From the beginning of the book, Richard Louv makes it clear that in his titling of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, he is not just trying to add another another opportunity for parents and physicians to diagnose children and prescribe corrective drugs. Yet, anyone who has had a childhood with time spent in nature should know the effect that keeping a child indoors and cooped up would have on that child’s development.
Louv assesses our current situation and looks at the various reasons of why children are spending so much less time in nature/less time outdoors. He asserts that although the “stranger danger” awareness (that has been proclaimed over the past few decades) holds some truth, it may have done more harm than good. Similarly, there is a healthy awareness of the natural dangers that nature holds, but then there is also an exaggerated terror. Often the overreaction to such hype is merely an illusion of guaranteed safety, and it comes at a price: the nature-deficit disorder. And then, there is the busyness, the hyper-parenting and over-schooling that all lead to spending less time in nature, as well.
The book is filled with anecdotes, so I’ll add my own. For the first eleven years of my life I grew up on eleven acres of land. I loved playing in our creek and taking walks in the woods. I was heartbroken when I heard we would be selling our house and vowed that I would never enjoy living in the city. (Not that it was truly urban–just a town, really; but vastly different from my first years of childhood, nonetheless.) My dad was very safety conscious, and even a bit beyond in some realms (e.g., making us hold his hands to cross the street while in our preteens). At the same time, he was quite reasonable and risk-taking in others (e.g., I was shooting a gun quite early in life, with his careful instruction). But to the point of how my childhood in the country relates to this book: my dad was concerned that there might be rapists roaming in our woods, which was very much a result of the stranger danger campaigns going on during that time. Our creek was accessed via a short walk through the woods, and as a result of my dad’s concerns I was never allowed to take this walk on my own (or even with another child). So it definitely didn’t happen as much as I wished–I did long for that alone time in nature. And although my dad’s overcautiousness meant I was not allowed license to roam the land, I was still afforded many opportunities that many of my city-dwelling cohorts did not experience. (Meanwhile my husband was roaming the mountains, parking garages, and streets of Korea with his brothers, and I’m gradually growing less and less shocked at what adventures they were permitted to have.)
Addressing the busyness factor, Louv acknowledged that it may be difficult for some to think that spending time in nature is essential if it is viewed from the perspective of being leisure time. To correct this, he points out the importance of spending time in nature in how it affects mental and physical health, both for the parent and child. When viewed from this paradigm, parents who make their preschoolers too busy with countless tutoring sessions and lessons to help “advance” the child will be more likely to make sure their children to spend sometime in nature.
The book also emphasizes that although nature can include a simple backyard or a park, it is quite important that we also view nature as “the wild” parts of nature, and spend time protecting and enjoying that realm, as well. He gives ideas and solutions, and recognizes that “some of any type” is better than “none.”
An interesting aspect that Louv addressed was the spiritual element of interacting with nature, and he even addressed some of the specific concerns that many conservative American Christians have regarding such interaction. I felt that he addressed these well, and seemingly, somewhat unbiasedly (at least, without knowing much more about the author than what is presented in the book.)
As a side point, and in conjunction with some of my other reading, I also thought about the common American Christian response to anything that hints of “environmentalism.” The apocalyptic view held by many American conservative Christians has predominately been used as the scapegoat that dominion is a license for destruction and that we can carelessly use nature and the environment without giving thought to how our use or misuse could impact nature and people in future generations. Of course, this is a misguided view, and in this view we show our anachrocentricism (I think I made that word up?), ethnocentrism, and narcissistic view of stewardship.
I did find the book to run on in many points and it could perhaps have been written more concisely (and consequently, briefly). For anyone who already sees the importance of spending time outdoors and in nature, little of the book will contain shocking revelations or new information. At the same time, it is a helpful book and does go over many helpful considerations and solutions. For anyone, though, I think this book is a wake-up call.
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