Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

by Richard Louv


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565126053
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 04/22/2008
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 42,930
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Richard Louv, recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, is the author of seven books, including Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. The chairman of the Children & Nature Network (, he is also honorary cochair of the National Forum on Children and Nature. He has written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and other newspapers and magazines. He has appeared on The Early Show, Good Morning America, Today, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, NPR’s Morning Edition, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, and many other programs. For more information, visit

Read an Excerpt


One evening when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant table and said quite seriously, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?”

I asked what he meant.

“Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down near the swamp.”

At first, I thought he was irritated with me. I had, in fact, been telling him what it was like to use string and pieces of liver to catch crawdads in a creek, something I’d be hard-pressed to find a child doing these days. Like many parents, I do tend to romanticize my own childhood— and, I fear, too readily discount my children’s experiences of play and adventure. But my son was serious; he felt he had missed out on something important.

He was right. Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.

Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment— but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.

As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. 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.

This book explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change. It also describes the accumulating research that reveals the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child—and adult—development.

While I pay particular attention to children, my focus is also on those Americans born during the past two to three decades. The shift in our relationship to the natural world is startling, even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions. As likely as not today, “summer camp” is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear —to ignore. A recent television ad depicts a four-wheel-drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream—while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, oblivious to the landscape and water beyond the windows.

A century ago, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner announced that the American frontier had ended. His thesis has been discussed and debated ever since. Today, a similar and more important line is being crossed.

Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities. Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom—while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude. Wellmeaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields. In the patent-or-perish environment of higher education, we see the death of natural history as the more hands-on disciplines, such as zoology, give way to more theoretical and remunerative microbiology and genetic engineering. Rapidly advancing technologies are blurring the lines between humans, other animals, and machines. The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct—that we are what we program—suggests limitless human possibilities; but as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.

Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature— in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.

Reducing that deficit—healing the broken bond between our young and nature—is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demands it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depends upon it. The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives. The following pages explore an alternative path to the future, including some of the most innovative environment-based school programs; a reimagining and redesign of the urban environment—what one theorist calls the coming “zoopolis”; ways of addressing the challenges besetting environmental groups; and ways that faith-based organizations can help reclaim nature as part of the spiritual development of children. Parents, children, grandparents, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, environmentalists, and researchers from across the nation speak in these pages. They recognize the transformation that is occurring. Some of them paint another future, in which children and nature are reunited— and the natural world is more deeply valued and protected.

During the research for this book, I was encouraged to find that many people now of college age—those who belong to the first generation to grow up in a largely de-natured environment—have tasted just enough nature to intuitively understand what they have missed. This yearning is a source of power. These young people resist the rapid slide from the real to the virtual, from the mountains to the Matrix. They do not intend to be the last children in the woods.

My sons may yet experience what author Bill McKibben has called “the end of nature,” the final sadness of a world where there is no escaping man. But there is another possibility: not the end of nature, but the rebirth of wonder and even joy. Jackson’s obituary for the American frontier was only partly accurate: one frontier did disappear, but a second one followed, in which Americans romanticized, exploited, protected, and destroyed nature. Now that frontier—which existed in the family farm, the woods at the end of the road, the national parks, and in our hearts—is itself disappearing or changing beyond recognition.

But, as before, one relationship with nature can evolve into another. This book is about the end of that earlier time, but it is also about a new frontier—a better way to live with nature.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part I : The New Relationship Between Children and Nature
1. Gifts of Nature . . . . 7
2. The Third Frontier . . . . . . 15
3. The Criminalization of Natural Play . . . . . 27

Part II:Why the Young (and the Rest of Us) Need Nature
4. Climbing the Tree of Health . .. 39
5. A Life of the Senses: Nature vs. the Know-It-All State of Mind . . . . . 54
6. The “Eighth Intelligence” . . . 70
7. The Genius of Childhood: How Nature Nurtures Creativity . . .. 85
8. Nature-Deficit Disorder and the Restorative Environment . . . 98

Part III: The Best of Intentions: Why Johnnie and Jeannie Don’t Play Outside Anymore
9. Time and Fear .. . . 115
10. The Bogeyman Syndrome Redux . . . . . 123
11. Don’t Know Much About Natural History: Education as a Barrier to Nature .. 132
12. Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From? . . . 145

Part IV: The Nature-Child Reunion
13. Bringing Nature Home . . . 161
14. Scared Smart: Facing the Bogeyman . . . . 176
15. Telling Turtle Tales: Using Nature as a Moral Teacher . 187

Part V: The Jungle Blackboard
16. Natural School Reform . . . 201
17. Camp Revival . . . 223

Part VI: Wonder Land: Opening the Fourth Frontier
18. The Education of Judge Thatcher: Decriminalizing Natural Play . .. 233
19. Cities Gone Wild . .. 239
20. Where the Wild Things Will Be: A New Back-to-the-Land Movement . . . . 265

Part VII: To Be Amazed
21. The Spiritual Necessity of Nature for the Young . . . . . . 285
22. Fire and Fermentation: Building a Movement . . . . 301
23. While It Lasts . . . . 309

Notes 311
Suggested Reading 321
Index 325

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The simplest, most profound, and most helpful of any book I have read on the personal and historical situation of our children, and ourselves, as we move into the twenty-first century.” -Thomas Berry, author of The Dream of the Earth

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Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was great! Having grown up in such a nature loving family, I find it extremely important that children are exposed to nature as much as possible. I'm really glad I didn't attend the college that the reviewer below me teaches at. I stopped reading the review after "I think Obama is the greatest President of my lifetime thus far."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was hugely influential to me in my parenting journey. I loved it. It is dense, but very beautifully written for nonfiction. Everyone with kids needs to read this book for an eye-opening realization of the importance of nature in a child's life and the scary implications of the diminution of nature in American society.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have said to myself, friends and family for years that our children are living a life to distant from the natural world. This book not only discusses the subject but provides research into the consequences to our children who grow up in a man-made world. I recommend this book to all parents and to anyone interested in the environment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a child, I recall fishing, hiking and riding our horses through the woods. It added so much flavor and richness to our lives that I couldn't imagine not passing it on to our own children. Building memories with our children in the outdoors and teaching them the beauty of playing outside has helped shape them into healthier and happier people. I was thrilled that Richard Louv wrote this book! His interview on NPR convinced me even more that he is sincere in wanting to help generations of children and their parents to see how nature can serve to enrich our lives. Chrissy K. McVay - author of 'Souls of the North Wind'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything that the author informs us about through this brilliant book is true! Just thinking about how rare ADD, depression in children, etc. was when I was a child (whose parents MADE me play outside often!) is amazing compared to today's kids. Very insightful, helpful, and important information. I recommed this book to ALL parents and anyone remotely interested in outdoor activities!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Louv compellingly explains the trend that many of us have noticed without quite articulating it. It's a fascinating look at how our culture and our children have changed, and what this means to us. He explains what we're losing, why and why it matters. But he has solutions and optimism and a faith that if parents know that they can gain and the research supporting outdoor play, they will get them hiking and roaming and exploring. As an example, he says, let your kid play in the woods, just give him a cell phone. Not a bad solution for our fearful, high-tech times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an educator, I would like the above professor to please post the university he/she work at soI can advise students not to attend such a biased narrow minded place. I LOVED the book! Any educated person can see how it relates to modern society.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The calmness of nature is a key to our human well being.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This topic is fascinating to me, but I simply could not make it through this book. It wasn't very well organized, and was very hard to follow. I got the feeling the same info could have been organized and condensed into a book half the size. I recommend it for the subject matter, but not for style.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this age of over-indulgence, a child's every whim can be commercially satisfied. Meanwhile, our youth's connection to the natural world has become over-structured and minimal at best. This book brings to light the dire situation,as well as, hope- filled alternatives. A must read for parents, teachers, grandparents, and anyone who cares about a child!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is SUCH a good book for any parent or even people who love the outdoors. The statistics of America's future generations are apalling. It's definately a wake up call. Every now and then you here this blurb about 'oh, your kid probably watches to much TV, this is why it's not good for them....' or 'oh yep, child obesity, it's a problem...' but Richard Louv hits the nail right on the head with this book. I'm addicted to it. I'm in love with this book. Kids are obese and bored for a reason. They play video games for a reason, its an escape. Escape outside, together, do your kids a world of a favor, give them memories of you, let them know that there is something better out there. Right outside your back door.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be many things - a call to attention, a warning, an explanation, and a prescription for a problem affecting many in today's world. The implications for children are tremendous and any parent, educator, or other person working directly with the public (especially the young) will benefit from the core message of the book: it is time to go back to nature. So, put down that electronic game, turn off that computer, grab the kids and GO OUTSIDE! Play in the mud, hunt for bugs, build fortresses, learn the names of what's growing near your home. Parents and children alike will feel better, think better, and be better for it - all the better for tomorrow's world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent and highly readable book, a modern classic in the movement toward restoring nature education and experience for our children. The Nook Book copy was easy to read while I was working out at the gym several times a week and gave me lots of ideas about what I might do as an individual and as a grandparent to help get children back in contact with nature. After finishing it I bought three hard copies (one for me, one for my church library, one for my son) plus another book by Richard Louv. I recommend this book to anyone who cares about our future as a nation and as a species.
photoart1 More than 1 year ago
This is a great book for parents and all educators. Our children think that the world is big video game. It is time to get them outside where they can learn an grow. This book is a great help to those that want to really educate children.
teachtome More than 1 year ago
I was very pleased with book and service. The book was purchased for a gift and do not have feed back on content but it was highly recommended to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Last Child in the Woods is extremely inspirational, and as a young adult myself, this book motivated me to get out of the house and into the forest. The book covers many different points on the controversy of being out in nature unsupervised and free. It also covers the mental, emotional, and social healing capabilities nature offers, especially learning disabilities like ADHD and ADD. I enjoyed how the author used personal examples to back up scientific researches and statistics. How the book was organized lead me effortlessly into the next chapters with startling and fascinating factoids. Richard Louv wrote this in a captivating and interesting style, and I was unable to put the book down. It made me realize that we as modern day citizens, adults and children alike, have been so dramatically affected by electronics and drawn to their alluring lights, we just don't realize it. As Louv quotes, we have moved from "loving streams to loving screens." Last Child in the Woods points out this may very well not be an evolutionary leap. When you read this book, you will gasp out loud, or nod in agreement, for all the facts stated throughout the text are astonishing. I particularly found the effects a nature free environment had on people very interesting, including stress, depression, and in a sense, claustrophobia. Reading this book awoke the wild thing that's in all of us. This book is not just about children. I recommend this book to parents, book clubs, teenagers, environmentalists, and especially those who feel like they are missing out on life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an inspirational, motivational, and informational book that should be required reading for all reguardless if your going to be around children or not. Adults and children will benefit from knowing that nature can reduce the severity of mental/behavioral problems. I beleive we all have this voice inside of us that crys out for nature (I hear it everyday)but some never seem to listen to it or are so busy they can't hear it. Richard Louv points this out very clearly. This book can open your eyes to the peace that nature can bring to you if you only are still enough to listen. Our family has traveled to many National Parks across the United States and have seen the beauty and awesomeness. You feel the peace when your there and we often recall those memories of the hikes we took almost daily and it helps us to make it through the everyday hum-drum. Loaded with unbelievable statistics that makes you stop and think why we have continued on this path of destruction of our sanity. Children and adults have become prisoners to the technology of today and for what reason? Entertainment? Closeness with others? Peace? It's nothing but time consuming and creates more loneliness. The resources in the back of the book are great, I've checked out nearly all of them. Great Information. Come on people...let's jump on that band wagon and make a difference. I'm a homeschool mom and this was one of the major reasons we decided to we could be outdoors more and not so confined and imprisoned by the ever growing need to think we have to be tested, compared to others, and restricted. This book will surely change the way I teach next year. I plan on using this book as a cirriculm option. And also plan on reading many of the books Richard Louv had recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book rang so true for me. I enjoyed how it stired childhood memories while validating what i feel as a mom.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books for personal discovery I am aware of. Louv brings a truly missing link to adult life. 
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Loved it. While things may not be as dire as the author depicts them, it is not far off. My kids are encouraged (forced) to play outside as much as possible with very limited digital interactions. I highly recommend this book for any parent, educator, or just anyone.
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