Richard Louv Blog Blog from Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods 2017-01-23T01:04:37Z Copyright (c) 2017,Richard Louv ExpressionEngine,2017:01:20 WATCHING A PRESIDENT,2017:blog/1.428 2017-01-20T06:18:36Z 2017-01-23T01:04:37Z Richard Louv  


On inauguration day in 1961, I was 11 going on 12. I was home sick, under a blanket, in my grandmother’s parlor. She lived in Independence, Missouri in the white Victorian house her parents built in the 1880s. Her house was a few blocks from the Truman home. She was born in 1884, when Chester A. Arthur was president. He succeeded President James A. Garfield, assassinated in 1881.

She was a kind, quiet widow who took in roomers during the Depression. I don’t recall her ever saying anything unkind to or about anyone. I was convinced the house was haunted.

On the day the young president stepped to the microphone, I was watching a small black and white Philco. I recall that speech, and that room, as vividly as I remember the other images and feelings that came later, on the day he died.

It was bitterly cold on the day of the inauguration. Kennedy did not wear a hat. As he spoke, I sat up, deeply inspired and didn’t know why. It was not what he said, it was how he said it. Even with his flaws, Kennedy lifted us up, made us feel that we were a better people.

Barack Obama was born six months later.

Many years later, I was in a high school auditorium on Chicago’s South Side. I had been invited to attend Obama's announcement of a White House program that would provide a free annual pass to every 4th grader, and their entire family, to any National Park and many other federal lands and waters. Private money would be raised to provide buses for the kids least likely to experience wilderness.

Before he spoke, about 30 of us were ushered behind a curtain to meet the president.

Waiting in line, I watched him for several minutes. He bent over and listened carefully to a man in a wheelchair. It was the Republican Illinois Senator, who had suffered a massive stroke, and who later lost his reelection campaign to a Democratic candidate. The Democrat, a war veteran, also uses a wheelchair. Obama and the Senator spoke quietly for a while. The line of people waited. Then the line moved. 

What I noticed was his kindness. I had never thought of him as unkind, but now I saw something that did not show itself so easily on the stump or on television. It could be seen and felt each time someone approached him, or he approached them.

The line moved again. An attendant escorted each person to his side, and the camera flashed. Some people held Obama’s hand captive, talking at him more than with him. Obama was patient. Then it was my turn. His hand was long and thin and almost delicate. I thanked him for the parks program. “It’s important,” he said. Then I stepped away and he turned to the next person. 

As a journalist, I was trained long ago to avoid being taken in by celebrity. But, though I did not agree with all of his policies, I was honored to shake his hand. Partly, that feeling was personal, and an admiration for his character. It was also because he and his administration, with the help of thousands of volunteers and teachers and pediatricians and parents and grandparents, did so much to connect future generations of children to the natural world. So did members of the Bush administration. 

The image you see above is part of a larger photo that arrived by U.S. Postal Service several weeks later, from the White House. Unsigned, it is one of thousands of such photographs. Right now, it is on a book case in my office, propped up behind a microscope my father gave me when I was 10. I have not bought a frame for it yet.

Since that day in my grandmother’s parlor in 1961, I’ve watched every televised presidential inaugural speech. Tomorrow I’ll probably skip the speech. Like many, and for a list of reasons, I'm not up for the festivities. And by now, I’ve learned that inaugural speeches are mostly forgettable.

Kennedy’s inaugural, in fact, was not his best speech. That one occurred on a bright spring day at Washington's American University. The president had been shaken and changed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that address, he said something nearly unsayable at the time, at least by a national politician. He acknowledged that the Soviet people were human beings.

“So let us not be blind to our differences,” he said, “but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

Six months later, Kennedy was dead.

So tomorrow I’ll probably avoid the television. Instead, at noon, I’ll say a small prayer, or something like a prayer, for Obama’s ongoing safety. We’re going to need him. And I’ll say one for Trump, too.


More Reading
Return to America II
The New Nature Movement, Post 11-8

FLYOVER LAND: What's Right With Kansas,2017:blog/1.426 2017-01-16T00:02:06Z 2017-01-17T01:05:07Z Richard Louv Photo by Rachel Miles, Creative Commons

Photo by Rachel Miles, Creative Commons


riving south on Interstate 135, from Salina toward Arkansas City, I can see the giant rolls of hay that look like mammoth shredded wheat, and the long hedgerows of Osage orange trees planted as windbreaks during the Depression, now taller than I remember them.

Cream white waves of tall grass. The wind coming across, always the wind.

This is the flyover land. Jets stream far above and people with briefcases and laptop computers look down and feel glad that they are not driving across this seeming emptiness. But when you drive across north and central Kansas, particularly if you are originally from this country, you do not feel the fatigue and the tension that accumulates on urban freeways.

The land is soothing and nurturing and layered with mystery. Riding a bus across the state in the '60s, I remember awakening suddenly, a bit disoriented, sitting up in the night to see long lines of flame stretching across the Flint Hills prairie, annually burned by ranchers.

The lines of flame were galactic in their brilliance and desolation and beauty. Now, decades later, the miles fly by.

Now and then a half-hearted dust devil skips across the fields and nodding pump jacks suck oil from beneath the land, their heads and necks moving up and down like prehistoric birds.

And of course, the clouds, always the clouds, high cumulus clouds spaced almost evenly across the sky, snow white on top and slate gray underneath. Past Lindborg and Gypsum toward Assaria, the sky a mirror of the land. Black birds clustered on the tops of sorghum.

So much of this land was lifted up during the Dust Bowl years and flung into the air and so many of the people landed in California.

Now the fields are ripe, rich in color—the rust of sorghum, the gold of cut wheat, the deep black of plowed earth and all the lines of trees in different shades of green; some turned by sudden shadows from moving clouds tar black against yellow grass, cedars and hedgerows leaning like herds of something forgotten into a wind that has stopped.

Stuckey's, Texaco, long lines of rail cars stopped on the prairie. More trees here than a century ago. Now past the Smoky River where the land flattens out even more.

Few places in Kansas are truly flat. Only in the most western regions does the line cease to move in curves and jumps and serrated ridges. Only there does the line of the horizon like the green line on a heart monitor grow steady and flat. In most places of Kansas, the land is like some long symphony with repeating themes and with subtle notes but never monotony.

Away from the cities, square-box white farmhouses stand up large with lonely dignity, and of course the windmills and the silos are there and the white lines of dust moving upward from the horizon.

At night this land turns endless and bottomless. On some nights there is nothing but stars. On other nights frighteningly violent storms and hours of calm just as frightening, and then sometimes God's fingers or perhaps the devil's claws reach down and, twisting, scrape across this long, sinuous back with a roar that one can only describe if one has heard it.

And the smaller moving mysteries. On the road ahead, and then for 200 miles, small yellow caterpillars inch across the pavement.

Yearning box turtles move en masse too, especially in the spring. In one Kansas town, the citizens were split between those who wanted to make the box turtle the state animal and those who didn't, and the turtle opposition, called "poppers," would drive out on the highway at migration time and intentionally drive over the turtles.

This land heaves itself up. Migrations of insects, reptiles, people seem to move up from this land and outward.

I remembered: One night in 1969, driving home from a girlfriend's house outside of Hutchinson, the wheels of my car began to slide on the road.

There was no cloud in the sky; it was filled with stars. But I nearly lost control of the car in the slide. In my headlights I could see blips and blurs like a rain of hail or a swarm of locusts—it was neither. It was frogs, a hatching of frogs, or toads, I do not know which. But thousands of them were hopping, flying across the road and my car was sliding on them.

The flyover land is breathing land.

This is where East becomes West. This is where the sensuous hills of Kentucky and Illinois and Missouri meet the hard, spare rockiness and dryness of the masculine West. These are the plains of fertility. This is not the heartland, really. This is the seedland. Food Phone Gas, next right.


This essay is excepted from The Web of Life.
To purchase the book, please click here.

Celebrating 10 Years of the Children & Nature Network,2016:blog/1.424 2016-12-23T03:03:01Z 2016-12-23T03:19:02Z Richard Louv Click here to help C&NN give the gift of nature to millions of additional kids.

THE NEW NATURE MOVEMENT, POST 11/8,2016:blog/1.423 2016-12-06T18:48:42Z 2016-12-08T03:17:43Z Richard Louv

Photo: Storm over Anza-Borrego Desert, © R.L.


ur story – our shared yearning to reconnect children to the natural world – represents one of the few concerns in America that brings people together across partisan and religious lines.

To change a society, as the philosopher Ivan Illich wrote, “you must tell a more powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step...”
So, today, how do we shine that light? We must continue to support the birthright of all children to a healthy environment and a connection to the natural world, and to teach the responsibilities that come with that right.
We can work to reduce climate disruption and the biodiversity collapse by opposing policies that destroy people and the rest of nature, and by making the case that human beings protect what they love and love only what they know. More than ever, building a future generation of conservationists will depend on helping children and adults fall in love with the natural world.
We can emphasize the healing powers of the natural world: for mental and physical health; for the capacity to learn and create; and for the reduction of violence. We can promote family nature clubs, and similar approaches, as ways to seek meaning and solace in a difficult and alienating time. We can offer Vitamin N for the soul through places of worship. And we can encourage pediatricians, psychologists and other healthcare professionals to prescribe nature.
We can pursue “natural cultural capacity,” illuminating the wealth of ways that different cultures connect to nature. We can reach out to people in the food movement, to community organizing groups in urban and rural neighborhoods, to military families and immigrant organizations.
We can create and renew nature-rich cities to serve as incubators of biodiversity and habitats of health. Local institutions, such as libraries, zoos, aquaria, and nature centers, can become centers of bioregional awareness and nature-connection for children and families. We can help build a new generation of nature-based schools, increase the number and quality of natural schoolyards, and redouble our efforts to honor Natural Teachers as individual agents of change. With the support of education and business, we can nurture the development of careers that connect people to nature, new jobs irreplaceable by technology.
And as the human species continues to urbanize, we can strengthen our international efforts. We can seek solidarity in a movement that will grow, regardless of national politics. Worldwide, we can tell a new story of a nature-rich future to counter the post-apocalyptic vision of the future so widely accepted even before 11/8.
Here is what we cannot do: heal every hurt or prevent every tragedy. But surely, in the words of the poet Aeschylus, we can do what we can, in the limited lifetime we have, to “tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Politics can destroy the story, or our story can transcend politics.
Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. His books include VITAMIN N, THE NATURE PRINCIPLE, and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS. Follow him on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter.
This essay was first published by the Children & Nature Network.
RETURN TO AMERICA II,2016:blog/1.422 2016-11-28T18:14:39Z 2016-11-30T23:23:40Z Richard Louv Thinking about president-elect Donald Trump, and the mystery of his rise, I pulled a copy of my first book, “America II,” from a bookshelf. The book was published more than three decades ago. It was based on months of travel around the United States. To research it, I followed Americans to where the U.S. Census said they were moving, and asked them if they had found what they were looking for.

 Although the book has long been out of print, a few reviewers have rediscovered it, and what they wrote reminded me of its basic themes. This morning I flipped through it, wondering if I had overreached. My conclusion: Not on most counts, unfortunately.

The following excerpt is from the introduction of “America II," first published in 1983:

The America we know is dying, but a second America is rising from the body of the first. This second nation – America II – can best be seen in the South and West, but it exists, in varying degrees, in every state of the Union. It has a physical form: a very different kind of city; a radically changed rural and small-town life; a revolution in shelter; a new workplace. But the second America is also a state of mind: a powerful yearning for opportunity, for old values and new technologies, for refuge and escape.

This book is an exploration of what it’s like to live in America II, or on the outskirts of it. It’s about the people left behind, but mostly it’s about the people who are moving, about condo dwellers and pot farmers, corporate utopians and private police, rural entrepreneurs and urban escapees, computer programmers and unemployed wanderers. It’s about people trying to get control in an economic and social environment that seems out of control. It’s about the search for home, the creation of new nests from the sticks and mud of our fantasies of what home should be. This book is about the unintended consequences of that search.

I’ve used the phrase America II as more of an experiential than historical categorization (to be historically accurate, it might well be the third America: agricultural, industrial, postindustrial, but most people do not think in these terms in their everyday lives). What we perceive is a break in our experience, the peaking of one America around the mid-1960s, its gradual decline, and the rise of a new America that is only now beginning to be identifiable.

America I is made up of all those steel workers and middle managers so bewildered by a society that, more each day, does not seem to need them. America I is once-vibrant big cities, big labor unions, auto workers, public swimming pools, railroads, New Deal politics, and the freestanding single-family home. It’s a park in Seattle made from an old gasworks, where children now play and write their names on the steam valves and smokestacks of another age. America I is all those people left behind, outside the gates.

In contrast, America II is the rural shopping mall, condominiums and large planned communities – essentially new walled cities – private police forces and sophisticated residential security systems. America II includes ex-hippies and new “techies,” desperate for what was and for what will be, fleeing with their computers (the new symbol of personal control) to small towns in New England and the Midwest. It’s a countrified city and a citified country. America II is entrepreneurs working out of their homes and high-tech companies that have circled their corporate wagons, taking on some of the characteristics of cults. It’s a national economy changing so quickly that even those lucky enough to have the sanctified skills feel threatened, as medieval princes must have once felt within their gates. And America II is the people from Oaxaca and the Yucatan who come north having heard that a dream still exists.

We are now two cultures. Like a quarreling parent and child, the fading America and the emerging America view the world in entirely different ways; they speak different languages. America I is steeped in tradition, the past trapped in the present, explosively dangerous in its frustration and distrustful of the new high technologies; America II is almost adolescent in its headstrong exuberance. It sees the nation transforming into something new and fresh; it perceives the future as a new technological frontier to be conquered and won.

From later in the book:

One thing is clear: hundreds of thousands of the workers displaced will never return to their old jobs; their roles are done, finished. For many, the best that can be hoped for is to become what Fortune magazine terms “foot soldiers in the army of the service economy,” low-paid fast-food workers, janitors, and low-skilled clerks. A real danger, according to labor economist Harley Shaiken, is that the information age will produce a polarized work force. Shaiken is one of the first experts to explore the subject. His vision of the work force is one in which a small number of highly skilled, high-paying jobs exist alongside a much larger number of routinized, low-paying jobs. And that, says Shaiken, is a recipe for social ferment…In the early 1960s, automation was the buzzword. Somehow, most of the people have survived and, in most ways, prospered from each technological surge. But there is the feeling this time that this new revolution is different, more powerful, more difficult to grasp than any before…

At the beginning of my research and travel for this book, I was excited and impressed by what I saw: individuals seemingly grabbing control of their lives. But I gradually began to wonder about the unintended consequences – if, for instance, this search for control is constructing, in some corners of America II, the antithesis of control, a peculiarly vulnerable way of life….

Wage spreading has been turned around in the past by private and government investments in the nation’s industries, and by the efforts of labor unions. Today, however, much of the investment capital is flowing offshore: American workers find themselves helpless as they watch their plants and jobs move overseas, even as their tax dollars are poured into a huge defense umbrella designed to protect those worldwide investments. 

Meanwhile, the explosive potential grows. Entrepreneurialism is the escape valve for rising pressure: locked out of traditional jobs, members of the middle class are working for themselves, often in refashioned service jobs. But even with the growth of entrepreneurialism and the recasting of low-skilled jobs, the frustration grows. Should that frustration rise too far, there will be no place to hide – no walled community or company cult or small town will protect anyone. The middle class, not the poor, could present the greatest danger in America II.

* * *

Hindsight offers an imperfect vision. Thirty years later, the outfall from the 2016 presidential election — the rise of both Trump and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — should not have been a surprise. Though I did not anticipate the movement of high tech jobs and young workers into gentrified center city neighborhoods, much of the rest of America II’s projections proved to be accurate. At the time, more than a few observers predicted the fracturing of our culture, in like ways. Too many Americans, of all races, were left behind. Today, these factions have more in common than they might suspect. Signs along the road ahead suggest a darker future. But we can still choose a different map, and take a new route toward a reformed political process. That road may yet lead to a more just, more economically and socially democratic America III.


Books by Richard Louv

AN INVITATION TO TAKE THE VITAMIN N CHALLENGE,2016:blog/1.417 2016-08-05T23:25:08Z 2016-08-06T23:04:09Z Richard Louv

Share with others how you connect your family and community to nature. Pick one or more of 500 actions from Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, try them out for a day, a week or a month — and tell your friends and the world about your experience. Please use hashtag #VitaminN — or send an email to

Today, parents, grandparents, pediatricians, teachers and others are looking for ways to connect children to the natural world. This summer, to bring together that motivation with ideas from the community, the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) is launching the #VitaminN Challenge. The challenge is an opportunity to get more nature into our lives and to share ideas. C&NN co-founder Richard Louv’s new book, Vitamin N, presents over 500 nature-oriented actions for families, organizations and communities. In addition, C&NN’s online resources and a list of similar books, blogs and nature-focused websites offer a wide range of ideas that will help you take the Vitamin N Challenge. But, most importantly, C&NN is looking to YOU for ideas for getting more #VitaminNHere's how to participate:

1. Choose Your Challenge

Vitamin N Challenges come in many shapes and sizes. Yours may be a single project or experience. It may be a lifestyle change over the course of a week, month, or year. To choose your challenge, think about where there is room for more Vitamin N in your life. How can it serve your family, school, place of worship, library, health care facility or community? Maybe your challenge means designating one day each week “family hike day” or a "Muddy Monday." Or starting a family nature club. Or exploring the nearby nature in your urban neighborhood. Or creating a school garden. Or perhaps you’d like to lead your community in a habitat restoration project. Or any of the other 500 suggestions in Vitamin N.

2. Share Your Experience

Tell the Children & Nature Network about your personal Vitamin N Challenge. How did you get your dose of Vitamin N?  What worked and what didn’t? Let C&NN know how your life and the lives of others were changed. 

Need ideas? Check out the gallery of #Vitamin N posts from people around the world on C&NN, or adopt any of the actions suggested in Vitamin N or similar books. Tell C&NN and the world about your experience taking the challenge! Send C&NN your thoughts at

In the coming weeks and months, C&NN will feature the best ideas on its social media channels and in a Vitamin N e-newsletter to our extensive networks. The ten best essays and social media submissions will receive a signed set of Last Child in the Woods, The Nature Principle, and Vitamin N.

Spread the word. Let others know you’re taking the #VitaminN Challenge! 
Find out how you can help the Children & Nature Network build a new nature movement 
— and become a leader in it.


VITAMIN N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, by Richard Louv — National book launch San Diego April 19,2016:blog/1.394 2016-04-15T12:28:24Z 2016-04-15T12:41:25Z Richard Louv C&NN press release by Jackie Green

On April 12, Algonquin Books published Louv's ninth book, a much-anticipated companion to Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle.

VITAMIN N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life
500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family & Community

Featured recently on CBS This Morning and NPR's Diane Rehm ShowVitamin N is a comprehensive and practical guidebook for the whole family and the wider community. It includes actions for parents eager to share nature with their kids, and also for grandparents, teenagers, teachers, health care professionals, mayors and anyone else who wants to create a nature-rich life. "Issuing an imperative that everyone should heed, this important new book provides the tools to reclaim the wonders and health benefits of nature." —Publishers Weekly, starred review. Here's a sampling of what families and communities can do:Vitamin N 3D Cover

Grow outside. Make time for free, independent play for children, allowing them to explore and find answers on their own. Explore hundreds of traditional and new ways to connect your family to nature, including games that will not be digitized.

Create a restorative home or workplace. How to use native plants, indoor living walls, and a variety of other biophilic design techniques to make your home, yard and garden a place that improves the health of your family.

Explore nature, nearby or far. Whether you live in an inner-city neighborhood, a suburb or in a rural area, you can enhance mental, physical and spiritual health at any age. Learn how other cultures connect with nature.

Reduce stress. Use nature time as healing time to escape the pressures of daily life. Learn how to calm a crying infant through nature, designate an outdoor sit spot as a place to read, think, and meditate.

Enhance fitness. Calorie for calorie, exercising outside offers more psychological and physical benefits than an indoor workout; here's how to build your own natural gym in the backyard or find a green trainer.

Raise resilient children. Fear of strangers and the outdoors are rooted in reality, but can be overcome. Learn how to be a "Hummingbird Parent." Be a "weather warrior." Don't cut down that tree, build up the kid.

Build family bonding. How to connect more deeply with your children, teen-agers, grandparents, spouse and friends through the power of the natural world. Learn how to join with other families to create a family nature club for safety and family connection.

Boost creativity. Playing and learning outdoors, building forts and tree houses, turning on all the newly discovered human senses (as many as 30 of them) helps children develop their problem-solving skills and creative thinking.

Balance the virtual with the real. Children who spend more time outside use more of their senses and develop “hybrid minds” – maximizing the skills that come from both the virtual and the natural world.

Be a "natural teacher." Greening schools is the real cutting edge of education. Parents and educators can work together to encourage nature-rich at home and at school. Establish a parent–teacher nature club. Improve cognitive functioning and reduce bullying by creating nature-based play spaces.

Develop a nature-smart career. From landscape designers specializing in native plants, to nature therapists, to nature preschool teachers, to biophilic architects; here's a career guide to connecting people to nature.

Create a nature-rich community. We can transform cities and communities into engines of biodiversity and human health. Health professionals can join the growing number of pediatricians who are prescribing Vitamin N. Help your local library become a bioregional "natural library." Find out how your faith-based community can offer Vitamin N for the spirit.

Act locally and globally. Be part of creating a worldwide homegrown park to bring back butterfly and bird migration routes. Set the stage for a more hopeful future.

Early praise for Vitamin N:

“(Richard Louv) coined the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in his bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods, and the phrase launched an eco-minded revolution in parenting. ... Here’s the good news: it’s never too late to improve. No act is too small. And each and every single child and family can make a difference. That’s the crux of Vitamin N, a cheerfully pragmatic, can-do manual... It’s no longer enough to strive for a sustainable future for our children and their children, he argues. We must create a nature-filled world, starting now—in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.” — Katie Arnold, Outside magazine

"Louv, whose Last Child in the Woods (2005) became the twenty-first century’s back-to-nature clarion call and a game changer in the world of parenting books, returns with a guide on just how to accomplish spending all that much-needed time outdoors. Vitamin N (“N” is for nature) is everything the worried parent needs….Louv addresses families with money concerns, living in urban environments, with larger budget options, and those already lucky enough to be near wilderness areas. The accessibility of Louv’s writing is what truly shines, and his enthusiasm, so evident in earlier works, is on overdrive here. He also introduces readers to organizers around the country who are dedicated to getting kids outside, with a special nod to efforts at diversifying the outdoor experience. ... This is, without question, another shot out of the park for nature-advocate Louv."  — Booklist, starred review

"[Vitamin N is] an insightful and practical guide chock full of inspirational advice. ... Many physicians are on board and some are even prescribing nature time for their patients...Louv includes a superb chapter on building resilience and the importance of taking small, manageable risks; this section is a must-read for all parents. He also includes suggestions for grandparents, advice on how to 'create your own nature gym'; and ideas for building nature-rich classrooms and communities. Issuing an imperative that everyone should heed, this important new book provides the tools to reclaim the wonders and health benefits of nature." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Richard Louv is a co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. He is currently working on his tenth book, about the evolving relationship between humans and other animals. In 2008, he received the Audubon Medal.


NATIONAL BOOK LAUNCH AND CELEBRATIONTuesday, April 19 at 6:30 PM - 9:30 PM, Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA. Special tickets that include pre-signed books, as well as student discounts, available through Sunday. Net proceeds will go to local initiatives connecting children to nature. 

Jackie Green, JGPR Inc., office (323) 512-3050; mobile (310) 429-8157
Jacquelyn Burke, Senior Publicist, Algonquin and Algonquin Young Readers, phone (212) 614-5640

THE SCHOOL OF NATURE: Greening Our Schools May Be The Real Cutting Edge of Education,2016:blog/1.393 2016-04-07T17:29:12Z 2016-04-07T18:41:14Z Richard Louv

First published by the Children & Nature Network.

Outside Atlanta, after returning from a class hike through the woods, an excited six-year-old grabbed his head and said, “There’s so much nature and I only have two eyes and one brain and I think it's going to explode!” 

A teacher at the nature-based Chattahoochee Hills Charter School shared that story about her student with me a couple weeks ago. Telling it, she seemed just about as excited as the six-year-old, though she did not grab her head.

We were watching a CBS This Morning television crew roam the grounds. They were working on a piece about schools that emphasize the natural world as a learning environment (barring a Trumpian implosion or other massive world event, the segment will run on April 8th, sometime after 8 a.m. Eastern time). Here's what they saw: a series of classrooms, each in its own building; the front of every classroom is glass to let in natural light, and teachers can open that side of the room to the elements. Surrounding the school is a forest laced with walking trails. From deep in those woods came the sounds of young laughter, running feet and learning.

At Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, students spend about a third of their time learning in the outdoors.

Creating this school has not been easy. As with many nature-based schools, there have been bumps on the trail. But Clay Johnson, Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Board Chair, reports impressive results. As measured by the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (standardized tests used in Iowa and many other school districts across the U.S.), the school has shown more academic improvement on average, across all subjects, than any other school in Fulton County, GA. According to Johnson, “The region’s third-grade average reading score is 41.3, nearly nine points below national average. Our nature-based school is batting 17 points above that average. Same thing is happening in math. In both third and fifth-grade, we’ve seen double-digit gains — a far higher rate than the county average, including the schools in wealthier areas.” Chattahoochee Hills Charter School students are healthier, too. “On average, they miss far fewer days of school than students elsewhere in the county."

The health finding is no stretch. In Scandinavia's “all-weather” schools, student spend time outdoors every day, in every type of weather. They report fewer colds and less flu than kids who spend their days in closed classrooms. And the education results? Probably similar to schools in Finland. In the early 1970s, after decades of war and Russian occupation, Finnish schools were in bad shape. But, during the past decade or two, while the US began to fall behind, Finland's scores in math, science and reading have consistently been at or near the top, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Finland ranks first in PISA’s measure of “study effectiveness.” The reasons for these gains are complex, but in Finland, outdoor recess, often held in natural spaces, is considered nearly as crucial to academic success as literacy.

In a 2014 article in The Atlantic, Tim Walker, an American teacher in Finland, described how he had been skeptical of Finland's practice of giving 15-minute breaks each hour. Then he saw the difference it made in his own classroom. "Normally, students and teachers in Finland take a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction," he wrote. "During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee...Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom." Most importantly, he reported, after their 15-minute outdoor breaks, his students "were more focused during lessons."

Despite widespread reporting about Finland's successes, the majority of America's school boards have marched in the opposite direction: reduced recess, fewer field trips, longer hours sitting at desks, more tests-- and more computers, with iPads and even video games used increasingly as teaching tools in classrooms.

All of this has led many of us to assume that more technology in the classroom necessarily increases the quality of education. Some digital technology is effective in and outside the classroom. We'll be seeing more of it. But how far do we really want to go in that direction, without balancing agents?

Consider what may be the ultimate high-tech school: AltSchool Brooklyn, a pre-K to eighth-grade private school. As Rebecca Mead writes in The New Yorkerit “does not look like a traditional educational establishment. There is no playground attached, no crossing guard at the street corner, and no crowd of children blocking the sidewalk in the morning. The school is one floor up, in a commercial building overlooking Montague Street.” Inside the school, the cutting edge is sharp indeed. Students are issued tablets in pre-K. “AltSchool embeds fish-eye lenses in the walls of its classrooms, capturing every word, action, and interaction, for potential analysis.” The teacher of the future will be transformed, into a data-enabled detective” according to one of the school’s founders. “Retroactively omniscient,” is how another AltSchool leader, formerly a Google employee, put it.

So the good news, apparently, is that testing, as we know it, will go away. The weird news: we won't need traditional testing because the machines will be watching our kids all the time -- every keystroke will be monitored and measured, every restless wiggle, every eye that wanders into a daydream, every sidelong glance at a tree beyond the window, moving in the wind.

Evidence supporting nature-based, place-based education or experiential learning (as this approach is variously called) has been building for decades.

A purely natural setting isn’t required, by the way. The method can be used in a forest or in an urban neighborhood, especially if it's graced with a little nature. Gerald Lieberman, an internationally respected education expert, helped produce a 2002 report for California report called "Closing the Achievement Gap." He worked with 150 schools in 16 states for 10 years, identifying model programs in place-based education or experiential learning, examining how those students fared on standardized tests. The findings were stunning. Students in the schools achieved gains in social studies, science, language arts and math; improved their grade-point averages; and developed skills in problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making.

Later, David Sobel, a pioneer in the philosophy of place-based education, conducted an independent review of “Closing the Achievement Gap” and similar studies. His conclusion? When it comes to reading skills, place-based education should be considered "the Holy Grail of education reform."

In 2013, Harvard Education Press published Lieberman's book, "Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts."  And today, Sobel, author of several books on the topic, teaches at Antioch University New England, where he recently helped launch the Nature-Based Early Childhood Certificate program at Antioch New England, a program designed to essentially teach teachers how to take kids outdoors to learn. Mary Baldwin College's Environmental-Based Learning Program offers similar help to educators. There's growing demand. The number of nature-based preschools and schools similar to Chattahoochee Hills Charter School are on the rise. So are school gardens and nature-based play spaces in elementary and even high schools.

Still, at the time, Lieberman’s report was virtually ignored by the education establishment. Among possible reasons, the body of evidence is relatively new; and most of the studies of health and education showed correlation, not necessarily cause. More longitudinal studies are finally emerging. A six-year study of 905 public elementary schools in Massachusetts found that third-graders got higher scores on standardized testing in English and math in schools that had closer proximity to natural areas. Likewise, preliminary findings of a 10-year University of Illinois study of more than 500 Chicago schools, comparing green schools with more typical schools, indicate similar results, especially for the most challenged learners. As it turns out, greening schools may be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise student test scores.

In many districts, technology does continue to rule the school day. Rejecting digital tools isn't the point. These tools are useful. But so is nature. Green schools are growing into a strong counter trend -- as even some technologists question the underlying assumptions leading us to techno-overkill.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter School Board Chair Clay Johnson happens to be one of them. Not long ago, he worked in the White House as one of the administration’s chief tech guys. He likes his tech gadgets. He drives a Tesla. But he believes fervently that the real cutting edge of education is where the woods and the fields begin. His school's irrepressible students seem to agree. On the day I visited, two girls on their way to an outdoor learning experience handed a newborn bunny to the CBS reporter and another to me. Whatever worry I had about the interview disappeared. When the reporter asked them to describe some of the ways they were learning math, science, history and language, the girls practically burst with pride and excitement, at that green edge.

Most of us can relate. All that nature! And each of us with two eyes and only one brain.

Vitamin N 3D Cover


Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. His new book, VITAMIN N, offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. Among his other books are THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Follow Rich on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter.

Other reading:

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play
What the Finns Know
Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood
Edweek: Is Less Classroom Time, More Outdoor Play the Secret?
The Green Schoolyard Movement: Gaining Ground Around the World
The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Education Becomes, The More Nature Our Children Need
Back to School, Forward to Nature: Ten Ways Teachers Can Fortify Their Students With Vitamin N
Teaching Kids to Be Nature Smart, National Wildlife
The American Academy of Pediatrics report on the importance of recess

Other resources:

Join C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network, download the Natural Teachers eGuide.
C&NN's Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Initiative.
Islandwood Teacher Resources
Green Hearts
National Wildlife Federation Tools and Resources for Teachers
The International Association of Nature Pedagogy, launched March 19, 2014
Nature Based Leadership Institute, Antioch University New England
Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning
The International Association of Nature Pedagogy, launched March 19, 2014
North American Association for Environmental Education
National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF)

photo credit for featured image: istock photo

THE 7 BEST STORIES AND TRENDS OF 2015: For children, families, communities, and nature, it was a very good year,2016:blog/1.362 2016-01-09T17:22:17Z 2016-04-07T18:27:18Z Richard Louv

First published by the Children & Nature Network.


n a world filled with dismal news, 2015 was a banner year for the new nature movement. Here's a sampling of some of the inspiring trends and stories from the past year.


1. During an era when congressional gridlock is assumed, government took some surprisingly hopeful actions to connect families and communities and nature.

On Dec. 16, the 114th Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the Every Student Succeeds Act), replacing the No Child Left Behind Act. Unlike NCLB, the new act includes provisions that support learning about the environment, conservation, and field studies. This bipartisan step in the right direction was taken after after years of effort by The No Child Left Inside Coalition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, environmental education leader Don Baugh, Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, and many others.

Also in 2015, President Obama inaugurated the White House initiative, Every Kid in a Park.  As of September 1, 2015, every fourth grader in the U.S., and their families, were  able to obtain a free annual pass to all federally managed lands and waters. With an emphasis on inner-city neighborhoods, the initiative, still a work in progress, will work closely with schools, conservation groups, and other organizations. Also, the National Park Service, as part of a larger effort to attract more diverse visitors, launched its Find Your Park campaign, using the Internet to help people learn about parks near and far.

Some of the most positive steps by government, however, happened at the regional and local level, especially among mayors. As you'll see below.

2. In 2015, the idea that nature can be used for both prevention and therapy gained ground and institutional support.

More health care professionals “prescribed” Vitamin N. In Washington D.C., Dr. Robert. Zarr, continued to encourage physicians to prescribe nature, and he and his colleagues have developed a zip code search engine which rates 350 local parks. Now the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has teamed up with doctors to get more people outside and exercising; physician  “prescriptions” are free passes to any state park.

As more research connected good health outcomes to nature time this year, a group of Massachusetts mental health advocates promoted a Right to Fresh Air bill ensuring that all patients residing in mental health facilities would have the right to reasonable, consistent access to the outdoors. The legislation passed. In Belfast, Ireland, health and environmental experts met to develop policies promoting nature experiences to improve the mental and physical health of citizens. The Irish News reported, “There is no quick-fix… but there is an increasing awareness that the environment or natural world can play a role both at a preventative and curative level.”

In April, an international group of scientists – including a Nobel Prize winner and several Nobel nominees – issued the Helsinki Alert of Biodiversity and Health, affirming the necessity of nearby nature to human health and the need for a new approach to urban planning and policies.

3. The number of nature-smart schools grew – and so did national attention to the impact of natural learning.

Thousands of conservation groups and  environmental education professionals and organizations continued their vital work to improve environmental literacy in classrooms and beyond. In addition, more school walls became permeable. For years, nature-smart schools have been popular in Germany and Scandinavian countries, but now they're gaining traction around the world.

On December 28, The New York Times reported that The Natural Start Alliance, "founded in 2013 in response to demand from a growing number of nature preschool providers," counts 92 schools that "put nature at the heart of their programs, and where children spend a significant portion of each day outside….That’s up from 20 schools in 2008.” This year, the Texas Workforce Commission announced new financial incentives and support for childcare centers with outdoor activities. In Indiana, New Jersey and West Virginia, the American Water Charitable Foundation, Building Better Communities announced a major grant to fund nature-based play.

Also in 2015, C&NN announced its Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Project. The initiative will work to support leaders in the Green Schoolyard movement to transform our national school grounds into nature-rich environments for children and families, and create a resource hub that offers research, information and training.

Meanwhile, in South Australia, the state government decided to jumpstart their own nature preschool movement. A $6 million program will encourage the establishment of nature preschools across the state, and establish 20 new outdoor play areas. Public-private Nature Play campaigns continue to grow in four of Australia’s seven states.

In China,a 2015 study attributed an impressive growth spurt of the nature education movement to changing attitudes among parents; more business involvement; and the emergence of environmentalism’s “social participation model”  – the belief that the future of conservation will be assured only if future generations learn to love nature through direct experience.

4. Biophilia design moved further into the mainstream of urban thinking.

The biopilia hypothesis holds that human beings are genetically wired to have an affiliation with the rest of nature, and so it’s no surprise why people tend to be more productive and healthier in houses, schools and office buildings infused with natural elements. In Singapore the Centre of Liveable Communities and the National Parks Board began drafting guidelines to help agencies develop and refine facilities to help better connect people to nature, integrating the principles of biophilic design.

Architect Mohammed Lawal, a member of C&NN's board of directors, used aspects biophilic design to help create a new home for Minnesota's Washburn Center for Children, a large facility serving children with social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Lawal also used biophilic principles in the redevelopment of Sun Ray Library in 2014,  in a lower-income St. Paul neighborhood. And in 2015, with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo, C&NN launched its Natural Library initiative at Sun Ray, as part of an effort to encourage libraries to connect families to nature through the design of facilities and programs. We hope that libraries across the country will become hubs of bioregional awareness.

5. As many of us hoped it would, 2015 turned out to be the year of the nature-rich city.

In partnership with the National League of Cities, C&NN launched a new initiative, Cities Connecting Children to Nature, an ambitious project that will offer training and technical assistance for creating nature-rich cities to municipal leaders across the U.S., with an emphasis on improving nature access for low-income communities. This year, Ralph Becker and Chris Coleman, the mayors of Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. Paul, Minnesota, kicked off the initiative by hosting leadership training for city staff members from around the country.

In 2015, some cities were well on their way to becoming national models. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Becker developed Salt Lake City Explore, which challenges local youths and their parents to spend at least 30 minutes a day outdoors for a 30-day period. It’s part of a national campaign led by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to connect children with nature and inspire a new generation of outdoor stewards. Philadelphia pursued the goal of creating suitable green spaces within a 10-minute walk of every home in the city. Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter recently announced the expansion of the city’s Green2015 partnership, with the Trust for Public Land, to develop more green schoolyards, engaging elementary school students as design partners – and creating a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign.

A coming challenge will be to reimagine the whole city, not only the parks and school grounds, as a coming zoopolis. In the U.K., a campaign gained steam to capitalize on existing natural areas and restore and create new nearby nature, and transform the entire city of London into the world’s first National Park City.

6. Corporate, government, philanthropic and academic support for the new nature movement increased, in some surprising ways.

The North Face contributed $500,000 to 47 projects, including Latino Outdoors, that connect people to personal and societal change through nature. DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc. helped Great Outdoors Colorado hold its first-ever Outdoor Summit, announcing $35 million in grants for communities that connect kids to nature. Disney expanded its support of family nature clubs. Meanwhile, REI told us all to take a hike. REI closed its stores nationwide on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, and encouraged its employees and customers head outdoors on that day. More than 150 other companies, nonprofit organizations and agencies joined REI’s #OptOutside campaign. (The REI Foundation has been supportive of C&NN’s efforts for years.)

In addition to moral suasion, the new nature movement depends on scientific research to make the case. In 2015, we saw an upsurge in new studies about the importance of nature experience to human development, and that surge is gaining speed. We not only need more research, we need ways to get these findings into the right hands, and to make them more available to the public. This year, in partnership with the University of Minnesota, the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Children & Nature Network announced the formation of the Science of Nature-Based Learning Collaborative Research Network, with funding from a three-year National Science Foundation grant.

Expanding C&NN's current collection of research and resources for education, health and movement-building into a comprehensive and powerful engine for change will be essential if the new nature movement is to continue to grow and thrive.

7. 2015 produced a wealth of new, nature-smart leaders.

Families are taking nature into their own hands, with a little help from some major organizations. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) announced the recipients of 44 Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium grants. Supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, the program is a partnership with the Children & Nature Network, building on their successful Family Nature Club initiative – an effort to encourage families to band together to get outside. In partnership with C&NN, the Canadian Wildlife Federation is building a remarkable Wild Family Nature Clubs campaign.

All of these trends and leaders were on full display in 2015 at several conferences. The Brandwein Institute, in partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation, encouraged a new generation of leadership at a North American at a summit held in November at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in West Virginia. In April, in partnership with Austin Families in Nature. the first C&NN national conference fully open to the public quadrupled the attendance of past C&NN gatherings.  (Here’s information on how to enroll in the next C&NN Conference, to be held May 24th – 27th, in St. Paul.) And in June, members of C&NN’s Natural Leaders network of young leaders, ages 18 to 30, gathered at NCTC, where they explored old and new ways to connect their home communities to the natural world.

Like others who were there, I came away inspired by both the C&NN Conference and the Natural Leaders training. As I wrote in July, when I arrived at NCTC, “the fields were alive with fireflies and the evening sky was lit by lightening. The scene was appropriate, for the light that these young people will spread around the world will be electric, luminescent and authentic.”

In a world of grief, prejudice, anger and violence, connecting people to nature brings people together. It’s a happy cause.


two coversRichard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. His newest book, VITAMIN N, will be published in April. It offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. Follow Rich on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter

Click here to learn about one of the ways you can grow the children and nature movement.

BRING DOWN THE BARRIERS: Five Causes of Nature-Deficit Disorder; Five Challenges for the New Nature Movement,2014:blog/1.324 2014-09-13T15:36:15Z 2014-09-13T16:17:16Z Richard Louv

In the 21st Century, our Great Work – as Thomas Berry put it – must be the creation of a new, restorative relationship with the rest of the natural world. It’s time to envision that future.

It’s time to bring down the barriers, including these — which are not only between people and nature, but also between people.

Join Rich on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RichLouv


  • As of 2008, for the first time in human history, more people now live in cities than in the countryside. The barrier is not the city, but the absence of nature in the city.
  • Poor design of cities, neighborhoods, homes, schools, workplaces.
  • Loss of urban parkland and the destruction of nearby nature within neighborhoods.
  • Poor transportation systems that bypass communities of different economics and abilities, and bypass natural areas as well.
  • The false dichotomy of urban and nature.
  • Disappearance of biodiversity: the less we see, the less we value.


  • Media-amplified fear of strangers.
  • Real dangers in some neighborhoods, including traffic and toxins.
  • Fear of lawyers: in a litigious society, families, schools, communities play it safe, creating “risk-free” environments that create greater risks later.
  • The “criminalization” of natural play through social attitudes, community covenants and regulations, and good intentions.
  • Ecophobia: children are conditioned at an early age to associate nature with environmental doom.
  • The natural world does pose risks — and some of these risks will grow with the effects of climate change. But the benefits outweigh the risks. The more we experience nature, the more we know how to avoid natural risks, and the less we fear nature.


  • Technology now dominates almost every aspect of our lives.
  • In the name of enrichment and education preparedness, children’s lives are over-programmed and immersed in the virtual world.
  • The almost religious assumption that technology solves all problems, even in those cases when better solutions exist.
  • Technology is not, in itself, the enemy; but our lack of balance is lethal. The pandemic of inactivity is one result. Sitting is the new smoking.
  • As we spend more of our lives looking at screens instead of streams, our senses narrow; the more time we spend in the virtual world, the less alive we feel – and the less energy we have for going outside.
  • Without a countervailing cultural force, the economic power of technology is overwhelming other values and solutions.


  • Much of society no longer sees time spent in the natural world and independent, imaginary play as “enrichment.”
  • Nature is now commonly perceived as a “nice to have,” not a “need to have” for children’s healthy growth and development.
  • Until recently, researchers and the health community have ignored the benefits of nature experience to human development; funds for research remain scarce.
  • Though a relatively new and growing body of research clearly reveals the benefits of nature to health and cognitive development, most parents, educators, health care professionals, and policy makers remain unaware of the findings.
  • Lack of cultural and ethnic diversity within the environmental movement and conservation agencies.
  • The loss of natural cultural capacity: Immigrant groups and diverse cultures know a lot about connecting to nature, but over time that knowledge, unappreciated by mainstream culture, is disappearing.
  • Generational amnesia: as the decades and older generations disappear, so does our aptitude for connecting with nature.
  • Our engagement with nature is being replaced by solastalgia – the pain of seeing natural areas disappear, and the disengagement that goes with that.


  • Nature is seen as the problem, not the solution.
  • The three greatest environmental challenges: climate change, biodiversity collapse, and the disconnect of children from nature — are interrelated, and all seem overwhelming.
  • On both extremes of the cultural divide, nature is seen as the other. These extremes dominate public discourse.
  • Too many people in media, politics, environmentalism, and religion are trapped within the dystopian vision, and diverted by the ease of destruction.
  • Cultural acceptance that it’s too late to change course.
  • The lack of a positive vision of a nature-rich future.

It's time to create that vision. It's time to bring down the barriers. Hard? Of course. But we can do the best we can while we're here on Earth, and millions of children will surely experience the wonder of nature that past generations took for granted.

First published on the web site of the Children & Nature Network. 


LOUV_BOOKSRichard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age" from which parts of this column are drawn. Photo: R.L.

Resources and other reading:

The Criminalization of Natural Play: It’s Time to Look for Solutions

The Best City in America for Connection Kids to Nature: Ten Ways Your Urban Region Can Claim the Title

Every Child Needs Nature: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

The Natural Teacher, Back to School: 10 Ways You Can Add Vitamin "N" to the Classroom & Beyond

EVERY TEACHER CAN BE A NATURAL TEACHER: 10 Ways You Can Add Vitamin “N” to the Classroom & Beyond,2014:blog/1.315 2014-03-26T17:12:07Z 2014-09-13T16:16:09Z Richard Louv

Join Rich on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RichLouv

Not long ago I met some dedicated young women who were doing their student teaching at an impressive nature-based preschool. They made it clear that they’d love to pursue careers at similar schools. But they were discouraged about the prospects. Despite growing demand from parents, the number of nature-based preschools remains relatively low.

“Is there a business school at your university?” I asked. Yes, they said. “Have the business school and your education school ever considered working together to prepare future teachers to start your own preschools?" The students looked at each other. They had never heard of such a thing. Nor had the director of the preschool.

Why not?

Probably because it doesn’t exist. Bringing more nature experiences to education will be a challenging task, and teachers can’t do it alone. Higher education, businesses, families and the whole community must become involved.

That’s where the growing children and nature movement comes in. If, as an educator, you’d like to join or help lead the movement, here are a few ways to get started in your own school and beyond:

1. Get to know the research. Environmental literacy is essential, but that’s only part of the story. A growing body of evidence suggests that time spent in more natural environments (indoors or outdoors) can reduce the symptoms of attention disorders, and improve cognitive functioning as well as creativity, socialization and mental and physical health. Abstracts and links to original research for more than 200 studies on children and nature can be found at the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) Web site, as well as C&NN’s downloadable report on the specific educational benefits.

2. Join the Natural Teachers Network. “What teachers need to do is network on these issues, get ideas from each other, gripe about what is not working, and brainstorm solutions,” says Tamra L. Willis, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Graduate Teacher Education Program at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. “There are many challenges related to taking kids outdoors, such as curriculum/standards integration, discipline, materials management, safety, etc. By networking, teachers can share ideas, support each other, and know they are not alone.”

Here’s how to join C&NN’s Natural Teachers Network. And download the free Natural Teachers eGuide, which describes programs that your school can emulate.

3. Teach the teachers — and the principals, superintendents, and school board members, too. Many teachers feel inadequately trained to give their students an outdoors experience, and all educators need to know about the benefits to education and the opportunities that already exist. In challenging economic times, community resources may be tapped. For example, many wildlife refuges provide professional development programs that have been correlated to public school curriculum standards. But longterm progress will depend on higher education and the incorporation of nature experience into teacher education curricula.

Two great programs lead the way. The new Nature-Based Early Childhood Certificate program at Antioch New England even includes a Business Planning course by nature preschool pioneer Ken Finch. And Mary Baldwin College offers an environment-based learning (EBL) graduate programs designed specifically for educators.

4. Create a Natural Teacher Club. Robert Bateman, the famous Canadian wildlife artist, suggests that teachers and other educators create their own clubs that would organize weekend hikes and other nature experiences for teachers. Such clubs would not only encourage teachers experienced in the natural world to share their knowledge with less-experienced teachers, but would help improve the mental and physical health of teachers. These experiences can be transferred to the school.

Added note: one study shows that educators who get their students outside are more likely to retain their enthusiasm for teaching. It can be an antidote to teacher burnout.

5. Green your schoolyard. Studies suggest that school gardens and natural play spaces stimulate learning and creativity, and improve student behavior. To get started, download the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide. Tap the knowledge of such programs as Evergreen in Canada, and the Natural Learning Initiative in the United States. Also, see a worldwide list of schoolyard greening organizations, including ones in Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

6. Bring nature to the classroom. Start a Salmon in the Classroom project or similar endeavor. In Washington State, participating students in over six hundred schools have received hundreds of hatchery eggs to care for in classrooms. Students learn about life histories and habitat requirements and later release the salmon into streams they have studied. Similar programs exist in other states and countries, including Alaska and Canada. (Some schools, worried about salmonella contamination, don’t allow any animals in classrooms. Still, hands-on nature teaching can offer teaching moments, such as: Wash your hands.)

7. Create nature-based community and family classrooms. An outdoor classroom is much less expensive than building a new brick-and-mortar wing. Schools, families, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to encourage parents to create family nature clubs, introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor overnight camping trips. Or, school districts can follow Norway's lead and establish farms and ranches as “the new schoolyards,” not incidentally creating a new source of income to encourage a farming culture.) See the Farm-Based Education Network and an overview of agriculture and the classroom.

8. Help start a nature-based preschool or charter school. Help increase the number of nature-based preschools as well as public, charter, or independent K-12 schools that place community and nature experience at the center of the curriculum. Resources include Green Hearts and Antioch's Center for Place-based Education.

9. Establish an eco club. One example: Crenshaw High School Eco Club (led by the remarkable natural teacher Bill Vanderberg), has been among the most popular clubs in the predominately African-American high school in Los Angeles. Students have gone on weekend day hikes and camping trips in nearby mountains, and on expeditions to Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Community service projects have included coastal cleanups, nonnative invasive plant removal, and hiking trail maintenance. Past members become mentors for current students. Student grades improved. Lives were changed. To learn more, see the CBS Early Show report on Crenshaw’s Eco Club.

Unfortunately, Vanderberg has been transferred to another school, and the Crenshaw club no longer officially exists. Plans are afoot to revive it, in a new form outside the school. Which brings us to the next point.

10. Help grow the children and nature movement. While educators can’t change the society alone, the truth is that too many schools and school districts fail to start or support good programs to get kids outside. That’s one reason why the regional and state No Child Left Inside campaigns around the country are so important: by building community support, they bring social and political heft to the table. These campaigns, especially with teacher support, also encourage parent-teacher groups can support schools and educators financially and by presenting annual Natural Teacher awards to educators who have engaged the natural world as an effective learning environment.

Just think what teachers, school administrators, superintendents and other educators could accomplish with a little help from, say, business schools — and from the rest of us.


Second Edition jacketRichard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, from which part of this article is adapted. This essay first appeared on the web site of the Children & Nature Network.

Illustration courtesy of © Rob Shepperson

More reading:

C&NN’s downloadable report on the educational benefits

Want a Nature-Smart Career? 11 New Jobs for a Nature-Rich Future (and for Right Now,2014:blog/1.314 2014-03-25T22:40:22Z 2014-03-26T17:13:23Z Richard Louv Want to make a decent living and a better life? Here's one way. Get a job – a nature-smart job. Or better yet, be a nature-smart entrepreneur. By that, I don't mean a career devoted only to energy efficiency. That's important, but there's a whole new category of green jobs coming. These careers and avocations will help children and adults become happier, healthier and smarter, by truly greening where people live, work, learn and play. 

Here are some exciting careers that you—and your kids— may never have considered:

1. Nature-smart workplace architect or designer. Studies of workplaces that have been created or retrofitted through biophilic (love of nature) design show improved product quality, customer satisfaction and innovation. Successful models include the Herman Miller headquarters building, designed for abundant natural light, indoor plants, and outdoor views, including views of a restored wetlands and prairie on company grounds. After moving into the building, 75 percent of day-shift office workers said they considered the building healthier and 38 percent said their job satisfaction had improved.

2. Restorative employee health and productivity specialist. To reduce employee stress and boost morale, companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Sunset magazine promote on-site organic vegetable gardens. The company Airbus now uses wilderness retreats as a reflective catalyst for leadership training. At least one company offers weeklong nature camps for adults who need to recharge their physical, emotional and intellectual batteries.

3. Nature-smart residential builder. They'll specialize in window-appeal (the view of nature from inside the home) — not just curb appeal. They'll know how to place a new house in sync with the sun's movements, use local materials to reflect the nature and history of the region, install a super-insulated green roof that can last 80 years, design for natural air-conditioning, and weave nature in homes and offices in even the most crowded urban neighborhoods.

4. Nature-smart yard and garden specialist, who will help homeowners and businesses reduce traditional lawns, and replace them with bird-attracting native vegetation, butterfly gardens, chlorine-free natural swimming ponds, organic vegetable gardens, beehives, places to raise chickens and ducks and gather eggs. As local governments continue to loosen regulations on yard farming, and as nearby production of food becomes more important, this specialty will become more popular.

5. Urban wildscaper. Urban designers, landscape architects, and other professionals who develop or redevelop neighborhoods that connect people to nature through the creation of biophilically-designed buildings and preservation of natural land will be increasingly in demand. They will design and establish biodiverse parks, urban forests and community gardens, wildlife corridors and other wild lands. Seattle recently announced plans for a massive urban forest that will produce free food. Wildscapers will also manage wildlife populations.

6. Outside-In decorator, who will bring the outside in, creating or improving our homes to nurture health and well-being through nature: "living walls" of vegetation that purify air; indoor vertical vegetable gardens with automatic drip-irrigation systems; biophilic decorations such as twig furniture; fluorescent lights that adjust throughout the day via light sensors at the windows; bird-warning elements for windows; indoor water gardens and other living features. So will individual homeowners decorating their own homes. This goes way beyond Feng Shui.

7. New Agrarian. Who's that? Urban farmers who design and operate community gardens. Designers and operators of vertical farms in high-rise buildings. Organic farmers and innovative vanguard ranchers who use sophisticated organic practices to produce food. The focus is on local, family-scale sustainable food, fiber, and fuel production in, near, and beyond cities.

8. Health care provider who prescribes nature. Ecopsychologists, wilderness therapy professionals, are going mainstream. Some pediatricians are now prescribing or recommending "green exercise" in parks and other natural settings to their young patients and their families. Hospitals, mental health centers, and nursing home are creating healing gardens. The Portland, Oregon parks department partners with physicians who send families to local parks, where park rangers serve as health para-profesionals. In the U.K., a growing "green care" movement encourages therapeutic horticulture, ecotherapy, and green care farming.

9. Green exercise trainer. Exercising indoors and outdoors seems to produce different results. Even when the same number of calories are burned. Outside exercise appears to have better results, especially for psychological well-being. Green exercise trainers can help individuals and families individually or by organizing "green gyms" and family nature clubs. "People walkers" can help the elderly take a hike.

10. Natural teacher. As parents and educators learn more about the brain-stimulating power of learning in natural settings, demand will increase for nature-based schools and nature-based experiential learning, providing new opportunities for natural teachers and natural playscape and school garden designers. Librarians can be natural teachers, too, creating bioregional "naturebraries."

11. Bioregional guide. We'll see the emergence of the citizen naturalist who, as professionals or volunteers, help people get to know where they live. One organization, Exploring a Sense of Place in the San Francisco Bay Area, guides groups that want to have a deeper understanding of the life surrounding them. Think of these guides as nature-smart Welcome Wagons who help us develop a deeper sense of personal and local identity.

The list of possible careers can go on. Stream restorers, law-enforcement officials who use nature for crime prevention and improved prison recidivism, specialists in nature-based geriatric services.
 Once the entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, it's easy to start thinking of products and services. And when people begin to consider the career possibilities of human restoration through nature, their eyes light up: here is a positive, hopeful view of the human relationship with the Earth, a way to make a living and a life.


Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network and author of eight books, including THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.

Follow Richard Louv on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter

THE AUSTRALIA TOUR: Sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation,2014:blog/1.303 2014-01-28T00:01:24Z 2014-01-28T00:40:25Z Richard Louv  

Australian Conservation Foundation



Richard Louv Australia tour

MELBOURNE, SYDNEY, BRISBANE AND ADELAIDE | Saturday, 22 February 2014 to Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Richard Louv is a journalist and the author of eight books about the connections between family, nature and community.

The value of nature as an essential aspect of our health, creativity, intelligence and wellbeing is often overlooked. Yet when nature is diminished, so are we.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, uses the term nature-deficit disorder to explain the correlation between an increase in social, mental and physical health problems with less time spent in nature in our increasingly busy and technology-driven lives. 

ACF is delighted to be hosting Connected by Nature: In conversation with Richard Louv, a series of public events in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide from February 22-26.

Richard Louv argues that by tapping into the restorative powers of nature - by getting a strong hit of 'vitamin nature' - we can boost mental agility and creativity; promote health and wellbeing; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

Connected by Nature: In conversation with Richard Louv will offer renewed optimism while challenging us to rethink the way we live.

For individual event details and to purchase tickets, click on each event below.

Saturday 22 Feb - Melbourne

Sunday 23 Feb - Sydney

Monday 24 Feb - Brisbane

Wednesday 26 Feb - Adelaide


For a list of some of the organizations building the children and nature movement in Australia, click here.

WHO'S LEADING THE CHARGE IN AUSTRALIA? A Growing List of Groups Connecting People (Especially Children) to Nature,2014:blog/1.302 2014-01-26T20:11:50Z 2014-01-29T00:45:51Z Richard Louv The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is bringing me to several cities in Australia on Feb. 22 to Feb. 26. And Australia is hopping with folks committed to the children and nature movement.

Here's a list sent to me by Antje Dun, librarian with ACF, about some of the great organizations doing inspiring work. I'm hoping to meet folks from many of these organizations during the tour.



The Australian Conservation Foundation

ACF stands for ecological sustainability, bringing people together to champion the true value of our environment and its critical role in sustaining all other systems and in achieving human wellbeing.

3000 Acres

3000 Acres aims to unlock underutilised land across the city to grow food and build strong communities.

Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network

A national gathering nestled in Hobart with some of Australia's greatest food garden innovators coming together to teach connect, share, inspire and mobilise.

Conservation Volunteers, Naturewise Conservation Holidays

Connect with nature and explore the great outdoors.

Earthwatch - Volunteer Vacations

Earthwatch combines volunteer opportunities for individuals from all walks of life ... This was a great opportunity to really get to know Australia's flora, fauna.

One Wave

One Wave is a non-profit surf community that is raising awareness for being in a funk, anything from depression, anxiety and bipolar. We have found that the best way to beat a funk, is getting in the ocean and enjoying the waves and saltwater goodness.

Outdoors Inc.

Out Doors Inc. (Out Doors) is a non-profit statewide community managed mental health organisation that uses the outdoor environment as the means of delivering a range of adventure, recreation and respite programs to people living with a mental illness.

202020 Vision

The 202020 Vision is a national campaign to increase urban green space in Australia by 20% by 2020.

National Tree Day - Planet Ark‎

Planet Arkand Toyota is calling on all Australians to Get Outside and Grow, and help make nature a part of our everyday lives where we live, learn, work and play.



Stephanie Alexander Kitchen GardenFoundation

A not-for-profit organisation assisting Australian schools to implement and deliver theStephanie Alexander Kitchen GardenProgram.

Kids Teaching Kids

Kids teaching kids is an education program, delivered through schools which encourages kids to work together to identify and offer solutions.

One Tree Per Child

The aim of 'One Tree Per Child' is to have every child under ten plant at least one tree as part of an official school activity.

Greening Australia - Greening Australia and your school‎

Have you considered a revegetation project in your school? 

Junior Landcare

Junior Landcare is about encouraging young people to play an active role in ensuring the safe future of their environment.

My Green Wall (School vertical gardening program)

Nature Play Playgrounds, Nature Play WA

School Holiday programs

Ecotreasures, Sydney
Coastal Connections, Summer Holidays Activities Program, South Australia
Junior Rangers Summer Holiday Program, Victoria,
Nearer to Nature Summer Holiday Program, Western Australia



NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
Find great places to visit, memorable experiences and beautiful nature stays in national parks across NSW.

Wilderquest, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

During the school holidays NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service run a great WilderQuest Discovery program of events for kids.

COSS Family Nature Club— Gosford City Council

A Family Nature Club is a group of adults and children who enjoy nature together on a regular basis.



Fun in the Bush Parks and Wildlife Commission NT

Need Ideas for having Fun in the Bush? Want to learn more? The following ideas and information give young people the chance for discovery.

Junior Rangers - Parks and Wildlife Commission NT

The Junior Ranger Program provides an opportunity for Northern Territory children to discover their natural and cultural environment.

Walking with Spirits

The Walking with Spirits festivals held each year at the end of July or early August at Malkgulumbu, a waterfall and sacred site on the land of the Jawoyn people.



Connect with Nature - Department of National Parks, Recreation ...

Information about the Connectwith nature activities, events and school programs which replace the Go Bush program. 


SA Urban Forests Million Trees Program

Read about SAUrban Forests Million TreesProject endeavors, learn about local plants and animals.

Trails SA

This website is a gateway to more than 400 trailexperiences across the wonderful state of South Australia.



Parks Victoria - Healthy Parks Healthy People

Our parks are everywhere – from the most remote locations to right in the heart of the city.

Victorian Child &Nature Connection

The Victorian Child and Nature Connection aims to reconnect Victorian children to nature.

Mud Monsters Gardening Group

Mud Monsters gardeninggroup offers a beginner gardening booklet and workshops for children.

Kids in Nature

A website and book about getting out and about in nature around Melbourne with young kids.

Bendigo Family Nature Club: The unofficial guide to Bendigo

Start your own nature club such as this one in Bendigo.

Ranger Roo, Victorian National Parks

As Parks Victoria's mascot, Ranger Roo inspires toddlers and young children to enjoy and appreciate nature and the outdoors.

Junior Rangers

Parks Victoria's Junior Rangersare born to explore. If you have an interest in nature, animals and the outdoors then Junior Rangers is for you.

Active in Parks Program, Geelong

Active in Parks supports targeted groups to undertake activities in parks and open spaces to achieve social, physical and mental health outcomes.



Nature Play WA

List of useful websites from Nature Play WA of organisations, where to go…

The West Australian Family Bushwalking Club

The West Australian Family Bushwalking Club Inc. provides opportunities for family activities that encourage appreciation and enjoyment of the bush.

Goolarabooloo - LurujarriHeritage Trail

You will spend 9 days with the Goolarbooloo people of Broome W.A. walking the Lurujarri dreaming trail.

The Walkatjurra Walkabout

The Walkatjurra Walkabout is an annual one month pilgrimage across Wangkatja country in Western Australia.

GIVING THE GIFT OF HOLIDAY LOVE LISTS: An Alternative Tradition,2013:blog/1.298 2013-12-15T03:38:06Z 2013-12-15T16:43:07Z Richard Louv Every year....

One December, I wrote a newspaper column about Linda Evangelist, of El Centro, California, who did not enjoy shopping. 

Linda and the members of her family decided that, rather than buying each other presents, each would write a love letter to the other family members, to be read aloud on Christmas morning. The love letters would list at least twenty-five reasons why the person receiving the letter was loved or valued.

Among the reasons her son Brad (then a teenager) gave for loving his dad: "You would bribe me to go get ice cream late at night after Mom went to bed."  Among the reasons her two sons gave for loving their mom: "You come up with weird ideas like this one." Among the reasons the brothers gave for loving each other: "You rode me on your handlebars to school when I was in junior high," and "You were considerate enough to put your banana peels under the couch." And so on

Love lists became a Christmas morning tradition in the Evangelist household—and in many other homes, as well, including those of other religious (and non-religious) persuasions. One year, in the holiday season, a talk-show host on L.A. radio station KFI read the column over the air. The idea began to spread. So I decided that my family had better get on board, too. 

That year, we sat down and wrote our own Christmas love letters. Here are a few items from my love lists.

Among the reasons I listed in my letter to my son, Jason: "You let me read you bedtime stories, even though you're 12. You protect your brother even when he irritates you. You make a mess I wouldn't trade for anything. I can trust your word. You teach me about UFOs and comics. You work hard for a goal. You try to do what's right, even when it's hard to know what that is. You treat people with respect. You're dreamy and imaginative. You like me to watch 'X-Files' with you with the lights turned off, and you tape it for me when I'm not home. You love your family. You sing to yourself. . ."

I listed the following reasons, among others, for valuing and loving my 6-year-old, Matthew: "Every night when I tuck you in, you laugh at my joke: 'Can I take your glasses off so your nose can grow?' You like to fish even more than I do. Your enthusiasm for every moment. The way you snuggle. The way you laugh when I give you a belly beezle. You stand up for yourself. You love Rex the Wonder Dog, even when the rest of us have had it with his whining. . . "

My list for Kathy included: "You gave birth to Matthew and Jason. You care deeply about your patients at work. You're honorable in every part of your life. I trust you. You don't pick up my socks. You took care of my mother, and me, when she was dying. You go family camping when you'd rather get room service. You introduced me to the joys of room service. You read better books than I do. The scent of your clothes. The way you look when the covers are wrapped around your face ... "

We wrote these Christmas love lists for a few years, and put these time capsules in a safe place. The ones the boys and Kathy wrote to me and to each other were lovely. Fishing and other family adventures in nature were mentioned, including my propensity to appear to be lost in the woods, and more private things.

Then the boys were older, and then they were off to college, and now they’re young men on their own. The ritual faded.

 Perhaps we should revive it. Your family might want to try it, too. It's just an idea. Life's short.


Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network and author of eight books, including THE NATURE PRINCIPLELAST CHILD IN THE WOODS, and THE WEB OF LIFE, from which this essay is adapted. The photo is from a walk in New York during a blizzard.