BookReview: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv, Algonquin Books, April 15, 2005, 978-1565123915

In his book, Richard Louv is defines Nature-Deficit Disorder: the growing dissociation of nature from our world and our children's lives. Step out into the green, and you'll be better off. That's my experience at least, and even yesterday, yet another article popped up: Five minutes in the green can boost self esteem.

Louv's thesis is sound but he beats us over the head with it. He also goes too far at bashing technology. He couldn't have written his book without technology. He has a website. For these two reasons, I stopped reading the book before the end.

[k360] Countless communities have virtually outlawed unstructured outdoor nature play, often because of the threat of lawsuits, but also because of a growing obsession with order.

[k362] One source of constriction is private government. Most housing tracts, condos, and planned communities constructed in the past two to three decades are controlled by strict covenants that discourage or ban the kind of outdoor play many of us enjoyed as children. Today,

[k409] "Based on previous studies, we can definitely say that the best predictor of preschool children's physical activity is simply being outdoors," says Sallis, "and that an indoor, sedentary childhood is linked to mental-health problems."

[k677] Few of us are about to trade our air conditioners for fans. But one price of progress is seldom mentioned: a diminished life of the senses.

[k778] Frank Wilson, professor of neurology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is an expert on the co-evolution of the hominid hand and brain. In The Hand, he contends that one could not have evolved to its current sophistication without the other. He says, "We've been sold a bill of goods-especially parents-about how valuable computer-based experience is. We are creatures identified by what we do with our hands." Much of our learning comes from doing, from making, from feeling with our hands; and though many would like to believe otherwise, the world is not entirely available from a keyboard. As Wilson sees it, we're cutting off our hands to spite our brains.

[k791] As naturalist Robert Michael Pyle says, "Place is what takes me out of myself, out of the limited scope of human activity, but this is not misanthropic. A sense of place is a way of embracing humanity among all of its neighbors. It is an entry into the larger world."

This is such a strong value judgment that I was quite disturbed. I am alive when I am programming or in nature. I am aware at all times I let myself be. I am alive when I am in touch with me. This can happen anywhere I choose.

[k815] He looked out across the canyon through the haze of rain. "I finally felt that I was a part of nature." The context of his life shifted. He was immersed in living history, witnessing natural events beyond his control, keenly aware of it all. He was alive. Surely such moments are more than pleasant memories. The young don't demand dramatic adventures or vacations in Africa. They need only a taste, a sight, a sound, a touch-or, as in Jared's case, a lightning strike-to reconnect with that receding world of the senses. The know-it-all state of mind is, in fact, quite vulnerable. In a flash, it burns, and something essential emerges from its ashes.

[k989] "who, as it happens, have all the fun." Nicholson's "loose-parts" theory has been adopted by many landscape architects and child's-play experts. Nicholson summed up his theory this way: "In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it." A "loose-parts" toy, as Nicholson defined it, is open-ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose parts through imagination and creativity.

For those of us who get why software is so complex, we don't have to choose between nature and computers. They often go together.

[k994] One might argue that a computer, with its near-infinite coding possibilities, is history's deepest box of loose parts. But binary code, made of two parts - 1 and 0 - has its limits. Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts.

[k1163] "Our brains are set up for an agrarian, nature-oriented existence that came into focus five thousand years ago;" says Michael Gurian, a family therapist and best-selling author of The Good Son and The Wonder of Boys. "Neurologically, human beings haven't caught up with today's overstimulating environment. The brain is strong and flexible, so 70 to 80 percent of kids adapt fairly well. But the rest don't.

[k1182] As described in Monitor on Psychology, Hartig asked participants to complete a forty-minute sequence of tasks designed to exhaust their directed-attention capacity. After the attention-fatiguing tasks, Hartig then randomly assigned participants to spend forty minutes "walking in a local nature preserve, walking in an urban area, or sitting quietly while reading magazines and listening to music," the journal reported. "After this period, those who had walked in the nature preserve performed better than the other participants on a standard proofreading task. They also reported more positive emotions and less anger."

Via Rob 05/02/2010