Why we need to get kids into nature (quotable quotes from Richard Louv)

In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ to highlight the growing disconnection between kids and nature. In his follow up book ‘The Nature Principle’ he says “the more high tech we become, the more nature we need.”

We interviewed Richard Louv as part of our series on environmental leaders. In researching his story, we found lots of great quotes from Richard – which articulate why we need to get kids into nature.

The situation

Something very profound has happened in children’s relationship to nature.

In all of human history children went outside – they played or they worked in nature. Within three decades we’re seeing the virtual disappearance of that kind of activity for children. The last 5 years that acceleration has been much faster.

Bill McKibben calls it “one of the largest experiments in human history.”

One little boy said the reason he preferred playing indoors was that’s where all the electrical outlets are.

The causes

Parents are trying to improve their kids with structured activities. They’re also giving them less free play time.

There is the issue of over-protective parents. There’s a fear of stranger danger. In fact, abductions in the US have been falling. In the majority of cases it’s a family member who’s abducted the child.

Why it matters

Kids can grow up fine without nature, but with it there are marked improvements in attention deficit disorder, learning ability, creativity and mental, psychological and spiritual health.

How many kids are going to be interested in looking after the planet if they haven’t had a connection with the natural environment?

I can’t tell you how many teachers I’ve met who say the trouble maker in class becomes the leader, not just well behaved – when you get the class outside.

We need nature in ways we don’t fully understand.

The solutions

We need a new civilisation. A civilisation not just based on the idea of conserving nature, but on infusing nature into everyday life – places where we live, work and play. Schools, workplaces, homes, neighbourhoods, and cities would become happier, healthier and smarter. We’d have a better way of life.

Talk to a 16 year old about that future and their eyes light up.

Imagine a world where anti-depressants are prescribed less and nature is prescribed more.

The best way to get kids outdoors is to go outside yourself.

On our connection with nature

When people think about nature, they think of it as something separate from human beings. Yet the more we understand it, the more we know this is who we are, this is part of our humanity. We are part of nature and nature is part of us. We are inseparable.

When we take take nature away from people, we take away their ability to be full human beings.

There’s plainly a primal nature to this issue that touches people very deeply.

There’s something in us that needs to be in nature, that needs to see natural landscape. When we don’t don’t get that, we don’t do so well.

We’re hard wired to need nature. But needing it and getting it are two different things.

The spiritual side of nature

The root of all spiritual life is that early sense of wonder. When a child listens to the leaves in the trees, they sense something bigger.

I remember (as a kid) going out and turning over rocks, and seeing a universe of bugs that lived beneath – a parallel universe.

More facts
Here’s some facts about kids’ growing disconnect with the natural world (US figures):

  • the average American child spends 50 hours a week using electronics
  • the time kids spend outside has dropped 16% in the last 5 years
  • fewer than 1 in 5 children walk or ride a bike to school
  • childhood obesity has increased from 4% in 1960 to 20% today
  • children have less time for unstructured, creative play in the outdoors than ever before in human history

Useful links
Richard Louv’s website
‘Children and Nature Network’ (Richard’s Louv’s foundation)

Useful videos
Video playlist – interviews with Richard Louv
Video playlist – connecting education and the environment


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