Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: Last Child In The Woods

Book Review: Last Child In The Woods - Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv

Have you ever read a book that answered a whole lot of questions that you didn't even know you were asking? That's the experience I had reading Last Child In The Woods. So many feelings and thoughts about my life, nature, my exposure to technology, and my kids were like unfinished sentences . . . and this book helped to finish them.

Last Child In The Woods is mixture of romance, research, and resistance. Louv is a national leader and voice in the growing movement to "leave no child inside." He methodically charts all of the different reasons why children need to get back outside . . . and the destructive results to their health (and the Earth's) if we don't. He talks passionately about how fear and time constraints, mixed with a new emphasis on indirect experience (TV, movies, internet, video games), as well as over regulation and fear of litigation has made it less likely and less likely that children will experience the reality of nature. A few interesting facts from the book:

-Study after study shows that spending time in nature has a strong effect on managing stress, aids in grieving, sharpens focus, increases creativity, combats depression. In short, experience of nature is extremely good for one's emotional health.
-In one study, prison inmates who were in a hospital recovered 24% faster if their outside window faced a meadow instead of the asphalt prison courtyard.
-National Park visits in the U.S. have dropped by over 25% in the last decade. The average road trip has dropped from 3.5 days to 2.5 days.
-More children then ever are involved in organized sports yet more children then ever are obese.
-Less exposure to nature and an increase in indirect experience has dramatically increased the amount of kids with ADD and ADHD. At the same time, unstructured time in nature is being effectively used to combat this - much more effectively then drugs or behavior therapy.
-Studies show that countries where schools encourage unstructured outdoor play in natural surroundings have healthier, more focused, and better performing students. School's whose curriculum integrate nature report more retention and better test scores.

This book has way too much to sum up in a few paragraphs but let me say it felt like essential reading. Thinking about my current moving from direct to indirect experience over the past few years scares me. I was just talking the other day with my friend Jason about this. We were driving somewhere and as I watched him adjust his radio, mp3 player, search the web on his iPod touch, and check his email on his Blackberry - all while driving - I asked him "Do you ever think we are too overconnected?" The idea of indirect experience versus direct experience hit me hard. Not that TV, the internet, or movies are bad - but they are not a substitute for the direct experience of nature. The book inspired me to get outside and to get my kids outside. It's also making me think about how to reduce my indirect experience and increase my direct ones (touching, smelling, feeling, listening) not just to nature but to people. I rate this book 4.9 ninja stars out of 5.


Moxymama said...

Wow, this looks like a great book! I'll have to pick it up.

Mark said...

I really think it is great. Of course I'm biased as I have a natural love of the outdoors but even so it seems so "truthful" to me that I think it would be helpful for everyone to read.