Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

From the Blog

EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE — Not Just The Ones With Parents Who Appreciate Nature

Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child.

If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?
In economically challenged neighborhoods, towns and rural areas, the impact of toxic dumps is well known. The evidence makes it clear that when we poison nature, we poison ourselves. But there’s a second, related threat that is less familiar.
 
What do we know about how human beings, particularly children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature’s intrinsic benefits? Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand. 
 
People need nature for healthy development. We know that. What we don’t know enough about is the natural capacity of different ethnic or economic communities.

In The Nature Principle, I introduced the term “natural cultural capacity” to describe the strengths and capacities of different cultures to connect with nature, often in unexpected and underreported ways. The new growth of urban immigrant agriculture comes to mind – Somali community gardens in inner-city San Diego, for example; also, how Latino families often use parks as places for family gatherings, and the long-neglected history of African-American environmentalism. Some good work has been done in these arenas (Audubon’s study on Latino attitudes, for example), but we need a much deeper understanding of both equity and capacity. Here are 12 questions to explore:

1. How do different minority or ethnic communities — urban, suburban or rural — connect to nature? What tools and traditions do these communities practice that could be encouraged – and adopted by other groups?
2. According to grandparents in minority or ethnic communities, what tools and traditions faded or were lost, but could be revived?
3. What barriers to nature experience are specific to children and young people with disabilities? Also, what nature-oriented abilities and capacities could be adapted to other communities?
4. What role do urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods play in the political support for parks and open space?
5. What is the comparative availability of nearby nature (especially natural parks) based not only on acreage, but also on such issues as crime, legal restrictions, and the quality of the built environment?
6. Which institutions and organizations do the best job reaching underserved populations; what new approaches are emerging, and where (the role of libraries, for example)?
7. How likely is it for teachers or parents to take children to nearby nature or wilderness to learn and explore? And who gets to go to camp?
8. What role does prejudice — based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability — play in the nature experience?
9. What is, or will be, the impact of the widening income gap on the nature experiences of children?
10. How will current or future cuts in education, nature-based programs and parks impact different socio-economic levels?
11. In urban, suburban and rural areas, what is the impact of repeated nature experience on developmental advantages, confidence, resilience and health benefits – and how aware are residents of the benefits?
12. In these communities, do people believe that nature experiences – the availability of them — should be considered a privilege or a human right?
 
Many other questions should be asked about equity and capacity. But this truth is clear: Every child needs nature.
______________________
 
 
Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network, and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.
 
Photo: R.L.

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Comments

I was born in 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio, and we moved to the suburbs when I was 5. The houses in my neighborhood were (and still are) very small. Our parents encouraged us to spend all the time we could outdoors. Of course, we didn’t have air conditioning in those days, either, so it was MUCH cooler in the shade under a tree.

Parents never said, “It’s too cold (or too hot) outside, better stay in.” They said, “It’s late; time for dinner, come in now!” They didn’t want to be our friends…and they didn’t act like friends, either.

Here’s a story I wrote about those times and how times have changed for the worse. (http://www.camkit.info/travels.pdf)

Things changed in the 1960s when corporations realized how the power of TV ads could help them build insecurity in women and greed in men, and thus make them easy to manipulate—sell to. For many reasons Americans are less secure than people in other countries—maybe it’s our conscience for killing off the people who were really Americans. As a people, we’re afraid of everything, another reason that the press, corporations, political parties, churches, etc., have been able to manipulate us. The

Everyone says now that mothers have to work to support their families or that mothers want to work or need to work for their sanity. But how insane is life now? One day while I was driving home from a temp job on Rte. 128 in the Boston area, I thought about all the mothers stuck in that traffic—they might have been late to pick up their children from daycare. how could they make supper in time? would anyone be home for supper? would anyone stop looking at their iPhone long enough to eat?

I feel sad for the children today who WANT to stay in and also for those who have to stay in. The endless fear-mongering of the past decades has destroyed much of people’s interest in the neighborliness and community that supported my parents. We had family not far away so we had their support too.

That’s why I’m developing EXPLORING CAREERS: THE MISSING LINK to provide the link between hearing about a career and learning what skills, abilities and interests a woman in the career needs. In past years, we’ve developed the plans for a summer camp where girls would learn about three different careers, but we haven’t found a school that wants to work on this yet. One private school would work with us this spring on a 6-session workshop series on environmental careers, but we need to raise funds for that program since the school is very poor. This summer we’d like to run a day camp where girls would learn about environmental careers while doing field studies on the effects of climate change on watersheds or on some other kind of hands-on field study. I’d like to talk with anyone who could suggest ways for finding avenues for these programs. I want to help girls get outside and prepare for good careers.

I grew up in Northern California, and now live in Southern California. I’ve often stressed to my wife how important I think it is for our kids to not just spend time at the beach, but to also connect with nature by hiking, fishing, etc, and I often feel a sense of loss since I don’t get to participate in those activities, and even worse…that my kids will miss out on camping, fishing, etc. I’m going to buy this book for my wife, in hopes that she’ll help to make more of an effort for our kids.

I love this quote by Anne Frank.

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow… And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.
     
          —Anne Frank

Hey, Mike, I hope you get some time to go hiking with your kids. Good luck.

I love the Anne Frank.  And to think that for two years she was unable to be outside in nature.

As a child growing up in the 60s in one of those many suburban developments carved out of a local farmer’s acreage,  I spent many hours in the woods and fields behind our house along the shores of Lake Michigan.  I must admit that I might never have been out there had it not been for the pure boredom related to the disconnected suburban lifestyle.  But boredom was the genesis of some of my childhood’s greatest moments. Plus, inside the house I could be seen and therefore asked to do things like clean my room or finish homework.  Outside in nature there was freedom - whether it was catching tadpoles, building forts or just climbing a tree.  I still remember one late spring afternoon after school.  In one of my most profound childhood moments in nature, I climbed a tree in the middle of the woods and stayed up in its budding spring branches for several hours soaking up the tree, sky and birds in the sunlight just looking and listening. I was stunned to see a Pileated Woodpecked for the first time.  I watched and listened and I was late for dinner. There were always consequences for that in my family, but I remember thinking that it was well worth it.

Maybe it is unfortunate that children of all socioeconomic levels in our country are now rarely bored and invariably engaged.  And I believe most are exhausted from it all.

Reminds me of the Wordsworth poem

“THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US; LATE AND SOON”

      THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
      Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
      Little we see in Nature that is ours;
      We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
      The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
      The winds that will be howling at all hours,
      And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
      For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
      It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
      A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                10
      So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
      Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
      Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
      Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

I’ve often stressed to my wife how important I think it is for our kids to not just spend time at the beach, but to also connect with nature by hiking, fishing, etc, and I often feel a sense of loss since I don’t get to participate in those activities, and even worse…that my kids will miss out on camping, fishing, etc.

My father was pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde. He was a student and teaching associate of Ansel Adams and his photographs participated in more environmental campaigns than any other photographer of his time. I was raised in the wilderness. I observe a huge difference emotionally between children who have regular contact with nature and those who spend most of their time indoors playing video games. I enjoyed reading this post and all of the important questions it raises. I look forward to hearing about or reading here some of the answers too.

Thank you for being a continued strong voice for nature! I was just quoting you on my blog today (my son and his friends are constantly yelled at to get off the grass—a common area in our neighborhood—and go play in the playground) and wanted to see what you were up to, on yours. I totally agree. Also, David Hyde - I’ve seen a significant difference too, between those raised in nature and those mostly inside. In adults, too. The most peaceful, zen people I know always spent a great deal of time outdoors.

I live in the city and I sometimes feel like I’m fighting this fight by myself—for kids to be allowed, and given the time, to play outside in nature! Not running to activities, not in front of a screen, not in tutoring lessons, etc.

Thank you all—Richard and commentators—for giving me encouragement. It’s great to know there are like-minded people out there.

For years, I have been advocating for healthier environment by sustainable farming and living green. Kids, as early as their age should be given a chance to be exposed with nature to educate and improve their awareness about the environment.

I would love to read your book Richard.

Living in Ireland one of the common sights is children from the traveler community in horse-drawn traps. Of course the roads are dangerous for them, the horses aren’t always well treated and so on but - how noticeable it is (to me anyway) that these children are living the outdoor life. They are mostly very ‘disadvantaged’ - that much is certain. But I can’t help having a sneaking regard for people who break all the rules, roam where they will, and disregard the ‘advantages’ of sitting in front of the computer all day.
Just another angle on the question of advantage and nature in children’s lives.

Sadly, technology has seemingly taken over the wonders that nature has to show our children today. What’s even worse is that it’s not as safe to stay out in the sun anymore. But it’s not too late—we can still work on eco-friendly alternatives today like using the right hvac systems, etc. so that the future generations will still have something to enjoy about nature.

Hi Richard,  Are parents receptive to your ideas? Have you been able to track whether parents take their kids outside more after reading your book?

In EXPLORING CAREERS: THE MISSING LINK, our mission is to offer schools and girl-serving organizations special programs that will connect young women with 21st century STEM environmental careers. A part of our program is helping girls feel comfortable in the quiet, exciting, and always changing natural environment.  We offer programs for younger girls through high school. The literature clearly states that girls need information in middle school about careers to make well-informed decisions about courses and activities in high school. 

On June 6, we completed a seven-session, six-week-long STEM marine science related career exploration program, which we spent largely outside. Participants were girls in grades 9-11 at the Pope John XXIII High School in Everett. MA. For more information about our programs, go to http://www.explore-careers.com or email me .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

This is an interesting post and definitely something I think about often. Although I’m not a mom, I am an aunt who has several young nieces and nephews. It’s tough because I don’t have the control that the parents do and I can’t make the kids go outside as much as they should (although I can definitely encourage it). It seems like TV and handheld devices are more appealing things. I know that I tend to feel less energetic and even a little depressed when I stay inside too long—imagine the impact on a kid?

I feel sad for the children today who WANT to stay in and also for those who have to stay in. The endless fear-mongering of the past decades has destroyed much of people’s interest in the neighborliness and community that supported my parents. We had family not far away so we had their support too

Thanks you for this wonderful article..

Happy Fathers Day in Advance Everyone

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