Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods is a phenomenology piece discussing what is identified by Louv as nature-deficit disorder. According to Louv (2008), nature deficit disorder “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them; diminished use of the sense, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness” (pp 36). Nature-deficit disorder, so named after the widely diagnosed Attention-Deficit Disorder, is Louv’s proposed remedy for this same condition (ADD/ADHD). In addition to advocating natural experiences in education and the benefits of place-based education programs, Louv also writes about the many non-academic benefits of time in nature of youth and children. Louv claims that increasing children’s time in nature has numerous health benefits, emotional/spiritual, and environmental benefits.

In addition to the emotional and mental health benefits such as reducing instances of ADHD that Louv covers, he also explores the many other benefits of a society that connects children with nature. From education and health, to religion, Louv (2008) advocates that all institutions, groups, and individuals would gain from an increase in time spent outdoors. From a religious perspective - far from being skeptical of environmental movements of worshiping nature that can be seen in some religious groups - should seize the opportunity to participate as stewards of creation instead of seek domination over all of nature. The place of religion environmental education could be significant when re envisioned as each one being supportive and vital to the other.

Louv describes the nature-deficit phenomenon in depth, including the characteristics, its negative impacts (especially on children) and put forth his proposed process for addressing nature deficit. His position is that in the United States children are being raised detached from nature. Louv discusses the possible factors leading to increase detachment from nature - such as the criminalization of natural play (pp 27), liability for property owners and outdoor program organizations, and fear of ‘stranger danger’ and nature itself - classified by Louv under the term “Bogeyman syndrome” (pp 123). Also, the belief that nature is something “out there” - beyond the bounds of cities. However, we should be finding natural environments (or building them) within our local communities.

But Louv (2008) affirms throughout his work that nature is worth the time and effort - it is worth preserving and it is a worthwhile effort to mend our relationship with the natural environment. Louv describes today’s youth experience of nature as the third frontier characterized:

a severance of the public and private mind from our food’s origins; an increasingly intellectual understand of our relationship with other animals; the invasion of our cities by wild animals (even as urban/suburban resigners replace wildness with synthetic nature); and the rise of a new kind of suburban form (pp 19).

Louv (2008) suggests that it is time to “open the fourth frontier” and re imagine our relationship with the natural environment and child-nature relationship we foster for our children. Louv provides many methods for approaching this process. The first is recognizing the importance of natural play and a healthy, balanced relationship with the environment. This means making time for natural experiences in our daily lives and making space for them in our communities. Creative models of urban planning, such as New Urbanism, are seeking to redesign the way we build cities and towns to be more sustainable and inclusive of natural spaces. These such communities would encourage natural play for children by making it locally accessible. Entering a new frontier also means recognizing the relevance of the environment as that which sustains us; this involves promoting a new understanding of our food system and fields like ecology and natural sciences from a local, experiential framework.

In the education system, Louv (2008) see an urgent need for school (and after-school) reform possibly through nature school models and bringing back nature camp programs for youth. David Sobel, suggested by Louv (pp 207), is a particularly useful resources for educators, school administrators, community members, students, and parents who are interested in learning more about place-based/community-based education reform. As a part of this reform, naturalist intelligence must be recognized as a valid learning style. Howard Gardner, professor of education who developed the theory of multiple intelligences, added naturalist intelligence among his list of seven other types of intelligences such as mathematical, musical, linguistic and interpersonal and intrapersonal (2008, Louv, pp 203).

Unfortunately, reader’s might find that Louv’s focus is too broad and tends to jump from point to point in an effort to capture all his many beliefs, experiences, and suggestions. Louv (2008) introduces the reader to the many, diverse aspects of natural play, but this attempt to cover all the talking points means that readers might get lost in the vastness of the literature. Throughout his writing, Louv heavily references many resources, which I highly suggest readers investigate further. These resources can prove invaluable to anyone who is unfamiliar with natural play, place-based education, and environmental education movements. I found the resources extremely useful - especially as someone living in San Diego; but it does make for dense and slow reading. The Last Child in the Woods is written as a balance of case study literature, first-person accounts and interviews with students, teachers, parents, and community members, with his own experience. Louv (2008) creates an image for the reader, inviting them to visualize the world he is proposing.
 


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