Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: "Last Child In The Woods"

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit DisorderLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richard Louv begins this book with a story of a conversation with his son, Matthew, 10. Out of nowhere, Matthew asks: "Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?"

Louv asks what he means, and discovers that Matthew is thinking of the stories he has told of being out-of-doors as a kid - "catching crawdads in a creek" - and feeling that he has missed out on something important. "This book", Louv writes, "describes the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological and spiritual implications of that change." Explicating the change to which he refers, he writes "As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests...but I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and every dip in those beaten dirt paths. A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest - but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move." And he suggests that this transformation amounts to a kind of "closing of the frontier" in children's' development, analogous to the closing of the westward frontier of the USA in the late 19th century, which some historians have seen as marking a fundamental change in American consciousness.

Louv's point is not simply to grumble about "kids these days": he has two serious concerns. The first is that the lives of children may be stunted by the lack of direct experience with nature; the second, that a stewardship of nature that deals only in generalities and abstractions will be anemic unless it is rooted in a rich childhood experience of some particular, specific natural place. He asks what are the roots of this transformation, and how it can be reversed or mitigated.

I really wanted to like this book, and I'm certainly sympathetic with its thesis. But I did find it a bit repetitive, with the same studies being cited over and over again in slightly different contexts. An important argument? No question. An essay? Would be great A full-length book? Maybe longer than was needed.

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1 comment:

John Roe said...

One issue he brings up, which I had not thought about outside of a climbing context, is litigation: our kids experiences have to be "safe", so if something goes wrong, there must be someone to sue.

I thought that was overblown - but then I read this.