Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods and more recently The Nature Principle, is credited with coining the phrase nature deficit disorder which he uses to describe our rather recent separation from the outdoors and all its benefits.  I first read The Last Child in the Woods in 2008 or 2009 when I purchased the book for our school district's professional library.  Louv decribes the trend in the last two decades that either forces our children to be inside or at structured outdoor activities.  Gone, for many, are the days of free play on a neighborhood lot, tree house, or even playground.  Subdivision covenants often forbid basketball hoops on front driveways or "homemade play structures"  Fear of over  health and safety keep youngsters inside on warm, cold, or even overcast days.  Louv then quotes a myriad of studies that show the connection between such over caution and such results as hyperactivity, disinterest in nature itself, and even more frequent bullying.  Amazingly, it seems free play, rather than providing unsupervised opportunities for bullying, allows a more natural cooperation among kids where imagination sets the tone. 

Since publishing LCinW, Louv has appeared before many groups, resulting in over 80 cities in North America starting some type of GET OUTSIDE program.  His most recent book The Nature Principle and his website go beyond the problems children with nature deficit experience to focus on what adults are missing when we remain inside.  I haven't read this book yet, but feel compelled to do so after hearing Richard Louv speak at the Kimberly Library as part of Fox Cities Book Festival and the Fox Cities Read program.  I went to this event with three friends, all of us retired school teachers.  On our ride there, we shared how different today's world is from the one we grew up in, and even the world, our children experienced.  All of us had "special outdoor spots," places that were either our refuges or centers of our imaginative worlds.  Although all of us face some type of health issue as we age, we are all fighting the fight to stay active, to garden, to walk, and depending on the season to do a little snowshoeing, canoeing, or swimming.  Certainly there is a connection between our childhoods and our desire to stay active now.

If you have a child in your life,  check out Richard Louv's website and then get that child outside.  Take a walk, pack a picnic, visit a local park, or if you're really adventuresome try camping.  Yes. bugs are annoying and everyone wants air conditioning on hot days, but research (and the heart) shows that we were designed with an internal connection to the natural world.  My personal thought, of course, we're connected to the natural world; we are part of God's creation.

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