Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Last Child in the Woods

by Malina

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Does your child suffer from Nature-deficit disorder? How much time a day does your child spend outside playing? Can they identify the trees and plants in your yard? Can you? Is your child’s ADD related to a lack of unstructured time spent outside?

Richard Louv writes about all of these things in his book “Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder". I first read this book in 2008 and have re-read sections of it several times since. It wasn’t a quick easy read, but a worthy one. It made me think about my own relationship with nature and how I could foster a better relationship with the natural world for my children.

Louv’s main thesis is that we now live in the third frontier, which has five major trends (1st frontier – the wild west, 2nd frontier – Disney version of Wild West). The five major trends are the severing of the public and private mind from the origins of our food, the disappearing line between machines, humans and other animals, our relationship with animals becoming increasingly only intellectual, the invasion of cities by wild animals, and the rise of a new kind of suburbia. Additionally, another large part of this third frontier is the criminalization of natural play. In our world now, tree house building in the woods is illegal and exploring nature is to be done only with our eyes, not with our hands. (Have you ever told your child to only look with their eyes at flowers and plants?) Louv finishes the book with his vision of the fourth frontier where we all live in small green village communities.

One of the gems in the updated editions of this book are the lists in the back of ideas and resources. There are lists of books to read and 100 ways to change your life to add more nature time for your family. Some of these ideas can be viewed here.This book has also influenced movements like “No Child Left Inside”.

So why do we all (and especially our children) need more time spent in nature? Some of the reasons discussed in the book:


  1. Nature nurtures creativity.
  2. Nature is a restorative environment.
  3. Children who spend time outside in nature have longer attention spans.
  4. Time spent in nature teaches us countless lessons that help us elsewhere in life.
  5. Nature teaches us we don’t know everything and is a testimony of our God.
  6. Time spent in nature improves our emotional health.
So what are some simple things you can do now to help your children enjoy time outside?



  1. Go on nature walks around the block regularly. Look for flowers, interesting tree leaves, ants, worms, bugs. Take home samples to find out what they are. Learn your own neighborhood, watching and taking pictures of the changes of the seasons with your child.
  2. Plant a children’s garden. Let them choose what to plant. Perhaps a pizza themed garden, or a clock garden, an ABC garden, a Sunflower house, a fairy garden? Ideas for all of these exist in the book Sunflower Houses – Inspiration for the Garden or Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children. (check your local library!)
  3. Take your child to a local creek and teach them to skip stones. Look for minnows, interesting rocks, etc. Follow their lead in exploring.
  4. Go hiking. Make it more fun by letterboxing or geocaching in a nearby state park. Finding the “treasures” makes the hike more fun for kids!
  5. Go camping, even in your own backyard. Teach your child to collect fireflies or listen to the crickets chirp the temperature.
  6. Learn about the stars, or the clouds. Try the great backyard bird count or the bee count at the great sunflower project. Go bird watching!
  7. Go to a pick your own farm and harvest your own produce.
These are just some ideas that I have tried out in my own family. There are many other ways you can help successfully foster a good relationship with nature in your children.

What are some ways you have helped your family to spend more time outside and have a positive relationship with nature?

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