Last Child in the Woods - It's More Than a Holiday
I just read one of those books that could change the world. Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, is a best seller of such magnitude that its implications will send ripples through families, universities, and - hopefully - our entire culture.
In it, Louv coins the term “nature deficit disorder”, and gives the reader a shocking view into the wide range of issues today’s children face and how many of the issues can be blamed – at least in part - on how little direct contact with nature they have compared to earlier generations. The book opens the floodgates of contemporary studies that are in the process of proving that our electronic, indoor, hyper-compartmentalized lifestyles are liable for issues including ADHD and obesity – and that time in the natural world has therapeutic potential to help with the very same issues.
The other day I watched my twin three-year-olds grow hyper and irritable as a spring snowstorm prevented even a short play in the garden. It seemed obvious that the time outside was crucial to their learning and happiness as I reread a few of Louv’s best lines:
“Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.”
“As far as physical fitness goes, today’s kids are the sorriest generation in the history of the United States.”
“They (researchers) say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level.”
“Pediatricians now warn that today’s children may be the first generation of Americans since World War II to die at an earlier age than their parents.”
“The CDC found that the amount of TV that children watch directly correlates with measures of their body fat.”
“A study of Finnish teenagers showed that they often went into natural settings after upsetting events; there, they could clear their minds and gain perspective and relax.”
“There is a real world, beyond the glass, for children who look, for those whose parents encourage them to truly see.”
“Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle maintains that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age seven.”
“I was intrigued by the way children defined play: often, their definition did not include soccer or piano lessons. Those activities were more like work.”
“Typical Americans spend 101 minutes in their car daily, five times the amount they spend exercising.”
“Time in nature is not leisure time, it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
“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.”
Louv reveals that even our playgrounds, parks, and arenas are not providing the experience in the natural world that has nurtured children’s development since the beginning of time. And the Internet, while a gateway to the world in so many ways, is entirely devoid of the very same sensory experiences that nature supplies in abundance: the smell of a pine tree; the deep vibration of a wave crashing into a rocky shore; the tickle of a cool breeze blowing off a snowfield.
For adventure travelers, skiers, mountaineers, hikers, farmers, gardeners, sailors, surfers, people like us in the business of providing exceptional experiences in the natural world, or anyone who finds time in nature is essential to their health, "Last Child in the Woods" puts to words something we have been feeling for a long time.
Photo by Topher Donahue