9781565123915

Last Child In The Woods

by
  • ISBN13:

    9781565123915

  • ISBN10:

    1565123913

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2005-04-15
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
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Summary

"I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are," reports a fourth-grader. Never before in history have children been so plugged in'”and so out of touch with the natural world. In this groundbreaking new work, child advocacy expert Richard Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation'”he calls it nature deficit'”to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression. Some startling facts: By the 1990s the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. Today, average eight-year-olds are better able to identify cartoon characters than native species, such as beetles and oak trees, in their own community. The rate at which doctors prescribe antidepressants to children has doubled in the last five years, and recent studies show that too much computer use spells trouble for the developing mind. Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they're right in our own backyards. Last child in the Woods is the first book to bring together cutting-edge research showing that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development'”physical, emotional, and spiritual. What's more, nature is a potent therapy for depression, obesity, and ADD. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Even creativity is stimulated by childhood experiences in nature. Yet sending kids outside to play is increasingly difficult. Computers, television, and video games compete for their time, of course, but it's also our fears of traffic, strangers, even virus-carrying mosquitoes'”fears the media exploit'”that keep children indoors. Meanwhile, schools assign more and more homework, and there is less and less access to natural areas. Parents have the power to ensure that their daughter or son will not be the "last child in the woods," and this book is the first step toward that nature-child reunion.

Table of Contents

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xi
INTRODUCTION 1(6)
PART I: THE NEW RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHILDREN AND NATURE
1. Gifts of Nature
7(8)
2. The Third Frontier
15(12)
3. The Criminalization of Natural Play
27(12)
PART II: WHY THE YOUNG (AND THE REST OF US) NEED NATURE
4. Climbing the Tree of Health
39(15)
5. A Life of the Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind
54(16)
6. The "Eighth Intelligence"
70(15)
7. The Genius of Childhood: How Nature Nurtures Creativity
85(13)
8. Nature-Deficit Disorder and the Restorative Environment
98(17)
PART III: THE BEST OF INTENTIONS: WHY JOHNNIE AND JEANNIE DON'T PLAY OUTSIDE ANYMORE
9. Time and Fear
115(8)
10. The Bogeyman Syndrome Redux
123(9)
11. Don't Know Much About Natural History: Education as a Barrier to Nature
132(13)
12. Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?
145(16)
PART IV: THE NATURE-CHILD REUNION
13. Bringing Nature Home
161(15)
14. Scared Smart: Facing the Bogeyman
176(11)
15. "telling Turtle Tales: Using Nature as a Moral Teacher
187(14)
PART V. THE JUNGLE BLACKBOARD
16. Natural School Reform
201(22)
17. Camp Revival
223(10)
PART VI: WONDER LAND: OPENING THE FOURTH FRONTIER
18. The Education of Judge Thatcher: Decriminalizing Natural Play
233(6)
19. Cities Gone Wild
239(26)
20. Where the Wild Things Will Be: A New Back-to-the-Land Movement
265(20)
PART VII: To BE AMAZED
21. The Spiritual Necessity of Nature for the Young
285(16)
22. Fire and Fermentation: Building a Movement
301(8)
23. While It Lasts
309(2)
NOTES 311(10)
SUGGESTED READING 321

Excerpts

INTRODUCTION One evening when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, "Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?" I asked what he meant. "Well, you're always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down near the swamp." At first, I thought he was irritated with me. I had, in fact, been telling him what it was like to use string and pieces of liver to catch crawdads in a creek, something I'd be hard-pressed to find a child doing these days. Like many parents, I do tend to romanticize my own childhood- and, I fear, too readily discount my children's experiences of play and adventure. But my son was serious; he felt he had missed out on something important. He was right. Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact. Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment- but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That's exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child. As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest-but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move. This book explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change. It also describes the accumulating research that reveals the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child-and adult-development. While I pay particular attention to children, my focus is also on those Americans born during the past two to three decades. The shift in our relationship to the natural world is startling, even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions. As likely as not today, "summer camp" is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear -to ignore. A recent television ad depicts a four-wheel-drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream-while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, oblivious to the landscape and water beyond the windows. A century ago, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner announced that the American frontier had ended. His thesis has been discussed and debated ever since. Today, a similar and more important line is being crossed. Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom-while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Wellmeaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and

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