Saturday, October 29, 2011

Last Child In The Woods

Title: Last Child In The Woods
Author: Richard Louv
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Ages: All Ages
Picture courtesy:

The target audience of this book:
Teachers. Parents. Health professionals. Education consultants. Property developers. If you are pondering how much technology is too much technology. Debating if children need unstructured free time or if they thrive in a structured and highly organized environment. If you fit in to any of the above and want facts before you decide either way, then this book is a must read.
This book is an eye opener that will help us rethink how we view our children spend their time.

- "A 2003 survey, published in the journal of Psychiatric Services, found the rate at which American children are prescribed antidepressants almost doubled in five years: the steepest increase - 66 percent was among  preschool children."

- "In 2004, data analysis by Medco Health Solutions, the nation’s largest prescription benefit manager, found that between 2000 and 2003 there was a 49% increase in the use of psychotic drugs - antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and anti depressants. For the first time, spending on such drugs, if medications for attention disorders are included, surpassed spending on antibiotics and asthma medications for children."

Are you sitting up? Are you alert?  Did I get your attention? I thought so!

For the most part that is exactly what the book aims to do. To give hard facts and shake us out of the constantly shrinking world we are creating in our heads.

He makes his stand clear within the first ten pages of the book by writing:

“Often I climbed(trees) alone. Sometimes lost in wonderment, I’d go deep into the woods, and imagine myself as Rudrayd Kipling’s Mowgli, the boy raised by the wolves, and strip off most of my clothes for the ascent. If I climbed high enough, the branches thinned to the point where, when the wind came, the world would tip down and up and around and up and to the side and up. It was frightening and wonderful to surrender to the wind’s power. My senses were filled with the sensations of falling, rising, swinging; all around me the leaves snapped like fingers and the wind came in sighs and gruff whispers. The wind carried smells, too, and the tree itself surely released its scents faster in the gusts. Finally there was only the wind that moved through everything.”

As I read this, I imagined myself climbing a tree and I am sure you did too! Now, is there any gadget that would give us this COMPLETE sensory experience?

Also in the section Why the Young (and the Rest of Us) Need Nature, he quotes community college teacher Elaine Brooks, who says that we are genetically same as our tree climbing ancestors, filled with the fight or flee instinct. Both fighting and fleeing pumps us with adrenaline. Our ancestors succumbed to nature as soon as they were out of danger and nature helped them calm down. The author extrapolates based on this interview, “Today, we find ourselves continually on the alert, chased by an unending stampede of two thousand pound automobiles and four thousand pound SUVs. Even inside our homes the assault continues, with unsettling, threatening images charging through the television cable in to our living rooms and bedrooms. At the same time the urban and suburban landscape is rapidly being stripped of its peace-inducing elements.”

Is there any substitute for nature which has the capacity to calm us down with out NUMBING OR OVER STIMULATING OUR SENSES?

Case in point.

But the author does not stop here. He acknowledges that times have changed. He has organized the book in to sections and thoroughly goes over the increasing divide between man and nature, how it affects our children, why do we need nature in a more involved level, the reasons for our reducing experience with nature, how to make the best of what we have instead trying to recreate nostalgia, discussions with students and nature as a spiritual guide. My personal favorite is the section about the importance of nature and unstructured nature play in school curriculum, the positive effects of validating what Howard Gardner calls ‘naturalist intelligence’.

This book is no easy read, not because of its size or language, but because one has to stop every now and then to connect the dots and assimilate the information. But the author does have a sense of humor, which makes you smile as you read.

Richard Louv will be known for many things, but first on that list would be as the person who coined the term ‘NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER’. The Last Child In The Woods has culminated in the NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE movement. He is also the co-founder of Children And Nature Network, an organization dedicated to give children from various communities ample opportunities to interact with nature.

For more resources/ideas/articles check


ranjani.sathish said...

A very compelling review that definitely makes me want to pick this book and read. Thank you Utbt !

Choxbox said...

Same as R - want to pick it asap.

When one compares the children in the shelter run by our NGO with the privileged kids around us - that is what you cannot help noticing - the former are very gadget-deficit and the latter nature-deficit, and no prizes for guessing who is more equipped with vital life skills.

utbtkids said...

Thanks R and Chox. Check out his blog. I enjoyed his take on why schools need nature as they become more and more hi-tech.

mim said...

i read it a few years ago... and yesterday presented a copy to a dear dear friend...

the friend is actually one who grew up in the woods (climbed on trees, ate mangoes off mango trees, made mud pots, walked 3 kms to school and crossed a river halfway..., had snakes in her home, her mum milked cows, cooked on firewood, her sister fell off a tree on the day before an examination-- she was studying on the tree etc etc)

meeting her and listening to her go on about her childhood made me yearn for such a past...

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