Last child in the woods: Part 1-Nature Deficit Disorder

This is the first installment of my comments about the book: Last child in the woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

About 6 months into my job, a volunteer said, “So, you’ve probably read about Richard Louv, right?”  I hadn’t.  He told me a little about him and I Googled him that night. So this was the guy who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder (NDD)?”  Brilliant.  Now that I have a year-and-a-half of experience working with kids, I’m finally ready to pick up his book and find out what he’s talking about.

Like me, Louv thinks that kids need nature to thrive. Without access to nature, kids are missing a sense of wonder about the world that they can’t get from a book or video.  I only have to remember my first look at the ocean or a glacier to know this is true. To be sure, books inspired me, but the actual thing filled me with awe and wonder that never left me. Louv talks about kids that know much about the natural world because they’ve seen it on TV. These kids can talk about the rain forest and think they know the rain forest and nature. The sad part is that they don’t know that they are missing anything. Louv writes that nature has increasingly become a spectator sport, something to be consumed just like toy. That’s NDD. And that’s a shame.

While Louv is careful to say that NDD is not an illness, I think he’d like us to think of it that way. For myself, I know that if don’t get outside to enjoy nature on a regular basis, I get sick. Sick in the head. Sick of myself. Sick.  Nature keeps me well and it heals me. It stands to reason that a growing child, who is deprived of nature could be considered ill. In his book he cites ample evidence to show that nature makes a difference in people’s lives.

It’s fascinating how scientists and researchers are documenting the benefits of nature. I’d love to hear a doctor say, “Take a walk in the woods and call me in the morning,” to treat someone for depression. Or, “Lay on your back and watch clouds,”  to treat an overworked professional.  We all intuitively know nature works and now there is growing evidence, all documented in Louv’s book, that proves it. Kids who don’t have nature as a tool for living are at risk. At risk for depression and for numerous physical and emotional ailments.

What I do in my work is provide programs to help get kids outside so that they develop lifelong habits. That way, they’ll have nature to fall back on when the going gets tough. They’ll also just have fun. Hopefully they are getting a sense of wonder. It’s unfortunate that kids don’t have the unstructured access to nature that they used to, but we can’t go back.  My programs are structured. They have to be.  However, I’ll write about the “Criminalization of Natural Play” in my next post. There’s a lot more to read and comment about….

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