Book Reviews

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder By: Susan Fries

By Susan Fries

“For children, nature comes in many forms.  Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.  It (nature) serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies.”  This begins Richard Louv’s appeal in “Last Child in the Woods”  to recognize that children are losing their connection to nature through their increasingly limited experience of being outside.

Richard Louv received the 2008 Audubon Medal and has coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” to explain the effect less contact with nature has on children’s’ mental health.  Louv is the co-founder and chairman of Children & Nature Network, an organization dedicated to getting children back into nature.  As well, Louv’s writings have inspired the “No Child Left Inside Act of 2009”.  Imagine having to legislate that children have the right to be taught “environmental literacy,” nature and healthy living?  While mainstream education has all but eliminated any connection between students and nature, almost all “alternative” educators recognize the necessity of unstructured exploration at nature sites to insure that students are equipped with creative problem solving skills. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here?

As a reader with children, I recognize the implications of fewer outdoor experiences in schools.  Yes, I was the unreasonable parent that had to advocate for my first grader to have an “additional” recess.  My request was successful but not without bureaucratic authorization, and not for every first grade at the school, only my lucky first grader’s class.  But lack of recess is merely the beginning of the “outside problem.”  My same first grader invited her whole class to a birthday party at the Pueblo Nature Center, and much to my dismay, most of the families had never been to the Nature Center with their children, and some didn’t even know where it was.  So sad!

“Last Child in the Woods”, emphasizes the need for our communities to take our children back to nature.  For instance, those treasured institutions that help make Pueblo a nature friendly community, like the Pueblo Nature & Raptor Center and Pueblo Mountain Park might have no advocates in generations to come if children now are not today exposed to the wonders that lie within the woods and rivers, under the rocks, and off the beaten path.  Louv compellingly explains that society is doing a disservice to children by insulating them from unstructured play in nature.  And thus, the overwhelming response from organizations and programs like Children & Nature Network , Farm to Fork, and No Child Left Inside.

For parents, educators, environmentalists, and elected officials that need confirmation that nature is an integral component of a person’s educational experience, “Last Child in the Woods”, will be a very affirming read.  And for those that need a reminder that our natural environment plays a crucial role in maintaining mental health, physical health, and creative minds, “Last Child in the Woods” explains why kids (and adults) need to be outside and how to make this happen in our communities.

By: Susan Fries
Executive Director of the Pueblo Performing Arts Guild, and avid traveler, bookworm, gardener, and cook.

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