Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reports a fourth-grader. Never before in history have children been so plugged in—and so out of touch with the natural world. In this groundbreaking new work, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation—he calls it nature deficit—to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression.

Some startling facts: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community. The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind.

Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards. Last child in the Woods is the first book to bring together cutting-edge research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development—physical, emotional, and spiritual. What’s more, nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and ADD. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Even creativity is stimulated by childhood experiences in nature.

Yet sending kids outside to play is increasingly difficult. Computers, television, and video games compete for their time, of course, but it’s also our fears of traffic, strangers, even virus-carrying mosquitoes—fears the media exploit—that keep children indoors. Meanwhile, schools assign more and more homework, and there is less and less access to natural areas.

Parents have the power to ensure that their daughter or son will not be the “last child in the woods,” and this book is the first step toward that nature-child reunion.

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3 Comments so far »

  1. Jon Wurtmann said,

    Wrote on March 9, 2013 @ 7:00 am

    189 of 195 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    unplug your kids – this book will convince you, May 23, 2005
    Jon Wurtmann (Saratoga Springs, NY) –

    I’m old enough to remember an unplugged childhood, and although I want my kids to play unfettered in the woods and waters, we’re a different society today. We can’t just let them wander alone, but we also owe them the natural formative experiences we enjoyed like building forts, treehouses and teepees, catching fish, frogs and critters, and observing nature – in nature, not through the TV. Although we try to limit the exposure to electronica – it’s a pervasive force in modern life. Louv shows through dozens of examples where kids today get their lessons and experiences – more often than not through the TV or computer screen. He’s concerned that a new generation of children is growing up detatched from the earth, who view it simply as a resource to be mined, drilled, and sold. He sees children losing the wonder of nature, and the earth losing a generation of would-be caretakers.

    As parents we don’t have to move to Montana, or trap our meals to make a positive impact. It can be many little things, like catching fireflies, wading in a small stream with your kids, following animal tracks in the snow. These are all no cost and high-benefit activities that we can do with our kids to introduce them to the wonder that lies just outside our doors.

    This book is a call to action. I’m giving it to the principal at my son’s elementary school. If you have kids, are thinking about having kids, or are concerned with the future of childhood – READ THIS BOOK!

    We had unplugged the tv for a few months and, frankly, were wavering. (We miss it too). After reading Last Child in the Woods, the TV is staying in the cellar. Maybe for the long haul!

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  2. K. Corn "reviewer" said,

    Wrote on March 9, 2013 @ 7:25 am

    137 of 144 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Its pure common sense – get kids out of the house, get them moving and have them see the REAL world, December 13, 2005
    K. Corn “reviewer” (Here) –
    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

    My “wake up call” came when my friend from the city brought her toddler to my home and the little girl cried in terror when her mother tried to get her to put her bare feet on the lawn, a lawn that was free of anything dangerous. We don’t have a dog so there weren’t even any “droppings” to worry about.

    A baby who was scared to touch ground? Her mother admitted that her offspring had never felt grass because her mother feared it might be too full of “germs”. I urged her to at least let her daughter smell a handful of freshly picked clover but she looked at me as though I were crazy.

    I then told her of summers spent barefoot, of exploring creeks and finding crayfish and even some snakes, of coming across a newborn fawn in the woods, etc.

    That’s when I realized that there could be a whole generation of children losing touch with the natural world around them and I started paying attention to the kids and teens in our neighborhood. Sure enough, very few of them were climbing trees, exploring creeks, walking through the nearby woods. Very few of them built forts or learned the joy of wading in a cold stream or simply lying on the grass and looking up at the clouds, listening to the birds or trying to identify the different types of trees in the neighborhood. All of these things were common activities for me as a child (admittedly, during a time when tv channels were limited to 3 or 4 and there weren’t video games or cellphones).

    If there is ONE POINT this book makes, it is that parents need to make an effort to help their children discover nature. Whether it is because parents are too busy or too fearful to let their children discover nature or whether kids have too many electronic devices to distract them and which prevent them from automatically turning to the pleasures of the outside world, the result is that children spend more and more time indoors and less time being active.

    Is it any wonder that there is an epidemic of childhood obesity? I’m not naive enough to suggest that spending time outside will cure obesity but I DO believe that it might encourage children to at least contemplate the idea of running through a grassy field, climbing a tree (carefully and respectfully) or simply chasing a butterfly through a meadow, trying to see where it goes.

    Most of all, this book might help both parents and children realize that nature can be as mysterious, powerful and awesome as any video game or television show (I’d say even MORE so). If our children, our future generations, are going to learn to care about the environment and preserving the wonders that are out there, it is up to parents, teachers and other role models in their lives to foster that appreciation…and, hopefully, that passion…early on.

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  3. Wayne A. Smith said,

    Wrote on March 9, 2013 @ 7:33 am

    56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    No One Knows How to Play Kick the Can Anymore…., March 31, 2009
    Wayne A. Smith (Newark, DE) –

    This review is from: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Paperback)

    Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is a timely book that needed to be written.

    The author’s point is that kids today are facing a nature deficit and that affects childhood obesity and even the potential for the next generation to appreciate the breadth of nature enough to want to preserve it. After all, if the local mall has an arboretum and that’s all you know as nature, that’s all you’ll expect.

    The culprit is not news to anyone, nor to any parent with enough income to plug their kids into all manner of electronic gadgets. Videogames, TV, computers and the like have proved a powerful pull on today’s children. The cost is a lack of simple play outdoors, exploring creeks, fields, rocks and trees (the author doesn’t count organized sports as nature exploration and rightly so in my book). It is sad, but not surprising to ask any kids under age 16 or so if the know how to play “Kick the Can.” Hardly any do, and even fewer have played.

    Louv offers a lot of data to back up the negative effects of this nature deficiency and some prescriptions to turn it around. While reestablishing phys ed in school will help, the answer is simple: parents, unplug your kids and kick them outside.

    Having said this, I felt the author could have made his points and supported them in a long magazine article. There really wasn’t enough for a full book and Louv gets repetitive and even inserts lists of ways to address the problem. I found myself scanning some sections later in the book because the points in those pages had been made before or the prescriptions he was offering were simplistic and I didn’t feel worthy of the full play he gave to some.

    That being said, important argument and point, I just wish I would have read this in about forty pages in a periodical.

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