Books about Children and Parenting

 

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

 

Richard Louv, a journalist, has written several books concerning children.  Childhood’s Future, published in 1990, looks directly at the trends affecting family and parenting and suggests solutions.  This new book follows the same format but looks specifically at the dwindling place nature has in the life of the nation’s children.  Writing as a journalist, the author looks to all sources in his exploration of the topic.  Louv’s experiences with his own children and the opinion of other ordinary parents are mingled with the judgment of experts about a growing concern that nature’s effect on children is essential and missing.  To start, new research has discovered that the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are improved with exposure to nature.  The author coins the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” (it is not yet a generally accepted medical term like ADHD) to describe the negative effects separation from nature has on communities, families and children. 
      He documents that for many reasons the adult world directly and indirectly makes it difficult for children to be and play in nature. Play in nature used to be a part of growing up for most American children.  These days, however, with a fearful and protective parental outlook, nature may be looked at as dangerous. Indeed parental attitudes seem to be a major obstacle to children’s exploration of nature.  The author argues that fear, a largely ungrounded fear, has today’s parents exerting too much control over their children’s lives.  The media, by its concentration on tragic events, has the effect of creating a completely exaggerated notion (dubbed the Bogeyman syndrome” by the author) of the dangers children face. Children can learn a great deal from other adults and overprotecting them may actually make them easier prey and keep them from learning other valuable lessons. As one Girl Scout leader is quoted as saying,
 

     "When I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with the consequences.  I broke this arm twice. Today, if a parent sends you a kid without a scratch, they better come back that wa y."

     Beyond parental constraints, there’s urban sprawl and the general loss of nature in our lives.   There are concerns about insurance, among other influences, that have lead to prohibitions on children’s play in vacant lots, restrictions on the building of tree houses, the replacement of more natural playgrounds with commercial playgrounds at theme parks and fast food restaurants and other influences that interfere with children’s proximity to nature. Louv and other feel a proximity to nature is important to children for many reasons.
    
For one, the solitary direct experience of nature benefits the whole child as a spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual being.  Perhaps the experience of nature is more important than ever with television and the Internet presenting so much indirect experience.  Nature can reduce stress as a Cornell study by environmental psychologists discovered.

      "Our study found that life’s stressful events appear not to cause as much stress in children who      live in high-nature conditions compared to children who live in low-nature conditions."

      Research on the effects of nature on children is just beginning but studies show that play is more imaginative in natural settings and that children can concentrate better after being in nature.   Above its beneficial effects on creativity and school performance, nature has deeper more spiritual effects.  One teacher described in the book places a butterfly on children’s noses.

      "Noses seem to make perfectly good perches or basking spots, and the insect often remains for      some time.  Almost everyone is delighted by this, the close-up colors, the thread of a tongue probing for droplets of perspiration.  But somewhere beyond delight lies enlightenment.  I have been astonished at the small epiphanies I see in the eyes of a child in truly close contact with nature, perhaps for the first time."

 The book goes on to detail many innovative ways that parents, schools and communities are bringing nature back for their children and themselves. The main thrust of Louv’s book, however, moves us to understand how profoundly important nature is to children. References and quotations concerning peak or ecstatic experiences in nature, the “sacred” little hiding places children can find and find solace in, the joys of climbing trees, the lessons in building tree houses and the like weave through the book.  Louv convincingly concludes that, “To take nature and natural play from a child may be tantamount to withholding oxygen.”

     
 

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