2013 Reading books

Reading 2013: Last Child in the Woods

February 1, 2013



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 Disorderhe 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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  • Johanna Hanson February 2, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Long comment alert! 🙂

    I love talking with people who have read the same books! I read this a couple of years ago, but I too thought he dragged on a bit. However, it was really a wake up call for me and has really helped me think through what part outside/nature needs to play in our lives.
    I grew up with a lot of freedom, but we lived in a city. I took the buses/trams by myself, went through the “homeless” park by myself. My brother and I used to ride our bikes to the park, pack a picnic lunch and spend the day. I’m kind of surprised now that my mom let me do that, but I’m glad she did! It will be harder to transfer that to my kids though.

    To this day, I feel perfectly safe in a city — even in “scary” parts. But drop me in the woods or out in the middle of nowhere and I feel very unsafe.
    Brian had very protective parents and was allowed to do nothing. (Well, and he had to practice piano 6hrs a day, etc…but that’s a whole other topic)…
    Anyway…I want my kids to know how to enjoy and appreciate nature as well…even if we do end up living in a more city environment. (though I would love the country!)

    I know that I have an unhealthy view of danger. I tend to think it is bigger than it is. That is why I don’t watch the news. I can read the headlines about something and usually I’m okay though. (kidnapping or rapes is what really triggers my fear). But when I am at someone’s house that has the TV on all evening I get stressed out. I think because they repeat the story multiple times for each newscast it magnifies it in my mind. I *know* it is the same story over and over, but psychology it gets bigger and bigger as they repeat it.

    Another case for not watching tv/news constantly. I do think it has given our culture a false sense of reality.

    • Keren February 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      Daniel had a similar childhood in his city (Seoul), it sounds like, although he was also very close to nature and the mountains.

      He and I were just discussing this subject last night; and we were both commenting–would it be scary to allow our kids to do what he and his brothers did? Probably to a degree, though I realize there is a huge difference between kids being 5 and 3 and even 8 and 6. At the same time, I realize I may be feeding my child’s fears by repeated, perhaps unnecessary warnings about exaggerated dangers.

      But, I want them to be able to walk in the forest and feel comfortable–I realize how many times I say “Don’t do…that!” just because I don’t want there to be mess or dirt, too.

      Yes watching the news/TV or listening to scary radio shows constantly is a huge scare factor, in many, many aspects! 🙂

  • Erika February 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve seen this book several times, but I have yet to read it!

    As to the spiritual side of this topic, your comments about “dominion” and “environmentalism” made me think of Joel Salatin. Have you read any of his books? I think it was Holy Cows and Hog Heaven that really summed up well a balance of Western and Eastern thought that most Americans, especially American Christians, try to ignore.

    Of course, growing up with a forester for a dad (his department is actually that “of Conservation” and there’s also the Forestry “Stewardship” Council that provides the State’s certification), I was fairly familiar with those concepts. And though we joked about the “tree huggers” that truly worship nature, the exposure to God’s magnificent creation did affect my worship. In fact, I remember being shocked about a friend commenting that the second stanza of “How Great Thou Art” was fluff–but then I realized that she had grown up in Beirut, Lebanon, quite different from my childhood in Maine!

    So thanks for reminding me about this book. Especially since we now live in the outskirts of an industrial city on what used to be the open prairie! We have an incredibly large backyard with lots of grass (well, and our garden; no trees or bushes yet) and a creek in a gully down the street, but I do have to be intentional about getting my kids into the “wild”!

    • Keren February 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm


      Yes to Joel Salatin! I haven’t read any of his books, but the book The Omnivore’s Delimma focuses in on him for about a third of the book, so I felt like I got to know him better in that book. We enjoyed watching him in Food Inc., read about him in Time magazine (where I think he was listed as one of the top 100 influential people one year recently), and have read/listened to him through a smattering of other resources. I want to read something he’s actually authored, though; especially after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Since I’d read this recently, his reflections on the issue was actually influencing my commentary on this book here, as well. (I’m sure you know he shares our alma mater, too? :))

      Interesting thoughts about your childhood. (I think I knew that your dad worked as a forester, but not those specifics. :)). Also an interesting comparison about your friend who grew up in Lebanon. And cross-pollinating that example to other issues–I think that when we grow up not knowing, being informed about, or experiencing a component of life that is normal to others, that can drastically alter our view on many things even beyond the specifics that we are removed from. And such removal can occur in just a generation. I see this in the way many view birth, breastfeeding, etc…

      I always enjoy your thoughts on these things! 🙂

  • Erika February 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I haven’t read Omnivore’s Dilemma though I remember Michael Pollan in Food, Inc. too. Nutrition and related food issues would be one of my pet topics to research. I’ve taken a break from it to return to educational reading and other topics, but I might just have to consider his books.

    Salatin is definitely an inspirational speaker/writer! (And he shared my major too–yea, English!!) I chose the book I read because it was the only one that seemed to fit my life at this point (though I’ve always wanted to have a farm or at least some cows and chickens, but I’m not seeing that in our future!)

    And as far as your cross-pollinated thoughts, I agree! I’ve known a few “provincial” people over the course of my life (beyond just being simplistic or uneducated, but having a genuine lack of knowledge of anything else beyond their sphere and therefore no interest in anything but what they’ve always known), but in the last few years here, I have really witnessed the loss of optimism and vision that comes from choosing to remain in such blinders.

    Another related thought, we all have different perspectives on things, influenced by our own backgrounds, etc. and yet many people typically want to assume that someone else has the same perspective. It’s these assumptions that make building relationships challenging. God is teaching me more and more about listening to really understand the person I’m talking with. Very applicable to parenting especially!! So thankful for these unique little people in my life!