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Last Child In The Woods

Updated on June 27, 2015

Book Summary

People need nature - really need nature, not merely enjoy nature or benefit from nature.

Children need experiences with nature just as they need sleep or healthy food.

Why? Richard Louv spends much of his book Last Child in the Woods explaining exactly what nature offers children: emotional well being, spiritual sense of perspective, observation skills, cognitive abilities, creativity, healthy risk taking, observation skills, balanced sense of humility, stress management, increased attention, lowered depression.

Flickr photo credit

How can nature offer all of these advantages? Primarily because it involves all of the senses. He contrasts it with television and computers which are mainly dual-sensory, appealing only to the eyes and ears.

Last Child In The Woods

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

This is the book that inspired this lens. I consider it a "must-read" for any parent or teacher.


Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health.

Book Summary Continued - Nature Deficit Disorder

And what if we lack this time with nature? Louv calls the result nature deficit disorder. Unfortunately, our culture has created this disorder with a criminalization of natural play. An irrational fear of the woods and the things that go on there, a general mistrust of strangers, a sense of panic over crime, and a fear of litigation all work against children's delight in the outdoors. Parents simply are afraid to let their children play, unfettered in nature which is exactly what Louv says they need. Free, unstructured time to explore, pretend, and create outdoors is the antidote to nature deficit disorder. And today's families are far to fearful and busy to provide this freedom.

The remedy? Read Louv's book, and you will realize that we truly need nature as we need water and shelter. When it is no longer a leisure pastime but a life's necessity, most parents will make time to enjoy nature alongside their children.
There is no substitute for direct experiences in nature. No books, online course, website, or lecture can take the place of touching, seeing, smelling for yourself. Those indirect methods of learning about nature, versus experiencing nature, lead to a "know it all" state of mind. But time spent entranced by nature's spell generates a sense of wonder, awe, and humble perspective.

from Richard Louv

"Now, my tree-climbing days long behind me, I often think about the lasting value of those early, deliciously idle days. I have come to appreciate the long view afforded by those treetops. The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses."

My Own Reaction to Last Child in the Woods

This book resonated with me because of my own childhood experiences in nature and my genuine sadness at the lack of them for my daughter.

I grew up in the rural South on a large piece of land sandwiched between two tobacco farms. We had trees to climb, pine needles to burrow in, woods to explore, and a lovely patch of daffodils to admire. Our only rule was to not go so far that we could not hear the bell calling us home.

My daughter's experience couldn't be more different from my own. When she was three, our family relocated to a city of millions in China. Nature seemed non-existent in those first few years of cultural adjustment. I longed for GREEN. (I felt that there was "no escaping man" as Louv quotes Bill McKibben.)

Then I learned about Charlotte Mason nature study and how to incorporate it even in an urban setting. I began to make nature study a priority. For example, we chose a somewhat inconveniently located apartment complex because of its abundance of landscaped greenery. Further investigation unturned a park near our home. A real park with "wild" places where children are allowed to walk on the grass, pluck flowers and leaves, and collect rocks and insects.

Despite her initial complaints, my daughter is beginning to love our nature walks. And even better, since I've instituted a weekly nature walk and monthly trips to the "wild" park, I've seen her interest in natural things blossom far beyond her natural childhood love of animals. Now she points out seedpods, beautiful flowers, and unusual leaves. It has taken consistent and deliberate efforts, but her eyes have been opened! We are battling her (and my!) nature deficit disorder!

What good is nature?

Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture's fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.

Be Intentional

"It takes time--loose, unstructured dreamtime-- to experience nature in a meaningful way. Unless parents are vigilant, such time becomes a scarce resource, not because we intend it to shrink, but because time is consumed by multiple, invisible forces; because our culture currently places so little value on natural play."

A Critique -- Homeschooling

I was disappointed that Louv never addressed homeschooling as one antidote to the nature deficit disorder. Many homeschooling families, especially those who use a Charlotte Mason style of education, realize the value of nature and make time for it as part of their academic plan. What Louv advocates is almost identical to what Charlotte Mason recommended for children - hours outdoors every day in which they can play freely, unfettered by a parent's restrictions.

Although his book does address parents as agents of change, he never considers them through a homeschooling framework. Instead, Louv looks to policy makers and to public education to make pro-nature changes. I can only imagine that Louv would love a Charlotte Mason styled homeschool family's nature study! Just like Miss Mason, Louv espouses getting to know intimately, through direct experiences and observation, a small spot of nature close to you. What good is it to know rainforest ecology but not be able to identify the trees lining your own street? His call for small classes with lots of freedom to explore sounds just like a homeschool environment to me.

Quite simply, when we deny our children nature, we deny them beauty.

A Critique -- Christian Insights

Last Child in the Woods is not written from a Christian perspective, so the entire spiritual element is missing. Louv did attempt to address it in a chapter near the end called "The

Spiritual Necessity of Nature for the Young." It's obvious that he lacks a clear foundation of faith from which to explain the healing power of nature. So his writing here is not as compelling as other parts.

For a Christian believer, it is a disappointing section. I was sensing a grand crescendo of spiritual revelations and Biblical truths. But that just done not exist in the text. You'll have to contemplate on it yourself (in your favorite nature spot, of course) for any truly meaningful Christian insights.

If you are not a conservative Christian, you probably will not sense this lack in the book. And even though I did, I heartily recommend this book! For a Christian, it's not hard to make the connections to our Creator God who reveals Himself through his created world.


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    • LarryBass LM profile image

      LarryBass LM 

      6 years ago

      Oh ya, this lens is bang on. Get those kiddies outside and show them what's out there for them. You can change their lives...

    • Mercy Girl No9 profile image

      Mercy Girl No9 

      7 years ago

      I have not read the book yet, but I believe time in nature is very important to kids (whether they realize it or not). Some of my best childhood memories are those of hiking at a local state park and spending time at my best friend's farm.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      I haven't read this book yet, but certainly plan to. I appreciated Richard Louv's wisdom when I read The Web of Life. Thank you for introducing me to Last Child In The Woods. I wholeheartedly agree that nature is essential to thriving.

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      8 years ago

      One of my favorite books ever.

      ***Blessed by an Angel***

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I had never heard of nature deficit disorder but it sure makes sense. I can imagine how you must have felt so deprived of green in China, I feel like that in Fargo sometimes. I love your statement about being intentional with "loose, unstructured dream time" ~ that's how I grew up! We had woods all around us, just a step out of the yard and I was in the forest. I absolutely love this!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Based on the current reviews, looks like i need to find a time and read it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I've heard that a great review makes one want to read the book, you've done that! I want to read this book. The nurture of nature is something that we have robbed our children of. Blessed by an Angel!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh my gosh, I loved this review so much that I featured it again on Squidoo Lens Reviews, forgetting completely that I had already done so back in April. Oh well, good time for a refresher.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great review which is being featured on SquidLit Reviews. I really like the way you made connections between what Louv says in the book to homeschooling to your own Christian connection.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      9 years ago from Central Florida

      I was a country kid and my current love of nature links back to time playing in the creek, watching dragonflies and tending our garden. Activities like these lay an important foundation for all adults.

    • eccles1 profile image


      9 years ago

      You are right kids need nature ! beautiful Lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      It is amazing what just a little time in the woods can do for your mood.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I plan on reading this book. I have always been big on being outdoors and my kids grew up camping. Now I have young step kids and they are just not as into the outdoors and I hope I can change that.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      10 years ago from Royalton

      This lens is now featured on Creatures of the Woodlands.

      Thank you, Jimmie, for pointing out how much our children need nature in their lives.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Imagery is stunning. This is the 1st SquidLit lens I've read. I want to read more!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      There is so much out there for kids to see and learn.

      Great lens


    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 

      10 years ago

      One of my fondest memories as a teen-ager is climbing trees, walking through the woods, and swimming in the lake (I was one of those barefooted country girls). I believe nature is so good for keeping you grounded and calm, so you can work out some of the tough stuff in life.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      10 years ago from Southampton, UK

      It's so important for children to understand nature and to experience natrual things. SO many spend their young lives cooped up in the house watching tv and playing computer games, they never have a chance to see the countryside and to appreciate the beauty that is around us. Very nice lens, 5*****

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      10 years ago

      As a public school teacher, its nice to know that home school children are getting a dose of science and nature too. Once, a few years back, a home school parent told me that she didn't think science and nature were all that important. She would rather use that time to read. I almost cried.

      Beautiful lens


    • LarryBass LM profile image

      LarryBass LM 

      10 years ago

      Simply Grand Lens Jimmie! Eye-opening revelations, eye-poppin' graphics, along with New, powerful terminology and the whole thing written to be understood by ALL. Jeepers, are YOU a Writer, or What? Awesometastic Lens 2 B sure, fellow quill-master!

      I will use the N.D.D. short form, along with it's explanation, in many of my future writings, Now that YOU have turned me on to this very important info and a whole new corner of the web, for me. Thanx 4 that! You Really are an Angel! :-)



    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Another wonderful lens! Welcome to the Nature Lovers group :)

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 

      11 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      A visit to the woods brings me so much contentment/peace; I don't know how people can go without it. Wonderful book review.

    • LilliputStation profile image


      11 years ago

      I was FINALLY able to check this out of the libraary today. (They've been closed due to an expansion/remodel.) The librarian gave it a glowing review as well. She said she bought a copy for each of her children. I can't wait to get started reading it.

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 

      11 years ago from Royalton

      There is a new group being formed in Squidooville. It’s called A Walk in the Woods. Because you have done such a nice job with your lens Whitefoot the Wood Mouse is inviting you to join him in this new venture. The exposure that your lens gets by joining will boost your lens rank and add to the number of web pages linking to your lens. Come take A Walk in the Woods.

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 

      11 years ago

      Beautiful lens about an all important issue. Thank you for sharing.

    • BFunivcom profile image

      Allan R. Wallace 

      11 years ago from Wherever Human Rights Reign

      not only children, but a nice reminder we all need time with nature.

    • Classic LM profile image

      Classic LM 

      11 years ago

      Hi Jimmie, both thumbs up! Very nice work. Thanks for submitting this ti Nature and Environment! Keep the good stuff coming! Classic

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I read this book back in November, and it left an impression on me, too. Great book. Great lens. Thank you!

    • CynthiaWetzel profile image

      Cynthia Wetzel 

      11 years ago from Michigan

      I enjoyed this lens. I will read the book. Thank you.

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      11 years ago

      Thanks Jimmie for the really great lens. This is an important book with an important message.


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