When I was first approached about reviewing Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, I questioned whether this would be a title in which my readers would be interested and whether they would “buy into” the “nature deficit disorder” theory. However, since nature has always been a very integral part of my life and I vividly remember the impact nature had on me as a child, I decided that I needed to explore the possibility.
Yes, the ideas that our children watch too much television and play too many videos games is mentioned in this book. However, it is so much more than the usual complaints and observations we have been hearing over recent years. The range of topics covered in this text which relate to nature in a child’s life is amazing. From physical and emotional health issues to a true understanding of the natural world to the negative impact of nature detachment on society’s future progress, Louv explains the essential need for nature in our lives, beginning with a love and respect sparked in childhood.
I was particularly impressed with the sections on the need for unstructured “free play” with “loose parts” in a “green” setting. Remember when you were young and you built forts in the hedges or tree houses in the orchard? Did you ever sit in a butter bean tent and allow your imagination to drift to another place and time? There was no structure, no time limits, no restrictions – this is “free play.” “Loose parts”, while an odd term on paper, is so logical in retrospect. Anything we found could be used to enhance our imaginary world. A stick became a walking stick or a magic wand or a symbol of peace that had to be quickly delivered to a faraway village. Leaves and flowers adorned our hair; the caps of acorns became our tea cups and pine cones decorated our tables. A large rock was a mountain and a tiny creek was a river to be forged. In this instance, a “green” setting is not necessarily one that is ecologically friendly or that is even green! It is a natural nature setting that is basically without man-made additions. Not a playground with swings and seesaws, but just pure nature – streams, hills, valleys, trails cut by native animals, native plants…You get the picture!
With our busy lives, organization is the name of the game. Every activity must fit into a time slot on our calendar or in our PDAs. While no one can argue that some structure is not good, too much structure hampers a child’s imagination and creativity. In fact, Louv shows through his research that most children, when asked about their play time, do not consider scheduled activities such as Scouts, soccer teams, or even play dates to be “play.” They are simply another scheduled activity. The benefits of unstructured, unfettered time for a child’s imagination – and body - to run wild include the ability to de-stress, the desire to be creative, and the tools to learn how relax and relate.
Also of great interest to me was the research on the links between ADD/ADHD and interaction with nature. I have long believed that ADD/ADHD is over-diagnosed and over-medicated. I am NOT saying that there are not legitimate cases of ADD/ADHD or that medication is not needed. However, there are compelling, eye-opening arguments for nature interaction that are highly logical (with the data to back it up) in promoting the needs of a child to interact with nature in order to release the pent up energy and exercise the body and mind in ways that reduce the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
After reading Last Child in the Woods, I revisited many of my childhood nature lessons. I can guarantee you that without them, I would not be the same person I am today. The concerns that Louv’s raises not only about our children but also about our society in regards to our detachment from nature are disturbing. If his projections are even close to accurate, we need to make a change quickly in how we incorporate nature into our daily lives. I strongly suggest that you read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods; I do not believe anyone can read this book without experiencing a profound impact on the way they view nature as a necessary element in their lives.