As a child, Richard Louv didn’t know the woods he played in were ecologically connected to other forests. “Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain…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.” Not so for today’s children, he says.
In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv draws on hundreds of interviews to suggest that contemporary kids are more disconnected from the natural world than any generation in human history. While they might know about the state of the rainforest, they probably can’t tell you the last time they actually tromped through the woods alone.
The usual suspects are to blame—video games, television, the Internet, plus unchecked development and the rapid disappearance of even semi-wild places—but Louv points, too, to the cloying effects of a culture obsessed with danger, litigation and liability. Even if a kid is lucky enough to live near a place “filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees,” she’ll probably run into somebody’s prohibitive rules long before she’ll get herself into the high limbs of a tree. “If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment,” Louv argues, “we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
One place Louv finds hope, though, is in the resurgence of experiential education, which he believes transforms knowledge to passion. Passion, after all, is what ultimately motivates change. But as he notes, “passion does not arrive on videotape or CD.” Rather, it is “lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart.”
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods is available for $13.95 at the NOLS online store.