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


I’ll be honest – I’d never even heard of this book until I read about it in this thread on the SCM Forum.  Since I am the first to advocate Nature Study in our local homeschooling circles, I was intrigued.  I actually found it at our local library! It took me about 6 weeks to read it all – there is a lot in there.  (I had to read other things while I pondered on some of the things I was reading about. 🙂 )

Several things that I enjoyed and agreed with about his book was that our children are starving for Nature – literally.   Our educational focus in America has been led from the environmental conservation mindset – which I also agree with.  But our children are starving for the ability to have their own adventures of building forts, playing in the woods, crawling through the creeks, and spending time IN nature – getting dirty (without constant hovering, supervising adults, lol).

Remember the times you had growing up??  Riding bikes, catching fireflies, planting a few plants and learning to care for them, rollerskating on the sidewalks, being allowed to walk and run on the grass in the parks, climbing trees, making tree houses like the one in Swiss Family Robinson?  All the things that you played – and learned so much from!  Our children are not allowed to have such experiences. In the name of conservation and prevention of lawsuits, we have insulated our children from a vital, necessary component of their education.

His arguments in favor of getting children out and getting dirty come down to several basic ideas. Nature provides children the ability to learn, physically grow and develop, and provides a place for emotional balance. When we disconnect children with nature, we do all of us a disservice.

Children learn best when they are able to DO and experience.  You tend to care about things if you have invested time in it.  When you have to provide and nurture plants or animals and their habitats , you learn lessons that apply all across the spectrum of  your life span.  Such lessons teach character – we all need to learn the traits of dependability, responsibility, gentleness, kindness, patience.  It is easier to learn these early in life before the stakes are so high that the lack destroys lives.

Other lessons learned are the ones about solving problems – learning to practically apply math, reading comprehension, communication and other skills so often taught in abstract in our schools.  If a child is experiencing a difficulty with his nature experiences – say, he is building a tree house or trying to raise a small animal – those instances provide the motivation to learn and apply those lessons in reality.

Nature “grounds” a person – giving them a sense of belonging, of peace, of quiet, and of delightful solitude.  He sites several studies where being outside in nature has been proven to effectively treat children with ADD/ADHD.  I have seen the effects of nature on my daughter that struggles with concentration and remembering things due to Auditory Processing Disorder.  Spending time outside without an agenda or for our nature study calms her emotions AND brain, allowing her to learn and retain much more – without medication.  Her favorite subject in school is Nature Study – which lends itself so wonderously well to the almost forgotten study of Natural History and the sciences involved with that.  Getting intimately aquainted with the natural world around her makes her want to take care of it.  And, in the end, it becomes a nice circle effect.

This was a thought-provoking book. He tried to present all kinds of ideas to get a serious dialouge to open up with our planning commissions and governmental powers.  I also felt like he wasn’t really agreeing with a couple of the people he talked to, but wanted to present different options. His argument was that we NEED to BE IN and EXPERIENCE nature – not just “preserving the land for the animals”, so do not feel that he was actively promoting the UN Agenda 21.

I also had to re-think some of my reactions to the world around me (think stranger-danger).  I have that vague feeling that someone is just out to get my kiddos (mostly from all the horror stories in the media), so tend to keep them a little closer than I really need to. I have tried much harder to trust my kids when out exploring on our nature studies and let them experience somethings for themselves. It is another way I have to re-train myself.

All in all, it was a great book.


3 thoughts on “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder

  1. Mama

    I’ve been wanting to read this book. Your post gave me the final reminder and, hopefully, it’s already on its way in one of those little smiling boxes that I love so.

    I wrote a bit about it and linked to a long preview of a documentary that I went and saw on the importance of freedom in nature here —

    I’m so glad that my kids have always had the nature opportunity and I hope more parents re-evaluate the contemporary trend of sterility.

    thanks for writing this (:

  2. Happily Occupied Homebodies

    Thank you for writing this post. Very well said! Nature study has become a passion of mine, and I see so many benefits for my children. I’ve heard about that book before, and you motivated me check for it at our library too.


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