has a theory about what’s wrong with the kids these days. Some scream
that they play too many video games. Others say that they eat too much
fast food. Some say it’s the teachers, whereas others say it’s the
parents. Some argue it’s cell phones and others argue it’s street gangs.
But if all of these people have one thing in common, it’s that they
believe there is something wrong with this generation of children.
columnist and child advocate, Richard Louv, threw his hat into this
never-ending argument with his new book, Last Child in the Woods:
Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. And ironically,
Louv agrees with pretty much every theory postulated above. Indeed, he
links the vast majority of the problems with youth in America today to
living inside with a focus on technology in conjunction with a systemic
lack of outdoor and nature related experiences. He calls the result of
this modern lifestyle, “nature deficit disorder.”
Louv takes a
close look at many of the chronic problems that children have today and
relates them directly back to wilderness and nature oriented
experiences. On the one hand there are the creative elements that evolve
in children who spend time outdoors. They create games and fantasies,
build forts and take on characters. On the other hand they develop a
number of higher function cognitive and psychological skills by spending
time in such an environment. They do this through self-imposed rules
that evolve out of unstructured play.
Louv provides an apt
example with a discussion about a tree fort. Children learn a great deal
from both the building of the fort, as well as the subsequent play in
the fort. First, there’s the construction. That’s where they learn about
architecture, mathematics and geometry. Then there’s the use of the
finished product. Suddenly, it’s no longer a bunch of wood haphazardly
nailed to a tree, but a spaceship or a castle. This unstructured play
allows children to stretch their imaginations. Their fantasy worlds have
rules (i.e. the tree is a monster and if you touch a certain branch it
will eat you). The playacting that takes place in a tree fort allows
children to work on their executive
function . This cognitive skill is incredibly important to a child
throughout his or her entire life. Strong executive function helps
students concentrate in school; it helps them control themselves and it
helps them understand abstract concepts.
Louv offers a number of
dire warnings in his book. Children who don’t spend time outdoors will
not value green space or fight for the environment in the future.
Children who don’t go camping or spend time in national parks will not
become stewards of parks and wilderness areas. Children who don’t spend
time outside are far more likely to develop childhood obesity, ADD or
ADHD among a number of other ailments.
Ultimately, Last Child
in the Woods is not all gloom and doom. Louv passionately argues
that a return to the “way it was when we were kids” when parents just
let their kids run around the neighborhood to climb trees and dig holes
and ride bikes and play will at least partially heal a number of these
social ills. He argues that it’s time for our culture to reacquaint our
children with the outdoors. There is no doubt that those who read this
book will be convinced. The only problem with his argument is that he is
likely to be making it to the very people who already encourage their
children to spend time outside.