The Need for Nature

Richard Louv has set up a pretty broad picture for us so far. The history of how we, as Americans, proceed through our conquests and frontiers reveals not a mere trend, but rather a distinct characteristic.

Now that we’ve progressed to the third frontier, it is the essence of our nature to move on. If I’m not mistaken, in the whole of this book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv is asking us: in which direction, for the sake of our children, do we choose to continue?

This question is rooted in a deep concern for the current status quo.

Based on his life’s passion and writings, Louv consolidated his knowledge and developed the term nature-deficit disorder. He’s very quick to explain that it is not an official medical diagnosis, nor is it meant to front itself as such. He does, however make a strong case for the term:

“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human cost of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

He continues; his mission is to rid ourselves of this unnecessary malady:

“By weighing the consequences of this disorder, we can also become more aware of how blessed our children can be – biologically, cognitively, and spiritually – through positive physical connection to nature.”

Through his research, Louv came across the hypothesis of Edward O. Wilson: biophilia. This term concentrates on biological shifts based on “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”

Though not all biologists are strong advocates of this theory, the field of ecopsychology has contributed data highlighting the positive response in humans after being exposed to many different aspects of nature.

For instance, one study shows “the mortality rate of heart-disease patients with pets was found to be one-third that of patients without pets.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Louv shares the statistic showing that the steepest increase in antidepressant prescriptions by demographic was a boost… in preschoolers. Yes, preschoolers.

I am not a doctor, nor an expert of anything for that matter. But, perpetual growth and change is the nature of all preschool-aged children. Mentally and physically, through circadian rhythms and coordination skill, logic and imagination, size and weight, children in this demographic are supposed to reveal all emotion and breadth of personality; how else would they know it exists?

How else would they learn to distinguish between right and wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, and tell happy from sad? To me, the diagnosis of depression in a child this young is a stretch.

Just the other day, my four-yr-old daughter became very emotional very spontaneously. Call me crazy, but I didn’t call the doctor. I took her on a long, long walk and let her act monkey-esque at a park for the afternoon. I don’t know why the sudden changes in either direction, unusually sad or immediately content, but it looked to me as if taking the little lady out into the fresh air and sunshine fixed whatever was ailing her that morning.

Louv says:

“You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be. Especially now.”

Have you personally witnessed your child(ren) change demeanor after a change in their indoor/outdoor status?What do you think of Louv’s assessment regarding the current state of our kids’ culture?

Labor of Louv

illuminated forest

For me to even assume that a post of mine will inspire readers, I feel it is only right to first expose one of the main inspirations for this entire blog endeavor: Richard Louv.

Mr. Louv is the chairman of the Children & Nature Network, an organization created to provoke more of a connection between our children and the outdoors.  I have felt many of the sentiments of the program, but not until discovering the C&NN have I been able to fully understand what is wrong with our current educational approaches.

Louv’s most popular work, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, has provoked a widespread movement – aside from co-founding the C&NN - that includes the creation of the Leave No Child Insideinitiative and the Nature Child Reunion.  Both have been created in the wake of Louv’s book.

Last Child in the Woods

Louv Book Cover

In my affection and excitement, I cannot help but expose the tip of the iceberg for you.  However, I will not go into too much detail, because I hope that you will join the Sound Mind, Sound Mom book club over at Simple Mom when they begin reading and discussing this book in June.

“As far as physical fitness goes, today’s kids are the sorriest generation in the history of the United States.  Their parents may be out jogging, but the kids just aren’t outside.”

Louv is describing what he calls the “third frontier” in our societal progression. The first being actual colonization, the second involving farm culture and the pastoral, the third frontier is defined by five distinct attributes:

  • a severance of the public and private mind from our food’s origins
  • a disappearing line between machines, humans and other animals
  • an increased intellectual understanding of our relationship with other animals
  • the invasion of our cities by wild animals (even as urban/suburban developers replace wilderness with synthetic nature)
  • the rise of a new kind of suburban form

Severance From Food’s Origins

I believe this attribute to be true and very telling of our culture.  However, with the rise of awareness and progress in the health and wellness sector, I can see this disconnect on a downward slope.  Farmer’s markets and health food stores are becoming more popular, as is the frequency of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and menu items.  With all of these moving in the right direction, I think we could still do a much better job of personally producing more than we consume; there’s no mistaking the viability of “organic” claims that way.  I love being able to go directly from a garden to the kitchen for meal preparation — that’s really making it from scratch.

Blurry Divisions Between Machines and Humans

“Even the definition of life itself is up for grabs.”

Think of Dolly the clone, stem-cell research, the pro-life/pro-choice stances, and how the field of genetics is taking off in countless directions.  I understand that many of our children (including my own) are not quite ready to discuss or grasp the social intensity surrounding some of these issues.  But our children’s perception of all of them depends on how we approach their education of such difficult topics. I have to admit: I’m having a hard time keeping up… I mean, Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore.

An Ever-Expanding Knowledge of Animals

In many ways, this is one of our greatest hopes in getting kids outside… even if it is just a trip to the zoo.  The only animals that live inside are the ones you get to know quite well, and the curiosity wears off eventually.  Channels like Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel have pure intentions and offer wonderfully honest programming.  But, you have to be watching television… inside… most likely eating on the couch… to take in the messages.  Let’s get our kids to take a book about animals outside.

Not-So Wild Life

When I drive through the suburbia we live in, it’s pretty easy to imagine its development: bulldozing the entire landscape to build the houses; finding empty places to plan and manufacture a landscape for the parks; filling in the rest with brand new trees that still need braces to survive.  To be sure, having trees is better than the alternative, but I can’t help but wonder what my street looked like before it was “developed.”

Richard Louv had the patience to wrap his mind around all these factors and verbalize it so we could see it all in one place.  In the next post of this series, we’ll go into his thoughts on biophilia and how the effects of what he calls Nature-deficit disorder are devastating, but surely reversible.

How do you encourage your children’s relationship with nature?  Are you inspired by what Mr. Louv has to say?  What other attributes of our daily lives can you see as factors in how little children are outside?