Last Child in the Woods

How parents can relieve kids’ symptoms, right in their own backyards.

by Richard Louv
Algonquin Books, $13.95
Purchase Last Child in the Woods

Richard Louv is careful to say that the condition he coins, “nature-deficit disorder,” will never be given as an actual medical diagnosis. The thesis of Last Child in the Woods is that today’s children suffer from too little exposure to nature. Louv argues that digging in the soil or wandering in the woods is essential for any child’s development, and he presents evidence that spending time outdoors helps relieve the symptoms of ADHD.

Weaving together compelling anecdotes and scientific data, Louv says that today’s children are more disconnected from the outdoors than those of any previous generation. A number of factors-loss of open space, fear of injury, and, of course, electronic forms of entertainment-keep kids inside the house. “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” one fourth-grader told him. Louv traces a host of emerging trends, from higher levels of childhood obesity and depression to a dearth of creativity and lower academic performance, back to this nature deficit.

The author devotes a full chapter to the link with ADHD. The human brain, Louv speculates, might be hard-wired to thrive on the sensory input provided by swaying trees and gurgling brooks, and their absence may change us in fundamental ways. But whether or not nature deficit contributes to attention deficit, he argues, nature can help cure it. Louv cites research showing that daily play or activity in “green” environments can reduce symptoms in children diagnosed with ADHD. (See “The Natural Remedy for ADD” to read an interview with the author of one of these studies)

Louv offers more than evidence supporting his theory – he passes along advice and activity ideas for parents. For the charming game “The Sound of a Creature Not Stirring,” parent and child list unheard “sounds,” like an apple ripening or leaves changing colors, as they wander through the woods. After all, the cure for nature-deficit disorder is right in our own backyards.