Do you worry that your children or grandchildren are slipping out of touch with the natural world? You have intelligent company. In his book Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv directly links childhood obesity, ADD and depression to the lack of nature in children’s lives. Every parent should read this eye-opening book, brought to my attention by Adams County educator Donna Shepherd. Full of documented evidence that nature is essential for healthy childhood development, it shows how that nature-based education improves grades, test scores, problem-solving, critical thinking and decision making.
The author explains how nature is healing and restorative. “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health”, says Louv. “The quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level”. Reconnecting your children with nature can turn their lives around.
I’ve thought of this book many times during the past few years, as the senseless killing of school children dominated the news. What’s the connection? See if you can find it in these passages from Last Child in the Woods:
“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
“…baby boomers…may constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water.”
“…thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can…be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies.”
“…as more parents keep their children inside the house or under rigid control, youngsters will be deprived of chances to become self-confident and discerning, to interact with neighbors, or to learn how to build real community – which is one defense against sociopaths.”
This book makes a passionate case for parents and teachers actively encouraging a relationship between children and nature from a very early age. Unstructured, unsupervised time in vacant lots, woods and fields is a key building block in children’s development. The sights, sounds and smells of living creatures and plants should be a familiar everyday experience for children growing up. Understanding the ways of nature gives them a sense of how they fit into the universe.
As a child I enjoyed a family tradition of getting and giving books for Christmas, a tradition we continue in our house. Reading books on nature made a huge impression on me as a child. A memorable favorite was “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George, about an alienated orphan boy who escapes to the forest and makes a life for himself. The detailed account of his adventures, living in a hollow tree and bathing in a babbling brook, fueled my own daydreams and influenced my eventual move to a rural Appalachian farm.
Modern life can be overwhelming for children. The sense of control they get from simply planting a seed and watching it grow, tossing pebbles into a stream, climbing a tree, or just lying in the grass watching the clouds, is calming and empowering. We need to ask ourselves: are we really giving our children the space they need to feel part of the world in which they live? These wonderful books tell us how to do just that, and why it’s so important.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers” www.goodseedfarm.com.