Skip to comments.Have Our Children Forgotten How to Play Outdoors?
Posted on 07/25/2012 7:37:51 AM PDT by rhema
Author Richard Louv believes that Americas children are now suffering from a syndrome he identifies as nature-deficit disorder. In his recent book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv suggests that the current generation of American children knows the Discovery Channel better than their own backyardsand that this loss of contact with nature leads to impoverished lives and stunted imagination.
Louv begins by recounting an anecdote involving his son, Matthew. When the boy was about ten years of age, he asked his father: Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid? The boy was honestly reflecting on his knowledge of his fathers boyhood. Richard Louv, like most of us who came of age in his generation, spent most of our playing time outdoors, building forts in the woods, exploring every nook and cranny of our yards, and participating in activities that centered in child-organized outdoor fun. Louv reflects, Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging, and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.
Louv argues that this represents nothing less than a sudden shift in the way Americans live, raise their children, and engage the natural world. Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environmentbut their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. Thats exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.
Looking back, Louv remembers holding to a rather simplistic view of his environment. As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forest. No one in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my field; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt path. I wandered those woods even in my dreams.
The situation is far different now. As Louv reflects, A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rainforestbut not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move. In this book, Richard Louv is articulating what many of us have been thinking. I recognize that my own boyhood is far removed from that of my son. It seems as if the world has been drastically changed. I grew up in neighborhoods that were typically suburban. Nevertheless, the woods were always nearby. For me, the woods included untamed tracts of land that were awaiting future suburban development. Nevertheless, this land was filled with trees, swamps, creeks, snakes, crawdads, and all the creeping and crawling things that used to call boys out into the woods.
Louv understands that this transformation of the way we encounter nature extends even to activities that are supposedly focused on nature itself. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions, Louv recalls. As likely as not today, summer camp is a weight-loss camp, or a computer camp. For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wearto ignore.
In reality, many children have almost no contact with nature. They play indoors, focusing on electronic screens that produce an artificial experience. They are surrounded by creature comforts and watched over by anxious parents who are afraid that violent criminals are lurking behind every green tree. Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature, Louv observes. That lesson is delivered in schools, families, even organizations devoted to the outdoors, and codified into the legal and regulatory structures of many of our communities.
The larger cultural context is part of the problem. Louv notes that the academic world now seems far more interested in theoretical disciplines than in subjects like natural history and zoology. Beyond this, the biotechnology revolution threatens to blur the lines between humans and other animalsand the line between humans and machines.
Is contact with nature necessary for healthy childhood? Louv is absolutely confident that children have a deep need for contact with the natural world and its wonders. Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it, Louv insists. In his view, whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. The natural world offers children an opportunity to think, dream, touch, and play out fantasies about how he or she imagines the world. Nature brings a capacity for wonder and a connection with something real that is endlessly fascinating and largely outside human control.
Louv tells of interviewing thousands of children in the course of previous research. At one point, he received this candid comment from a fourth-grade boy in San Diego: I like to play indoors better, cause thats where all the electrical outlets are.
In the experience of all too many children, the electrical outlets are the determining reality. We have allowed our children to be so seduced by entertainment and information technologies that many believe that without electricity, experience is virtually impossible.
As one mom noted, children now spend much of their time watching. Weve become a more sedentary society, she observes. When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, we were always outdoors. The kids who stayed indoors were the odd ones. We didnt have any huge wide-open spaces, but we were always outdoors on the streetsin the vacant lots, jumping rope, or playing baseball or hopscotch. We were out there playing even after we got older.
Many of todays children show little inclination to go outdoors at all. Louv describes the environment as experienced by many American children as the third frontieran environment that is characterized by increasing distance from nature, an intellectualized understanding of the animal world, and a disconnection in the human consciousness between food and its origins.
That last point is of particular interest. Louv observes that many children have little knowledge of how food is produced. Lacking any experience with farming, livestock, and the food chain, these children simply assume that food is produced by something like a factory process. Young people may join animal rights groups without knowing anything about the actual animals involved. Louv argues that many college students become vegetarians without understanding that vegetables and vegetable byproducts are not manufactured indoors.
Richard Louv is a keen observerwatching our culture and taking careful note of how nature has become an abstraction for many of us. Why are so many Americans putting television and video screens in their vehicles? Louv observes: The highways edges may not be postcard perfect. But for a century, childrens early understanding of how cities and nature fit together was gained from the backseat: the empty farmhouse at the edge of the subdivision; the variety of architecture, here and there; the woods and fields and water beyond the seamy edgesall that was and still is available to the eye. This was the landscape that we watched as children. It was our drive-by movie.
These days, many parents allow kids to start the DVD player as soon as the car hits the interstate.
Interestingly, Louv also points to the epidemic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], suggesting that a lack of contact with nature may be, at least in part, a cause for the attention deficit and disconnectedness experienced by many young childrenespecially young boys. He suggests that a nature-deficit disorder may be behind the phenomenon now routinely diagnosed as ADHD. Louv goes so far as to suggest that a dose of real contact with the natural world may be more powerful than Ritalin in helping children to overcome patterns of hyperactivity and distraction. The same prescription would likely help parents as well.
Richard Louv is a champion of nature, and Last Child in the Woods is a powerful call for human beings to reconnect with the natural world. It would do us all a world of good to take a walk in the woods, to play outdoors, and to remember that the world is filled with a variety of flora and fauna that defies the imagination and thrills the senses.
Last Child in the Woods is a fascinating book, though at times, Louv leans toward a form of nature mysticism. Nevertheless, Christians will read this book to great profit, remembering that the biblical worldview presents an affirmation of the goodness of creation. After all, Christians know that every atom and molecule of creation testifies of the glory of God.
This is our Fathers world, and we would do well to receive this world and enjoy it, while giving praise and glory to God for the beauty and bounty it contains. We understand that nature is not an end to itself, and we affirm that the creation exists as the theater of Gods glory for the drama of redemption. All this should help Christians to remember that we honor God most faithfully when we receive His good gifts most gratefully.
Christians should take the lead in reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from machines. Taking the kids for a long walk in the woods would be a great start.
The children are not safe, even in their own back yards. The predators have more rights.
I don’t know about all the psychological gobbledegook here, but playing sandlot baseball and football, the neighborhood tree house, walking/biking around town, exploring woods and hanging out with the neighbor kids were fond fond memories. I nary see kids doing such things today, and haven noticed that for many years.
Technologies and safety reasons. The former keeps kids inside. The latter is a natural concern given all the creeps and weirdos out there, thanks to the left and its constituencies.
Great article, and it reflects my observations. It’s interesting to note that I live next door to a large Catholic family. We live in a wooded area and those kids are outside playing every day. The parents keep “apologizing” to us for the noise...but my reply is always that it is not noise to me...it’s the sound of fun. I feel sorry for those children who do not get out there, get scratched, scuffed, and sunburned...whilst building memories which will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
And, those unfortunate children who are shielded from all reality become Obamas...and we all know just how disgusting that is.
So sad. We baby boomers had such freedom as kids. I wandered through woods, swam in ponds and took home stray dogs that my mother would feed from the table. Maybe I idealize my childhood, but in some ways it was heaven.
Meh, nature, it’s overrated. When they need volunteers for space station living —I am there.
I was traveling in another state two summers ago, and as I often do when on the road I turned on the car stereo and began scanning through the AM band looking for a talk radio station. I came upon a guy speaking in a sort of rambling manner about a lot of the things this article says ... about how we don't let our kids go outside anymore, how childhood seemed so much "better" for prior generations, etc. The voice was a bit familiar, but I didn't know who it was because it wasn't someone I recognized from my own local talk radio lineup.
He also told a caller that his most valuable education as a child came in the back seat of his family's car on long trips -- just listening to his parents talk in the front seat about various things. That last one really hit home with me.
Turns out it I was hearing Glenn Beck's radio show for the first time, and I've had a much different take on him ever since then.
You are exactly right. This trend corresponds completely to the ACLU'ing of American society.
One of the missing links for the process of socializing and learning how to mature for many young men is the lost baseball game of rotation, or work up. There was a time when kids from all over the place would gather at a local ball field and take positions in the field with three players at bat. If you were put out you moved to right field and had to work your way back up. Disputes were settled on the spot. The learning process was swift.
I saw one article that coincides with what I have seen personally. Modern playgrounds bore the hell out of kids. Gone are swings, merry go rounds, jungle gyms, see saws, two story slides, etc etc.
Replaced with cheap plastic climbing platforms with a 6 foot slide on mulched rubber mats. Entertaining for all of five minutes.
Some have, some have not.
One of my neighbor kids is out all the time, with friends.
My other neighbor kid is out only as long as it takes to go from the house to the car or from the school bus to the house. The same is true of his mom. She is never, never out of doors. I suspect she frowns on the other kids because they may have offended her son somehow.
Furthermore, they have been done a great disservice by all these assinine studies that say, "Eggs are bad for you. Cheese is bad for you." No...they aren't. They contain so much a body needs when growing. Cholesterol be damned. There are things that a body needs in order to grow a healthy, fully functional immune system. Our kids have been deprived of these things that G-d in His infinite wisdom placed on this Earth for a reason.
"History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of Man."
I remember when during Summer, parents would kick the kids out of the house during the day, and told them to only come back for Lunch and be back by dinnertime.
Good point. I've always maintained that someone (me) who grew up outside, who hunted and fished and hiked and built forts and watched otter slides and beavers work and...and...and....
Had a WHOLE lot better idea of what to worry about in the environment than some DC bureaucrat who only steps outside for photo ops.
That said, I was an imaginative kid. I could just as easily get lost in another world cutting up old magazines and making collages inside as I could outdoors. So, I think a lot depends on the kid and HOW the kid is nurtured.
I have the urge to do the same to my 11 and 13 year old boy and girl. But the boy is a Boy Scout and plays competitive baseball just about year round so I let the video game binge go a couple of days. My daughter gets up early and goes to her dressage lessons and then heads to dive team practice during the summer...Both kids fish with me on the boat regularly. Then my wife yells at me for telling them to go outside and find something to do...I think it’s all good...she’s off all summer because she teaches.
Reminds me of a story from my own childhood, when we would venture out into the New Jersey meadowlands and try to make our way across the swamps along an active railroad bed. It was a "Stand by Me" adventure on a much smaller scale, since the hike across the meadowlands didn't take more than a couple of hours.
The biggest challenge was getting past the bridge over the Hackensack River, which was a swing bridge left in the "closed" position except when barges and other boats came up and down the river. There was a watchman on duty at all times, and he was called "The Troll" (from the story about the three billy goats) because he would chase away any kids who came along trying to cross the bridge.
One day, when we were about 12 years old, it all changed. A group of us made our way out along the tracks on a hot summer day. When we got to the bridge, the "troll" simply looked out of his office in the small building next to the bridge, gave us a big smile and a wave, and didn't say anything as we crossed the bridge.
It wasn't until years later that I finally figured out what happened. By the time we were 12 years old, a group of 8-10 kids our age wandering across the swamps probably scared him.
Besides the other things mentioned I believe that a lot of the reason that many kids don’t go outside to play is because of single parents, especially single working parents. It’s just so much easier with peace of mind knowing your kids are at home playing video games instead of outside when you can’t be home to watch and keep and ear open for them in case they do get a scrape or scratch.
I would expand on his theory and say that the ability of the Left to push such idiocy as AGW is because no one goes out in nature anymore. No one experiences the real world, but are force fed the horrors of what man is doing to the environment. I know that here in Indianapolis the most vociferous and vocal young environmentalist are kids who live in the city, spend their time in coffee shops and Apple stores and wouldn’t know a butterfly from a cockroach. However, they know all about the terrible things modern life, the same life that created and powers their little computer/social media world, is doing to the fragile “ecosystem”. If you have spent your 60+ years fishing, hiking, riding your bike and gardening you have seen hot weather and cold, dry and wet, blizzards and droughts. You realize that nature works on its own plan and that we have little to do with it. If you spend your time inside wrapped in your electronic cocoon then every hot day is a sign of the apocalypse.
That’s huge, not having stay-at-home Moms, is a big factor.
Let's change that. How about a 'One strike and you're out' policy? First offence and they are offered a choice of:
Chemical 'castration' (must not forget women offenders) and incarceration for life.
Repatriation to their birth country.
Let's clear the decks and make our country safe for children again.
I spent the teenage years of my youngest child PHYSICALLY EVICTING her from Playstation and the Internet, and forcing her to go outside for some exercise and fresh air.
Could not relate for at that age I lived outdoors playing ball, going swimming and riding bikes. At least until I turned 16 and got a part-time job.
Most usual solution if the offended party owned the ball or bat: "I'll just take my stuff and go home!" It was a great laboratory of learning how to get along or to save up your allowance so one guy was not the only one with the ball and bat.
A great article that has another message for those who care to think about it. Given the fears parents have about allowing kids the freedom of earlier generations for individual or child-led exploration, it provides further clarity for why the Boy Scouts are so adamant about "Safe Scouting" and keeping those who would prey on the innocent away. Organized activities must ensure a high level of safety in order for boys to get these formative experiences.
Kids should NOT be allowed outdoors.
My daughter is about to turn 3. She ate all my strawberries last year—when they were still green. She has since learned to tell ripe from not ripe. So this year, she makes a beeline for the cherry tomatoes and, morning, noon, or night, picks the ripe ones and pops them in her mouth for fresh eating. Raspberries...blueberries...same thing. Daddy gets nothing!
She is worse than a groundhog. So for heaven’s sake, keep your kids indoors! ;)
Seriously though, this article makes good points. I hate what I am becoming having to work on the computer all the time and then even using it to relax, when we could be doing fun stuff outdoors. If we intend to prevent our kids from turning into tech junkies like us, we could stand to get off the things more ourselves.
The fewer deranged people out there, the less the chance to convince Americans to give up their constitutional rights of self-defense.
Or the basketball games where you got to play if your were one of the first ten to make a foul shot and then one of the first five to make the shot to take on the winners. Or the football games where you made up whatever rules were necessary to make the game playable with 5 or 6 players. Anyone else remember automatic pass numbers or was that a uniquely southern Indiana thing?
Our big tree in our back yard was a pirate ship, rocks were eggs we gathered on our farm, our picnic table was a car. We found scraps of wood and built boats that we floated in the lake. We chased sheep on our neighbor’s farm and our neighbor chased us. We walked to the movies on Saturday mornings. We played football, baseball, basketball, dodge ball. We played in mud puddles and had tomato fights. We had lots of boys in our neighborhood so I played with them and did what they did. We built forts in the woods and got up early on rubbish day to find treasures. We didn’t watch much TV.
I was watching The Sandlot with my 25 yr old daughter recently and she was saying how she wished she lived during that time. Kids today don’t really know how to be kids.
Great post. It’s a topic my husband and I talk about frequently. I have two babies, so they are too young to play outside without my supervision. But I rarely see children out and about the way we used to be. In the mid-80s, my sister and I were always outside; playing with neighborhood kids, riding bikes, hide-and-go-seek, going on long walks. In fact, my mom made us leave the house everyday and told us to be home for lunch and dinner.
I will say, though, safety is a concern. My in-laws live a mile from us and I cannot honestly say that I would allow my kids to walk to their house when old enough. There are just too many bizarre predators lurking around. Simply check your home address on one of the sex offender websites; incredible how many registered ones are out there. Who knows how many un-registered ones.
What really drives me nuts now is watching families at restaurants ignoring each other, staring at their phones, playing games on their ipads, playing on facebook, etc. No one speaks to each other or even looks at one another. No conversations, no real interaction. Why do parents allow children to do this? What kind of zombie-like generation is this going to be?
Don't allow yourself or your children to fall victim to this mindset! I don't have kids yet, but my wife and I are active GeoCachers. This hide-and-seek sort of treasure-hunting game has taken us to places we never knew existed; parks that have fallen into disrepair; parts of the coastal mangrove forests that have been untouched for decades or more; and areas long hidden from the "cultured" among society.
It has the added bonus of requiring the use of handheld GPS devices, and I've often come upon GXers with their kids leading the charge to a cache. They take their iPhones or handheld GPS devices and go running headlong into spider-web-spanned forest paths or heavily-root-laden walks in search of a cleverly-hidden cache.
I agree wholeheartedly with the assessments in this article, but all is not lost. Families can participate in outdoor activities together if safety is an issue. I've never GXed without a sidearm, and that's something that no one needs to know but you. To boot, when you do come across a magical place that's seemingly untouched by suburban sprawl, there's nothing better, now as an adult, than sitting down in the overgrown grasses and looking to the skies remembering what it was like to be a kid. I hope that those very same memories can be embedded in my child's mind when they're born.
Public School is a conditioning process for laziness
Parents work so much to keep their heads above water they have no time for children
It's less taxing to watch action and adventure on TV with a DVD than it is to go climb a tree or explore the woods
Child Predators are everywhere and the law protects them more than it does the children
with the advent of Monsanto Bio crops children are more susceptible to allergies than ever before
So why go outside ? The shame of it is there are so many things to discover on your own outside it does not take a great amount of perspicacity to realize children have very much to learn by stepping out the front door and having many great adventures of their own ...
Do parents have time to show outside adventures to their kids ? I'm afraid in this economy the answer is NOT ENOUGH TIME vacationing and week ends are not time enough but i suppose parents can change or have they been conditioned too by the same public schools and Government Largess that has placed children on the back burner? ...
"Where have you been all day!"
"What have you been doing?"
"Well get in there and wash those dirty hands!"
My son gets the outdoor experience through the Boy Scout Troop. They do a lot of backpacking and camping.
My daughter, not so much.
If anyone has some favorite game they remember from childhood, please post it along with how to play. I was looking around on the net and every article only mentions duck duck goose, hide and seek and other obvious games. I like the more creative games like the baseball rotation someone mentioned.
My kids are 10 and under and like to play outside but with the heat I have been having trouble getting them to go out lately.
Here is a game they often play after dark
First I’d heard of ‘Planned-opolis’—thanks!
There is undeveloped land behind the house where I grew up. I cannot count all the ways that the exploration of this land enriched me. Here’s a few:
1) Observed the full growth cycle of frogs, including polliwogs in the stagnant ponds
2) Found all sorts of berries, including my favorite: black caps
3) Spent countless hours flying kites — why doesn’t anyone fly kites any more?
My grandfather-in-law, a former NYC cop, said that once they identified the corpse and his long criminal record, little further effort was devoted to finding whomever put him there. It was an unwritten code of decency respected by organized crime and police alike. And, for the most part, it worked.
Hehe...yeah. It popped into my head and I thought it appropo for my rant.
I remember that game, as well as Roll-A-Bat (where you caught a hit baseball and tried to hit the bat from where you caught it— “no relays”). We also played a football game with the unPC name of “Smear the Queer.” One guy would kick off to every one else. Whoever caught it tried to run it back, and the rest tried to tackle him. When down, that player would throw the ball back over his head and everyone would try to catch it and advance the ball. Whoever scored would kick off to start the process over.
Occasionally someone’s dad (never mine) would come out and be “quarterback for both teams” if we had 6 or 8 guys to form teams...
“......just be home by the time the street lights come on.”
When I was 3 I dug up and ate all my mom’s Dalia bulbs.
And she has never let me live it down till this day.
Funny, I remember the lyrics but can’t remember the band!
Our kids all played outdoors, and played with the neighboring kids, and so do our grandchildren now. But we have been fortunate in where we live—or rather, we have avoided like the plague living in cities, even though I spent most of my life working in NYC.
We just moved farther and farther into the country, and I commuted farther and farther to work. But also, you have to take your kids for walks and encourage them to go out, until they do it on their own.
My favorite was Crack the Whip.
So many valid points here about the change in childhood experience. I know that for my kidz everything changed when a weirdo started walking down our street frequently while my kids were outside, then one day knocked on the door and asked if he could use my 3 year old son as a model for a painting.
The cops said they couldn’t do anything unless a crime had been committed. That was the end of freedom for my children.
Actually the kids ARE safe but the way the press plays things up we think they aren’t. The truth is a kid is more likely to be hit by lightning than attacked by a predator, and if they are a victim of a predator it’s almost always going to be someone known to the family. But 2 generations have had “stranger danger” drilled into their heads and every time there is an abduction it’s massive national news so that just reinforces it.
(shameless plug for him!)
Still wish I could go for the walks in the woods I used to. Nothing to me is as beautiful as a woods.
My sister and I would wander far through the woods, learning the names of the plants and birds. Trying to catch the turtles and frogs on the way.
Avoiding the boys because the always chased you. I remember once finding a suspicious square of brown leaves and branches on the ground, and a peep hole on the side. It was their underground fort, but the boys were not in it. We climbed down their makeshift ladder into the fort and a little rain tapped on the roof of it. The smell of the woods thrilled me.
There still is nothing to compare to the fun and mysteries I had when playing outside.
My three year old begs to go outside. We restrict her TV, and have a large back yard.
Most of her playmates don’t do that.