The Last Child in the Woods – Richard Louv

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I recently finished reading The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, and it occurred to me that some of the people who visit my website might also be interested in the topic of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in children. I reviewed the book on my GoodReads account, and thought that I would paste the review here as well.

The book raises a lot of interesting questions, and is fodder for much discussion about the future of many things – schooling, urbanization, litigation, and how children interact and view the outdoors. There’s a lot to be said about this book, and I invite commentary below.

If people would like, I would be happy to post more of my reviews of books on ecology, animal care, and the ways animals and human interact with one another in the future. There are a lot of books out there, many of them good, and I’d be happy to steer my readers towards the ones most pertinent to their own lives and the lives of their animals – whether rescued or not.

Without further ado, here’s the review:

I stand right on the edge of being the generation talked about in this book. I am young enough that I can remember a time without a computer in the house, where I wasn’t hooked up to the internet the way I am now. I can remember a time before wireless phones, caller ID, cell phones, and all of that. I’m old enough to be a bit concerned when I see kids spending all of their time in social gatherings on tablets, but also young enough that I’m sure I was That Kid only on a cellphone rather than a tablet. It’s an interesting conundrum.

All of that being said, as I read this book I understood the problem that Richard Louv is diagnosing when he talks about Nature-Deficit Disorder. I’ve talked to people only a little bit younger than me about nature and been mildly horrified when they’ve expressed not only zero interest in the environment, but also zero concern about it or desire to do anything to improve it. The notion of stewardship over local ecology is one that came to me naturally, something ingrained in me growing up gardening alongside my mom and exploring the forest behind our house before it got developed to be turned into another suburban community. I still feel the loss of that forest, where although I was terrified I climbed fallen trees. I still feel a draw to it, even though it’s gone. It’s part of why I live out in the middle of nowhere now, to be reconnected to the land. Hell, it’s part of why I want to call Montana my home once more.

Richard Louv makes a lot of bold claims in the book about the benefits that being in nature instill in children (and people in general.) He claims that being in nature helps restore focus to children with ADHD (to a decent extent, although acknowledges continued medication is likely needed), that it offers up a kind of secular spiritual experience, helps children develop confidence, curiosity, and a sense of place nothing else quite replaces. I can track how being in nature helped me develop, and I can say that learning about it is something that I’m still passionate about today. I can also note how relationships with animals and a closer attachment to nature has helped me with mental health problems of my own, and others I know. Maybe there’s something there to it? Yet it’s difficult to test.

All in all, this book is an interesting one that also paints a road forward towards a better relationship with nature. The book postulates an optimistic vision of the future – nature centric experiential learning in schools, less laws prohibiting natural play, green urbanization, and more sustainable living practices. I would like to see this come to fruition, though it would require a drastic paradigm shift in our current culture not only here in the West but in the world in general. Still, it is possible. We just need enough people to try.

This book gave me a lot of ideas for how to build my own little rescue and how I talk to kids and what experiences I can offer them when they come to my meet and greets. I can say that just last week, handing a child a disarticulated rat skeleton to play wish, I saw her work with it with a sense of wonder that was truly unique. To think she was trusted with something so delicate, and that she could manipulate it and see how it worked… it was something cool, and something I hope to bring to others more often.

So, yes, if you’re the parent of young children or someone who works with them often – give this book a try, or at least a flip through. It might give you more ideas about how to interact with them and new ways to expose them to the natural world on their own level.

Also, keep telling them to go play outside and encourage their unstructured play. Someday, maybe they start and they won’t want to stop.

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