We’ve all read books that leave a mark on our soul. These books touch our quintessential core beliefs and make us examine how we’re living our lives. We remember these books forever and deep down we hope they elicit a positive reaction or influence future behavior. For me, “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv was one of those books.
I grew up like a normal pre-internet kid. My parents would kick me outside and tell me to be home by dinner. I’d run free around the neighborhood and parks, ride my bike through the woods, make tree forts and have dirt clod wars. Little did I know I was living the healthiest life I could. As my generation grew up our lives transitioned inside the home (partly due to the technological advancements of the late 90s-2000s) and unbeknown to us, we slowly started to decay from something Richard Louv calls the “Nature Deficit Disorder”. The truly sad part about this is that it’s not only my generation that’s feeling the pain…. our kids and society are taking the lion’s share of the problems. As Richard describes in his book, more and more children are focusing on indoor play and spending less time getting their hands dirty. As you look at neighborhoods and communities’ there is a dramatic reduction in the amount of time a society spends outside thus, neighbors don’t know each other, and the identity of their community is lost. Not to mention the increased obesity and mental health issues that seem to be running wild through our country. Richard explores this “Nature Deficit Disorder” phenomenon and conducts a scientific deep dive into his theory.
The style of the book is a beautiful blend of scientific research and storytelling. Richard uses his own childhood, as well as that of his two sons, as an example of the challenges facing people all over the world. He interviews world renowned experts and mixes in quantifiable statistics to back up his point. I’ll have to admit that the book does become a bit dry at times but as I read his book, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own childhood.
I grew up in the suburbs of Portland Oregon, a city that is jam-packed with wild green spaces and an urban growth boundary that restricts urban sprawl while allowing quick access to the untouched wilderness. I didn’t realize how good I had it at the time, and as a young child I assumed it would be this way forever. Sadly, as we grow, things change and not always for the better…. but there is hope.
Richard Louv describes how multiple groups and organizations are focused on protecting our natural landscape and educating our youth about the importance of spending time in nature (such as the PEA). He points out that the answer isn’t manicured parks and playgrounds but rather untamed wilderness. People need a place and space to explore. They need to let their imagination run wild while observing the natural scientific wonders that is Mother Nature.
My greatest takeaway from this book was easy for me. I want to be a better parent, encourage my children to spend more time outside away from the digital world and the blue hue of the computer screen. The opposite side to this argument is that most of their friends and a world of knowledge is available to them online. So how do I encourage them to experience the beauty of a natural landscape? I guess it’s my job to find that balance. Wish me luck.
Written by Andrew Younger