Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last Child in the Woods

Last night, author Richard Louv began his talk at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre by asking attendees if, as a kid, they had a special place outside.

"My special place was 'my woods.' They were mine. I owned those woods. I own them now; I go there now," he said. "The ultimate question to me is will future generations have that place to go to in their heart."

His 2006 book, Last Child in the Woods, documents evidence — both anecdotal and empirical — that there has been a steep decline in the amount of time children spend outdoors, especially outdoors in nature.

But instead of being an exercise in nostalgia, Louv argues that the generational disconnect with nature will have a profound impact on the health of people and also the health of the earth. (The last child in the woods is also, probably, the last environmentalist.)

Louv talked a lot about how time in nature helps kids with attention deficit disorder, how just having natural daylight in classrooms raises test scores, and how nature nurtures creativity. "Raising kids under house arrest," as he put it, also has an effect on obesity rates for a group of children that doctors predict won't live as long as their parents.

"Pediatricians don't see a lot of broken bones anymore," Louv said. "Now they see repetitive stress injuries and those last a lot longer than broken bones."

But the health question doesn't just to go to those people who lack nature or a background in nature, I don't think. One thing Louv mentioned in the book was that med schools were having a harder time teaching students how the heart pumps, simply because students don't have the natural background. (Even for the most creative of us, it's hard to imagine something you've never seen. People generally start off with a common point of reference, you know?)

Louv has a lot of suggestions how to get children outside: programs, family nature clubs, etc. and I think all of that is very good. But I was looking around at the crowd last night (like I do) and many of them were graying white folks. One of the women talked about how she raised her kids during the '70s and '80s and how it was completely different then and how she let her kids run wild.

And maybe it was because it was a school night, and maybe people are just having children older, but I wondered how many people who were there were actually in the position of making a difference.

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