Richard Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. We carpooled over to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville to hear him as this year’s Longfellow Lecturer. Louv is also the chairman of the Children and Nature network and co-chair fo the National Forum on Children and Nature. He’s passionate about connecting kids to the outside world, and giving parents and educators the tools to help. Below are some highlights from his talk.
1) We are hardwired to need nature – if we don’t get it, we suffer. Symptoms of ADD get better when patients are exposed to nature. Nature has a calming effect. It’s not surprising that kids who take recess behave better in class, however, many schools are dropping recess and taking away recess as punishment.
2) Today's kids may have a lower life expectancy than their parents due to childhood obesity and diabetes. Studies show that the greener a neighborhood, the lower the risk of obesity, regardless of population density.
3) Children who take part in activities in outdoor classrooms do better on standardized tests. This has proven true in our own school: our principal reported that unlike many schools in our area, there is no racial gap in standardized science test scores, and feels it is due to outdoor classroom participation.
4) When one child falls out of a tree, you don’t cut down the whole forest. Hard to believe, but our school has a “don’t run on the wood chips” rule that is apparently not unusual. Parents often cite fear of injury or liability as a reason to forbid outdoor activities.
5) Bringing children outdoors is an issue that crosses racial, religious, political and professional boundaries. Evangelical Christians and far-left liberals are just as likely to feel strongly about this issue.
6) The amount of time people spend outside is decreasing. National Park attendance has decreased since the mid-80’s and when they do go, people only wander and average of ¼ mile away from their cars. As Louv states “Parents need to do more than play Animal Planet videos in their mini-vans on the way to soccer practice.” Governor Quinn of IL is to be commended for re-opening state parks in that state.
7) Most people have a special place in the outdoors or experience with nature that is dear to them that they love to talk about. Louv spoke about congressional hearings that he has taken part in that were derailed as lawmakers each had to relate a personal story of their own childhood delight in nature.
8) Builders and developers are getting on board. Louv has been invited to speak at conferences for builders and developers and has found that more creativity is being used to create green spaces in planned communities.
9) You don’t have to be an expert. One brave parent in the audience mentioned her hesitation to lead a nature hike. “Then,” she said, “I realized that I don’t have to be an expert.” I think lots of parents (and maybe some educators too), might feel they don’t have the necessary tools to supervise a foray into nature. Admit that you don’t know what kind of bug, bush or flower you’re admiring and look them up together in guide books later. Draw pictures of birds and compare to photos on the web. Use the experience to teach children how to research and study natural elements around them.
10) Kids need a mission to create as well as “fix”. One of the most valuable things I took away from this lecture is the notion that we can’t inspire kids by constantly giving them the impression that the earth is doomed and dying. Yes, there is global warming and pollution, litter and diminishing natural resources. Guilt and pounding in this message day after day without showing them what they can build and create to make the world better won’t inspire enthusiasm.
Richard Louv's website
The Children and Nature Network
Keep Rockland Beautiful
Other posts of interest:Wiffle Ball Wishes
Last Child Without a Gun
No Child Left Inside: Rants and Raves