Last Child in the Woods…

lastchildpbcover.jpgI just finished reading “Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv….it was, to say the least, an interesting read, and one that made me think of my own childhood. I would highly recommend it, and am planning myself to buy several copies for the school administrators of my children’s school district.

Louv’s premise is that today’s children have lost touch with Nature, and by doing so, are losing out on a major component of their total learning experience. There is certainly more to it than that, but that’s the nickel tour…there are enough other reviews and synopsis around that you don’t need me to write another one.

My major fault with the book, as important a work as I believe it to be, is that it seems incomplete. While Louv gives some examples of school districts and communities that are trying things to bring kids back to nature, he doesn’t really say what the rest of the schools and communities should do. Perhaps its because the answer isn’t that simple, and that each community has it’s own set of issues to deal with, but what I took from it is that the problem is so big, it’s ludicrous to even think about a grand solution.

To me, like many of the issues with today’s education system, the solution to this problem starts at home. Granted, the world is a very different place than it was when I was a kid running around the neighborhood building forts, tree-houses, and getting muddy. Hell, my children’s mother doesn’t even allow them to get muddy for fear they’ll get ring-worms or something. But with the reality of whacked out psycho-paths on the prowl for young children, many of our fears do have foundation. So what to do?

Our family – my wife, her daughter and my two children – do as much as we can to spend our weekend time outdoors as we can. Unfortunately, I only have my children with us every other week, but when we do, we make it a point to plan some outdoor activity – typically we’ll drive down to the Finger Lakes area and hike on of the many waterfall-lined trails we are blessed with in this part of New York. And while these trips are not super-rugged, they do get the kids out experiencing nature first hand. Last summer the three kids spent one hike trying to ‘out-find’ each other, and turned up frogs, toads, salamanders and bugs I had missed – but the point is they were looking! And despite the fact that their little legs got tired, they had fun…

This is not the same as the unstructured wild play time Louv suggests is so important, but in the context of today’s world, I know it’s more than many of their friends get.

One other interesting point I’d like to add – I know there are many forums that criticize Bear Grylls and his Discovery Channel show Man vs Wild. I have a different perspective, and proof positive of his impact. No, his shows are not NOLS level survival courses, and yes, he likely makes some foolish decisions that might adversely impact your chance for survival should you be in a situation such as he places himself. But – my kids LOVE this show, and they love him, and because of watching his show, they are more intrigued than ever to get back out into the woods and try new things. Last weekend it snowed here (and yes, it’s snowing quite a bit now) – rather than spend the weekend in front of the telly, my kids went out in our yard, found several 7′ gardening stakes, some rope and a tarp (OK, so it was the one covering my firewood – whatever!). In the back of our yard under some trees and against the fence, they lashed the poles to the fence, and tied the tarp over the frame they built, and built a perfectly excellent shelter. Like their hero Bear, they made a camp, and even made a make-believe firepit in the shelter to cook on.Even as I look out back now with the 10 inches of snow we’ve had since last night, it’s still standing, and if they were here this week, I know they’d be out there. So while Bear isn’t necessarily going to save your life, he might just save your family from Nature Deficit Disorder, and I think even Richard Louv would be happy with that!

You gotta start somewhere…

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5 thoughts on “Last Child in the Woods…

  1. I blame antibacterial soap for all this. People used to be sanitary, but now we’re downright paranoid about germs.

    Growing up in Connecticut, we also had the Fear of Lyme Disease drilled into our young skulls. That’s probably why I didn’t do much hiking in my formative years.

  2. Casey –

    Never thought of that way, but I can’t disagree with you at all. When I was a kid I’d come home filthy and muddy almost every day – back then it was called “just being a boy”. Today’s kids definitely don’t get to do that – apart from the germs, parents worry about ‘what would the neighbors think’ when they saw a dirty kid? Me, I love to let my kids get dirty – it shows they’re doing something besides watching TV or playing video games.


    PS – Looks like you’re more than making up for missing out on hiking early on!

  3. I had a different problem with “last child in the woods”: It seemed to me to be one more book telling parents they aren’t doing enough for their children and here’ s ONE MORE THING they oughta be doing to raise those kids right.

    Maybe all these parenting books are edited to ratchet up the parental-guilt factor, because self-conscious parents are the ones who buy these kinds of books and expect to be told their parenting just doesn’t cut it in this competitive world we live in today. Well, that’s the vibe I picked up.

  4. Hey Tom –

    Hadn’t thought of it that way, but I see your point. I definitely came away thinking that I needed to do more for my kids since the ‘system’ hasn’t been doing enough. More than that though was a feeling of helplessness – sort of like how I feel about global warming – that anything I can do is still too little / too late…I guess I do have the guilt factor gene!

  5. I jumped over to your blog from a link on simplehiker. Good post. Keep up the good work.

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