mental health to spirituality. It is a difficult topic to test with clear controls as nature and our response to it is very subjective, but results have shown that exposure to nature improves quality of life, and it is becoming clearer just how extensive the reverse is also true: lack of nature decreases quality of life.


Thankfully, I was able to finish this book before I had to return it to the library, however, with Christmas, New Years, and all the travels in between, I haven't been able to write down my notes and thoughts for the rest of this summary. I found the first half of the book more interesting anyway as the second half got a little more technical. Here's what it covered in brief:

Louv took time to explain how our fears of letting our children loose in nature are generally misinformed. Nearly all cases of child abduction occur within the child's family. As far as health and safety, children are typically good at recognizing the limits of their abilities and with training, they can also learn the potential dangers in nature (poisonous vegetation, sounds of wasps, etc...)

Much of the end of the book deals with what is currently taking place in the US and Western Europe to return society to nature, whether in curriculums, clubs, legislation, land management, "green" living, etc... He gives suggestions for how parents and concerned adults can be involved in both small and large ways towards preserving what little "wild" is left, creating new natural habitats, and giving our children a chance to experience life outside of four walls.

Again, Louv's book is packed with information that I couldn't even briefly touch. This is a great book to read as we go from winter to spring to get us ready to embrace the great outdoors with the return of warmer days. I've been inspired to be intentional about taking my children outside and into nature.

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Comments (2)

On January 24, 2010 at 3:55 AM , Anna said...

That sounds really good. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately as I pull out a snack for Rosalind or get her something to drink: she doesn't know where this comes from. We just buy it.

One of my goals for this year is to spend MUCH more time outside and hopefully have a real garden... if we aren't gone again all summer. :)

On January 24, 2010 at 1:04 PM , Jia Le said...

Hi, Anna. I know what you mean about traveling. It is such a struggle for me to balance wanting to see family and knowing what I can do with the kids/house/ministry by just staying put. I hope you can get a garden in this summer.. if not at your house, then maybe your family's.