I recently read The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, and was very impressed. I consider myself to be a bit of an outdoors enthusiast. I’m no Aron Ralston or anything, but I like to camp, hike, garden and spend time outdoors in just about every capacity, whether it be going to a park, a farmers market, a festival, or just a bar-be-cue in my own back yard. It never occurred to me that my children might not feel the same way about being outside as I do. Sure, I went to school with kids who would have rather been inside playing video games or watching TV than outside, but I figured they were the minority. I very much loved going to ride my bike in the open fields by my house, building forts and exploring creeks. I thought this was how most children of my generation spent their childhoods, and how future generations would also spend their childhoods.
Apparently not. In his book, Louv describes an affliction plaguing our children today he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. He talks about how children, now more often than not cut off from the outside world and confined in homes with computers, video games, tv, cell phones, etc., may be suffering negative side affects from being separated from nature and place instead in front of screens. Obesity, poor social skills, delayed learning, ADD and ADHD, depression, anxiety, depressed immune function, etc., etc., are all disorders in which Nature Deficit Disorder might be a significant (if not total) contributor.
Louv is not the first to criticize the “screen generation”. One look at websites for The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood or The New American Dream will show you just how big this issue is for a lot of parents. But never before have I heard or read someone take the position that children are missing something (in this case, nature), rather than just that they’re exposed to too much of something (TVs, computers and other screens). Louv argues that taking away the TV is not enough, you have to get the child out there into the world.
This will take more than just parental will power. We live in a world set up to discourage unstructured, creative play outdoors. We live in fear of kidnapping, cars and law suits, and this prevents us from letting our kids wander as far as our parents let us wander (or as our grandparents let our parents wander, or as our great-grandparents let our grandparents wander). Natural outdoor places are gradually being swallowed up by development, and city planning tends to prefer highly structured, sterile parks with play grounds and flat expanses of lawn (which are okay and have their place, but shouldn’t be the only outdoor space available to kids) instead of leaving some wild areas where kids can play. Kids spend much longer hours in school and extra curricular activities than they used to, and when they finally come home they have much more homework than they used to, so they don’t really have time for play. When they get some, they’re usually so exhausted they don’t have the energy to play. Who can blame them for wanting to sit on the couch in front of a TV?
Louv makes the case that things need to be done on the public policy level in addition to the parental level, but like with everything, the first changes have to come from home. There are good reasons to make the change, he says. Unstructured time spent in nature can help children stay healthy and fit, develop critical thinking skills, concentrate better on school work, increase creativity, increase feelings of self worth and confidence, develop a closer bond to you, develop better social skills, raise their IQ, develop more independence and just be all around happier.
This book has been one amongst many that have really gotten me thinking about what I’m going to do about sending Elijah to school. I do not care for public schools, but can certainly not afford private. What, oh what am I going to do? Be prepared for a lot of reviews on books about education in the near future.
Anyway, check out Last Child In the Woods. Its amazing. I think it will inspire you to have more fun with your kids.