Last Child in the Woods Challenge

How much time does your child spend in the outdoors? If you’re like most people, chances are, your children spend more time indoors, and possibly in front of screens. In recent years, some families have subscribed to the movement of encouraging more time out of doors.

For example, the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge was born out of the knowledge that the average child spends 1000 hours a year (or an average of 3 hours a day) on gadgets. This is inspired by the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, which has been revived for homeschools across the world in recent years.

In Last Child of the Woods, Richard Louv expounds on the importance of saving our children from what he coins “nature-deficit disorder.” While this is not a medically-diagnosed condition, he uses the term to refer to children who grow up without enough experience in the out of doors, which he shows can have detrimental effects on various aspects of life, and over the long term.

True love for nature and care for the environment can be linked to adults who, as a child, spent ample time in the outdoors. 
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Last Child in the Woods Key Points

In this post, we hope to share with you some of the key points the author shows in his book:

1. Too much screen time is linked to mental health issues.

Most of us are probably aware that too much screen time is not advisable for children. But do you know there are actually studies that prove just how detrimental it can be? In the book, Louv shares how, even in the early stages of the Internet, an hour of time on it was already linked to increased mental health issues! How much more in this day and age where our kids (and sometimes even we adults!) are hooked on our gadgets 24/7?

I personally believe this book is sounding a trumpet call for a more beautiful alternative for us and our children.

2. Much time in nature equips children with better mental, social, and problem-solving skills.

The good news is that we’re not left with knowing what’s “bad” for us. (Not saying that all technology is bad, of course, but it seems we’re not designed to take it in too high doses.) He also offers that beautiful alternative: more time out in nature.

In the book, the author shares several examples of children, even those coming from hard places, experiencing healing and growth through much exposure to nature, such as through camps in the woods or deep in the wilderness. Not only did they gain valuable memories, it also awakened their senses in a way that nothing else could.

In addition, spending time in the outdoors helps children develop problem-solving skills. For example, what if the plank he puts on the treehouse seems unstable? What should he do to fix it in place?

3. A love for nature cannot be limited to scientific knowledge; first-hand experience results in more authentic and sustainable love for the environment.

In one section of the book, the author discusses the importance of caring for the environment, but takes a look at the different ways we work to instill that to our children. On the one hand are all the scientific head-knowledge in ecology-inclined schools, with elementary level kids being taught about global warming, carbon emissions, and all that, without ever having stepped out of the classroom into the woods.

On the other hand are children who enjoy nature, such as with their parents when they go camping, hiking, or fishing, and who grow up to be naturalists and ecologists in their own right.

From these two groups, he found that true love for nature and care for the environment can be linked to adults who, as a child, spent ample time in the outdoors. And rightly so, because they have come to love nature from the very start, instead of just memorising statistics and woe-to-you stories of how other people are destroying the environment which they’ve never experienced first-hand!

4. Free play in vacant lots feeds children’s imaginations.

In the book, Louv also compares childhood in at least one generation past, where kids are free to roam and play freely in empty lots and woods, versus the current state of childhood play, where we might have playgrounds and lots of organised sports.

While we understand the value of children learning teamwork and leadership and camaraderie through team sports, do you know that children also need the imaginative play of free space?

Through experiments in schools with well-designed outdoor spaces, he found that children naturally gravitate towards the non-organised spaces, as areas where they can let their imagination run wild. A wooden crate on an empty lot can be a pirate’s ship, or a palace watchtower, or any of an infinite number of things that children make it out to be. But a baseball game will always be just a baseball game. Which type of play would you prefer your child to have more of?

5. Poor perspective of “safety” in legislation discourages children’s exploration.

He also tackles the effects of legislation on children’s play. For example, while some of us may have grown up with experiences of building our own forts and treehouses, in recent years, for the sake of “safety,” a lot of housing zones have prohibited the construction of these play places deemed “unsafe.”

But do you know that when children explore things like building things, they learn valuable lessons as to true safety? Think about this: a child who’s prohibited from ever climbing things misses out on the necessary skills needed for spatial reasoning, and when he finally climbs, he’s at a greater risk of falling because he has never practiced it.

What about the argument about harm that may come from venomous creatures? Children who are regularly taken on, say, hikes in the woods, can be trained to recognise danger. Although there’s no 100% guarantee that nobody gets hurt, the odds are still lower than most news pieces make them out to be, and the benefits for our children’s lives far outweigh the perceived risk.

It Takes a Village to Get Our Kids Outdoors

Lastly, he emphasises the importance of everyone coming together to support this movement of getting our kids outdoors more. Schools have a role to play in establishing more outdoor spaces and free time, and parents also need to be intentional at bringing their kids outside instead of sticking them in front of the computer or tablet all day. Government legislators also contribute by the way they make zoning rules or safety rules for outdoor play.

But as we all come together, we believe that we can see a generation that grow up in full harmony with nature and can make a difference not just in the environment but even in the lives of people around them!

To read the book yourself, head over to this link.

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