Bring the Babes to the Woods – “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv
Richard Louv’s ground-breaking 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods” discussed the separation of young people from nature, caused by a variety of factors: schools eliminating recess, an obsession with being connected to technology, and scaredy-cat parents who assume their child playing outside will result in them being kidnapped by perverts (among other reasons) An expanded and updated version of the book was released in 2008, and that’s the book I picked up at Borders.
As one who’s about to become a parent, and one who grew up in a rural area where nature was just part of life, the idea that my kids will be more in love with their computers than the great outdoors is disturbing to me. From an early age growing up in Northern Michigan, I knew deer and foxes and yes, even bears. I remember collecting frogs at the pond beside my Grandma’s house, and climbing trees at my Mom’s farm surrounded by horses and dogs and cats and cows. Though I’m a semi-tech-savvy lady now, I still cling to these memories and find myself downright cranky in the winter months in Chicago when going outside is more like entering a war zone than a relaxing nature walk.
Louv’s book is really smart. He stresses the importance of a connection to nature for our kids – a point I doubt anyone can really disagree with.
Here’s a couple of really interesting points from the book.
“Something else was different when we were young: our parents were outdoors. I’m not saying they were joining health clubs and things of that sort, but they were out of the house, out on the porch, talking to neighbors. As far as physical fitness goes, today’s kids are the sorriest generation in the history of the United States. Their parents may be out jogging, but the kids just aren’t outside.” – A parent interviewed for the book.
“I like to play indoors better, ’cause that’s’ where all the electrical outlets are.” – A 4th grader interviewed for the book.
I was fascinated by the book and would recommend it for any parent or parent-to-be. Whether or not you agree, a lot of really valid points are raised – How national parks are becoming increasingly safer and shiny and Disney-fied, so much so that when kids arrive these places after having seen the glossy brochures, they’re let down that it’s not more perfect. Our kids complain they’re bored when they’re connected a hundred ways to the all-powerful internet and surrounded by stimulus all the time – simply because they don’t have to work for anything anymore. Nothing requires imagination. American schools are eliminating recess in favor of cramming more and more information into the heads of young people so they can do better on standardized tests – to what effect? (Did you know, in Finland, kids don’t enter any school until age 7?) A handful of exceptional schools are beginning to stress the importance of the outside world in education by green-ing their schoolyards, planting gardens with the students, and taking them on nature trips so the young folks can learn to relate to their world. What good is a high test score if you’re completely naive to the world around you?
A few cities are called out for their attempts to put nature back in the front lines – San Diego and Chicago, mainly. Chicago’s particular emphasis on parks such as Lincoln Park and Millennium Park are lauded, though it’s admitted that much more could be done. Even in giant city parks, animals are scarce and children still can’t really roam free out of parental gaze.
“Last Child in the Woods” is a solid piece of research, and a surprisingly entertaining non-fiction read. The 2008 edition also includes a field guide for how to put some of these ideas into practice – and discussion questions for book clubs. Great read – pick it up!