Last child in the woods : saving our children from nature-deficit disorder

by Richard Louv

Paper Book, 2008




Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008.


Louv talks with parents, children, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, child-development researchers, and environmentalists to find ways for children to experience the natural world more deeply.


Original publication date


Physical description

xii, 390 p.; 22 cm



User reviews

LibraryThing member coffeeandtea
Important book that shows, among other things, the relationship between the natural world and what students gain from spending time in the outdoors.If you think students do not need time in the natural world, you really need to read this book.For me, growing up in Oregon (surrounded by mountains on three sides and a river on the fourth side) has provided a "nature filter" that influences me in many ways as described in Louv's book.I will strongly suggest this book to all parents, especially those parents who are connected to the Fulmore GT program. LAST CHILD in the WOODS is one of the main justifications for the nature emphasis in the GT program.While talking to Mrs. Rushing (6th grade science teacher) we were discussing the overall (within AISD and the nation) low scores in science. Perhaps the fact that children spend fewer and fewer hours outside might have something to do with the scores. If students are not outside observing the natural world, questioning the natural world, experimenting in the natural world, exploring the natural world, or experiencing the natural world, then how are they going to develop a scientific frame of mind.… (more)
LibraryThing member alexbook
Tedious and obvious. The basic premise is that unstructured outdoor play is healthy for children. I'm okay with that, but do we really need a whole chapter on the beneficial effects of building treehouses?

The author also overgeneralizes from his own life story. (Since he grew up in the country and moved to the city, he concludes that everyone of his generation grew up in the country and now lives in the city.) As a result, he telescopes several generations of urbanization into two or three decades.… (more)
LibraryThing member natureinthecity
I'm reviewing an older book that I recently read that pertains to the disconnection between modern society and nature,

“Last Child in the Woods-Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv

I had been interested in this book for some time. Having read blog posts and articles by Richard Louv, and agreeing wholeheartedly that it is imperative that we get children outside and connected with nature, I was interested in his take on what I do believe is a profound disconnect.

This summer I found a copy at my free book “store.” It looked unread. I was giddy. The book thing is like random Christmas, to get something there that is actually on my book wish list, is rare.

I am someone who studies cognitive development, with emphasis in psychopathology (study of disorders not psychopaths), as well as someone with interest in how mental disorders and disability is portrayed in media. You can imagine I am leery of people making up random disorders based on what they dislike about society. They are a very real thing that people experience. They present very real challenges, in many cases are disabling and shouldn’t be made light of in this way.

That said, I wanted to give it a chance, as I believe significant differences of opinion aside, Louv and I are kindred spirits.

What did I find in this book? I found quite a bit of reminiscing, some interesting history on societal change, heartwarming anecdotes, and vague blaming of nearly all of society’s ills on lack of nature, and increased use technology. Some of it, was interesting. I found myself nodding along in agreement. The ideas for reconnecting people with nature are good ones.

Yet I cannot possibly recommend this book.

There is also ableism and ignorance.

One specific, most damning example being in the chapter: “Why the Young and The Rest of Us, Need Nature”

“The Rise of Cultural Autism
In the most nature deprived corners of our world we can se the rise of what might be called cultural autism. The symptoms? Tunneled Senses, and feelings of isolation and containment. Experience, including physical risk, is narrowing to about the size of a cathode ray tube, or flat panel if you prefer. Atrophy of the senses, was occurring long before we came to be isolated from the natural world…”

Phrases that stuck out were, “tunneled senses”, “isolation and containment,” “atrophy of the senses.”


My childhood was tough. There were two places I felt most free, going along with Sherlock and Watson on adventures (tucked safely in the public library) and out among the trees.

While walking the trails, watching the insects, chasing frogs, letting water run through my hands, I felt I was in paradise. I wandered and played for hours in the woods. Solitary? Yes. But I could feel the pulse of life there and knew I belonged to it. I think it’s a reason I’m still breathing. My senses were alive and FILLED. Not in the least atrophied. I’m still autistic.

That isn’t what is wrong with this paragraph though. I know many people are fond of a good analogy, a comparison of sorts. I am. However, writers must be responsible.

When you make such analogies, with real lived experiences of real people, you actually also encourage stereotype. If your cultural autism is atrophied, experience less, and isolated/contained (not a part of the world), then so are persons diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

This is how Louv sees us? The thought he wishes to convey? I cannot believe he has much direct experience with the spectrum.

It goes on though, because then he also, very slyly not really saying, but implying that “nature deficit disorder” is responsible at least in part for the attention difficulties of children. Mmm.hmmm.

I have ADD diagnosis as well. Nature makes me feel happier, at peace,and it eases my stress. It does not change how my mind works.

One of my three autistic sons also has an ADHD diagnosis. The boy does so much better handling stress when he has time to play outside. Guess what? When we come home from the park he’s still autistic. He still has attention, impulse, and learning retention problems. How about my other son, who barely speaks? The joy, the happiness being outside brings him, I cannot adequately describe with the written word.

It hasn’t improved his talking.

Just because studies show that spending time outside increases attention, it doesn't mean that the difficulties are a result of not spending time outside. Non causa pro causa. (and, converse problems or as we like to say round here "ass backwards") It is irresponsible to suggest it.

I know ADHD is an easy thing to bash and blame on modern life. I know too that autism is newsworthy, catchy thing that many people wish they understood the mechanism of.

However, it is irresponsible to hint around that all we need is more time outside, or that our home and school environment is creating these problems, especially when the person doing the hinting doesn’t appear to really understand either neurological condition.
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LibraryThing member nandadevi
An interesting discussion flogged to to death. A book half as long would have been twice as persuasive. However, worth reading if you have an interest in biophilia (whether or not you've ever heard of the word...).
LibraryThing member colinsky
It's a great book - lives up to its promise. Two things though -- 1. though Louv makes a convincing case that nature is good for us psychologically, he doesn't say why that is. I don't think anyone knows. 2. though I can't help but love Louv's optimism, I found that as I read the last few chapters describing his vision for injecting more contact with nature in our lives, his idyllic description of our return to garden cities leaves out one essential point -- the 7.5 billion people who inhabit the rest of the globe as the state of degradation of nature, energy and food shortages, global warming, etc. spiral into catastrophe have to be relied on to back off and leave those of us in North America alone to bask in a new, happy, bucolic, dreamy state of bliss. I don't think they'll be so generous.… (more)
LibraryThing member kmoellering
I'm reading this book now for a book group, and honestly, if I had a reason to quit reading it I would. It's a really boring collection of studies, really. I'm 200 pages in and so far I've gone paragraph to paragraph with statements like "in a 2007 study so and so Ph.D. found that blah blah blah" and "in 2003 a study found that blah blah blah". I would rather NOT read a compilation of studies. I much prefer a clear narrative.
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LibraryThing member CherieDooryard
I've been avoiding reading this book since it came out, so I suppose I can't blame the author for the fact that it feels dated. But nine years have not done the book any favors. The research portion is still interesting and relevant, but the look forward feels either grim (look at all those things that didn't happen!) or incomplete (this predated popular social media). [Now I realize there is an updated edition, but even that is from 2008.]

I also think this could have been strengthened by providing more concrete suggestions for change at a family or neighborhood level. Most of the "solutions" are at the public policy or building code level, which isn't really helpful. Overall I'm glad I read it; it definitely confirmed many of my life choices.
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LibraryThing member sgraffwriter
I read this book a few years ago and have continually gone back to it. It presents an argument that is more profound with each passing year: that our children are disconnected from a world that is vanishing. Two ironies: the natural world is shrinking and children are kept from experiencing what's left of it. As a parent, I'm as guilty as anyone else. We spend too much time making connections on sites like this one and not enough time going out into nature. And we live in a culture that is increasingly disinterested in preservation of natural landscapes, that denies and diminishes science and research, that refuses to put resources and funding into ensuring that our children have the necessary grounding in natural science. Richard Louv's book is wonderful but tinged with heartbreaking realities. As a teacher, I can see how children connect immediately with even the smallest fragments of the nature that is around them. We owe it to our children to give them that kind of education every time there is an opportunity to do so.… (more)
LibraryThing member ErasmusRob
*Inspired and Important*

Richard Louv makes important points about what we may cost ourselves, our children, and our future by becoming more urban and less connected to the natural world. Within living memory, even urban children often had access to an overgrown vacant lot which would be suitable for playing and exploring, whereas nowadays they're likely to be fenced in or inhabited by gangs and addicts (or both).

An important book for parents in particular.
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LibraryThing member Ms.Zaremba
A must use book for any environmental science course. It discusses the need to explore and examine nature, as this experience helps one to learn more about science, manipulative tools, and appreciate nature.
LibraryThing member Turrean
A powerful bit of pleading for letting the kids outside.
LibraryThing member Yllom
Louv's book discusses a 'nature-deficit disorder' and ways to counteract it. He cites a 2002 British study which reported that eight-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name "otter, beetle, and oak tree." Gathering thoughts from parents, teachers, researchers, environmentalists and other concerned parties, Louv argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world.… (more)
LibraryThing member BettyB112
This book was a bit of a chore. Mr. Louv spent a great deal of time driving his point home, which was probably helpful for the skeptics that were reading it. I'm not a skeptic, so I found myself thinking, "Okay, I get it, move on please!" This was good information, but it was a little too preachy for me. It did make me get my kids outside more, though, and since that's the whole idea of the book (in a nutshell) then it is at the very least effective.… (more)
LibraryThing member wiseasgandalf
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1 NIV)

"In my first counseling job, I took children with AIDS to the mountains who had never been out of their urban neighborhoods. One night, a nine year-old woke me up. She had to go to the bathroom. We stepped outside the tent and she looked up. She gasped and grabbed my leg. She had never seen the stars before." --Madhu Narayan

"I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are." --San Diego 4th grader

Something has went wrong. Something very deep & fundamental, states Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.

Children in America have largely lost nature and wilderness. Their knowledge of it, their connection to it, their love of it.

Louv passionately pleads that immersion in God's creation is not just a "nice thing" for our children, but something vital for their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development. He goes so far as to give society's current state a name-- "nature-deficit disorder."

So, is this just one more idea, one more book, or is this something real?

I agree with Louv. I think both Scripture and experience tell us that God constructed both our bodies and our souls to exist in the rich, beautiful world that he created. God intended for us to be blessed, as Louv would put it, "biologically, cognitively, and spiritually--through positive physical connection to nature." That "time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health."
This is not some flower-child nature worship-- it's just an honest realization of how God made us. We were not made to be holed up in caves of wood and concrete and steel; we were made to live in God's creation. Louv says "in our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness."

His conclusion? Alienation from God's creation, just as alienation from the God Who made it, has deleterious effects on our body and soul. As Louv quotes Luther Standing Bear, "Man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard."

His solution? A realization of the importance of living in nature, and then a restoration of that life, both on a personal level, a community level, and a societal level, both in practical steps for today and visionary plans for the future.
I loved this book. I loved the careful thought that went into it. I loved all the peppery quotes, like "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing" (author Norman Maclean referring about his father, a Presbyterian pastor) and "God communicates to us (nowhere) with such texture and forcefulness in detail and grace and joy, as through creation...this is what connects humanity, this is what we have in common. It's not the internet, it's the oceans." (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I loved what this book did to my soul, turning it to God's creation and its importance for both my children and me. I loved how it encouraged me to more actively involve my kids in contact with and appreciation of God's creation.

So what about the spiritual content? Louv writes very broadly and generically about spirituality, interviewing many people from many religious views. The whole area of our relationship with God's creation has long been primarily, if not exclusively, the domain of "liberals" and people far from a conservative Christian viewpoint. It is sad that in the book he could find no voice from a reformed theological tradition that could have forcefully and articulately praised his ideas while grounding them solidly in a Biblical worldview. I see some seeds of change within evangelical Christianity regarding a right view and right embracing of God's gift of His creation. Hopefully readers of this book can plant some of those seeds in their own lives and in the lives of others in their spheres of influence.
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LibraryThing member auntieknickers
Although there were probably flaws in this book and in some of the author's arguments and suggestions, I gave it five stars because I think it's an important topic that was reasonably well addressed. Even as a fairly sedentary child who loved to read above all things, I spent plenty of time outdoors, climbing trees in the swamp behind our house, imagining on the rocky beach of Long Island Sound, throwing sticks for my grandfather's dog to catch.... My own children had more freedom than many in their generation, though probably not as much as I, and we did take them camping a lot. They have often remarked about kids they've babysat or nannied for that they do not (and often aren't allowed to) spend much time outdoors even when there is ample opportunity. I think this is an important book for parents, grandparents, and school administrators, among others. I would disagree with the author's idea that giving your kids a cell phone to take into the woods (or other natural area) is a necessary precaution. But if that's what it takes to get them outside, I guess it's OK.… (more)
LibraryThing member keebrook
Louv discusses “nature deficit disorder” wherein our society has moved away from letting children just play and be outside. natural play has been criminalized through fear of being sued for a child breaking their arm by falling from a tree in your yard or on the school playground and fear of “strangers.” the distance kids are allowed to roam from their home has decreased dramatically in the last 20-30 years and hearkens to the free range child movement.

most kids no longer know what it means to just lie in a meadow and watch the clouds and listen to the wind. Louv recounts quite a few anecdotes from other people as well as his own about the value and joy of playing outside when they were young.

the concepts there were not new to me and the lack of numbered notation for references and index placed this book firmly in the land of journalism rather than scholarship. nevertheless, it makes its point well and is very much worth the read if you are interested in learning more about the diverging of humans and their natural environment and its effect on our childhood.
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LibraryThing member uufnn
The author is the recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal and the author of seven books. He is the chairman of the Children and Nature Network and honorary co-chair of the National Forum on Children and Nature. Louv has written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and other newspapers and magazines.

Robert Michael Pyle, author of Sky Time in Gray's River, said of this work, "[It] is the direct descendant and rightful legatee of Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder. But this is not the only thing Richard Louv has in common with Rachel Carson. There is also this: in my opinion, Last Child in the Woods is the most important book published since Silent Spring." First published in 2005, this edition has 35 discussion points for book groups, classrooms, and communities. Also included is new and updated research from the U. S. and abroad, plus a progress report from the author.The book has chapter notes, is well indexed and provides a list of 100 actions we can take to help work toward the goal of "leaving no child inside."
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LibraryThing member StaffReads
Although this book has been around for years, I recently had the opportunity to listen to an audio version. It is a convincing and powerful book with a very focused message about children and the environment. What I found most interesting was the way Louv describes the positive consequences of outdoor play, nature education and creativity on both an individual and global scale (and the horror of the flip side). This continues to be an auspicious and pertinent message; a must-read for parents and educators.… (more)
LibraryThing member greeniezona
Okay, actually I read most of this book last year, but then it disappeared mysteriously -- until I finally discovered it behind the couch! It took a while to get back into the train of thought I'd left weeks (months?) ago, but I was very glad to finally finish it.

This was a life-changing book in many ways. It was one of those perfect books just two steps ahead of the reader's brain -- I was more than ready to agree with nearly everything contained within. And that covers a lot of ground! From research suggesting that exposure to nature is essential to a child's development to how sprawl and lawsuit-paranoid land-use policies have restricted this access to groups working to bring exposure to nature into the schools and into neighborhoods to play quality in "traditional" playgrounds vs natural areas to the effect of teaching environmentalism with an exclusively global focus while neglecting local flora & fauna and a sense of connection to place... It's exhaustive! But never exhausting. Each chapter spawned new ideas and grew new connections in my brain. The author made a deliberate effort to focus on causes for hope and suggestions for action, which I well appreciated.

I would recommend this book to anyone. Anyone with kids or who knows kids. Anyone interested in nature or the environment. Anyone interested in education. Anyone interested in changing the world and who dares to hope.
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LibraryThing member Amelia_Smith
I'd heard of this book for years, and read/skimmed through it last week. It's OK, but most of it could have been covered in a substantial magazine article.
LibraryThing member Sean191
Enlightening, encouraging, much great information and an interesting read. I have a bias that leans toward the outdoors already, so maybe this wouldn't strike the same chord with everyone, but I was regularly spouting information from this book to anyone who would (or wouldn't listen). Kids need nature - already knew that, this just reinforces my dedication to that idea. It's also a great book to keep around as a reference with a bunch of web sites and ideas for nature activities at the end of the book.

Regardless of where you live, be it city, suburbia or somewhere more wild, there's nature there for the enjoying and this book explains why it's so very important for children (and adults) to make the most of it.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
Although this book has been around for years, I recently had the opportunity to listen to an audio version. It is a convincing and powerful book with a very focused message about children and the environment. What I found most interesting was the way Louv describes the positive consequences of outdoor play, nature education and creativity on both an individual and global scale (and the horror of the flip side). This continues to be an auspicious and pertinent message; a must-read for parents and educators.… (more)
LibraryThing member rightantler
Parts of this flow and engage really well, other parts less so. A valuable read.


xii; 390


(231 ratings; 4)
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