Book Review: Last Child in the Woods

You’ve probably heard the term Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s the notion that interaction with nature is an essential part of healthy childhood development, and an integral part of healthy balanced living thereafter.

But do you know where the concept came from?

Richard Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods. The book garnished him the 2008 Audubon Medal for outstanding achievement in conservation and environmental protection, and it remains the cardinal text in the growing movement to combat nature-deficit disorder.

Since it was published, there has been considerable new research and writing dedicated to understanding how our interactions with nature affect our behaviors, moods, development, and cognition. However, for anyone wanting to explore the roots of the movement, Louv’s seminal book remains essential reading.

Last Child in the Woods describes why children need nature, how they have less connection now than perhaps at anytime in human history, and how we might turn things around to ensure not only their health and wellbeing, but the health and wellbeing of our societies and the planet. The book is literary in style, vast in its scope of discussion, and rigorously researched for the time it was written.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last-Child-in-the-Woods-cover_150
Author: Richard Louv
Published by: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill N.C., 2005 (Revised edition 2008)
Pages: 416
Format: Paperback
Price: $15.85

So what’s the big deal? Why should we believe that nature is important, or even relevant, to our children?

Because we come from nature, and our sensory development is intrinsically tied to our interactions with the natural world.

Whether our children are studying tiny creatures in a creek, climbing a tree, or simply listening to the wind in the leaves in the midst of an otherwise “silent” forest, their senses come alive in a way that stimulates essential parts of their brains, their bodies, and their entire sensory apparatus.

New research continues to highlight the effects that this sensory experience has on the cognitive, social, emotional, and even scholastic development of our children. For example, there are programs and studies that have shown that exposure to nature can reduce ADHD symptoms, improve cognition, and reduce stress in much the same way that regular physical activity enhances brain function and mood.

Research has also shown that younger children in particular are more physically active when they are outside. For example, studies of preschool children in Norway and Sweden compared groups of preschool children who played in natural settings versus typically flat playgrounds. Over one year, the children who played in the natural areas with trees, rocks, and uneven ground demonstrated better motor fitness, especially balance and agility.

These are significant aspects of child development and health, and the existing research is probably still only just scratching the surface.

Last Child in the Woods covers a vast amount of information and discussion, and motor skills are only a small part of it. It’s a somewhat dense read, but a useful appendix called “100 Actions We Can Take” lists practical activities and steps that parents, schools, and communities can take to ensure that our children connect with nature in beneficial ways.

Nature-deficit disorder is almost a topic of casual coffee conversation now, but Last Child in the Woods is where the discussion began. If you want to understand the origins of the movement, this is the place to start.

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