I’m reading a book right now called, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.
I have to tell you that it’s completely blown me away. It’s a complete wake up call for parents. It states something so obvious, it’s a wonder we’ve ignored it for so long.
He writes, “Our children are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world.” Read that again. I wonder if we realize the impact that this will have not only on our children, but their ability to care for and connect to nature. I wonder if it will prevent them from taking the proper steps to see how valuable it is and to protect it in generations to come.
In the beginning of the book, Louv quotes a 4th grade boy from San Diego who candidly said, “I like to play indoors better cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” On the surface this quote is funny but the amount of truth it carries is incredibly painful. We are raising a generation of children who are living in an over protected, overly sanitized, man made world. They are not experiencing the simple joy that we experienced – being able to disappear into our own world and experience freedom and thought away from adults.
Even when our children do have the opportunity to experience nature, they are oblivious to it. The book describes a commercial which he says, “…depicts a four wheel-drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream – while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen.” Does this hit home to any other parents out there?
I could go on and on about the importance of reading this book. It’s one of those books, for me, that will be life changing. It will, and already has, affected how I’m raising my children. Today I plan to take them on a walk in the woods across the street – a place I had forbidden them to go… And after many trips there, when I have built up confidence, I plan to let them go there on their own.
It’ll be baby steps for me, but I am convinced that this will be an essential part of their childhood, who they are, and who they become, and I can’t allow the fear, so common in today’s parents, to allow me to raise them in this child safe, air conditioned, carpeted environment any longer.
Some of my most precious childhood memories are of climbing trees and looking out across the landscape, of using my imagination and building forts, of afternoons spent on my Great Grandmother’s farm chasing cows, fishing with a homemade rod, throwing pebbles in the creek and watching fish scatter, collecting pine cones, exploring fields, discovering the broken light blue shell of a Robin’s egg, and eating blackberries warm from the sun or tasting the sweetness of wild honeysuckle. I want my children to have these memories, too.
The author has given permission to reprint this article. Enjoy.
BEYOND NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER
It’s Time to Turn Consciousness into Action
By Richard Louv
Author of Last Child in The Woods
Got dirt? “In South Carolina, a truckload of dirt is the same price as a video game!” reports Norman McGee, a father in that state who bought a small pickup-load of dirt for his daughter and friends.
McGee is turning consciousness into action. So is Liz Baird, who keeps a “wonder bowl” available for her children.
When Baird was a little girl she would fill her pockets with natural wonders—acorns, rocks, mushrooms. “My Mom got tired of washing clothes and ?nding these treasures in the bottom of the washer or disintegrated through the dryer,” Liz recalls. “So she came up with ‘Liz’s Wonder Bowl,’ and the idea was that I could empty my pockets into the bowl. I could still enjoy my treasures, and try to ?nd out what things were, and not cause trouble with the laundry.”
McGee and Baird are among the thousands of parents who have joined – and are leading – an international children and nature movement. Sometimes known as Leave No Child Inside, the effort is bringing together people from all walks of life, who are creating grassroots regional campaigns, state and national legislation, and changes in their own families to help children become happier, healthier and smarter.
An emerging body of scientific knowledge links nature time to longer attention spans, better cognitive functioning, reduction of stress, and strengthened family bonds. What better way to enhance parent-child attachment than to walk in the woods together, disengaging from distracting electronics, advertising, and peer pressure?
Howard Frumkin, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at Centers for Disease Control, recently describes the clear benefits of nature experiences to healthy child development, and to adult well-being.
“In the same way that protecting water and protecting air are strategies for promoting public health, protecting natural landscapes can be seen as a powerful form of preventive medicine,” he says. He believes that future research about the positive health effects of nature should be conducted in collaboration with architects, urban planners, park designers, and landscape architects. “Of course, there is still much we need to learn, such as what kinds of nature contact are most beneficial to health, how much contact is needed and how to measure that, and what groups of people benefit most. But we know enough to act.”
If you’re a parent who missed out on nature as a child, now’s your chance. Indeed, all the gifts of nature that come to children also come to the good adult who introduces a child to nature.
Young people are acting, too, by becoming natural leaders in the movement. For example, a seven-year-old girl in Virginia rounded up her friends and enrolled them in her own Girls Gone Wild in Nature Club. Together they organize backyard campouts and bug hunts.
In Mississippi, teenager Josh Morrison founded Geeks in the Woods (www.geeksinthewoods.org) for his friends and fellow geeks everywhere. He defines “geek” as a “gaming environmentally educated kid,” and says he and his friends — “tired of being labeled” tech addicts — can have their PlayStations and their outdoor time too: “We could be the generation that makes a U-turn back to . . . a balance between virtual reality and what sustains all life . . . nature.”
FIVE ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE TODAY
1. Go for a family walk when the moon is full. There’s a whole new set of animals, sights and sounds out there. Listen to animals calling. Owls and bats are looking for prey. Watch for things glowing, like worms and fungus on trees. And look up at the stars.
2. Help your child discover a hidden universe. Find a scrap board and place it on bare dirt. Come back in a day or two, lift the board, and see how many species have found shelter there. Identify them with the help of a field guide. Return to this universe once a month, lift the board and discover who’s new.
3. Tell your children stories about your special childhood places in nature. Then help them find their own: leaves beneath a backyard willow, the bend of a creek, the meadow in the woods. Let it become their intimate connection with the natural world.
4. Revive old traditions. Collect lightning bugs at dusk, release them at dawn. Make a leaf collection. Keep a terrarium or aquarium. Go crawdadding—tie a piece of liver or bacon to a string, drop it into a creek or pond, wait until a crawdad tugs.
5. Invent your own nature game. One mother’s suggestion: “We help our kids pay attention during longer hikes by playing ‘find ten critters’—mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, snails, and other creatures. Finding a critter can also mean discovering footprints, mole holes, and other signs that an animal has passed by or lives there.”
Adapted from LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS by Richard Louv, © 2008. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
In our families and our communities, it’s time to take action. That’s why the new, expanded 2008 edition of “Last Child in the Woods” contains a “Field Guide” with 100 Actions that families and communities can take, along with discussion questions, a report on the movement, and other resources for parents, educators, conservationists, business people and community leaders.
For more information on the Second Edition of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” go to http://www.lastchildinthewoods.com. To help build the movement, please join the Children & Nature Network at http://www.childrenandnature.org