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    Review: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

    March 14, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    I finally finished Last Child in the Woods this week. What can I say? I really enjoyed {and found interesting} the first two-thirds, but the last third fizzled out for me. I know, I know. Everyone says this is such a life-changing book. I think that perhaps my expectations were set far too high. You’ve probably had this happen, right? Everyone tells you that a movie is so amazing that, no matter how great it is, it’ll never live up to its own reputation. I think that is what happened with this book.

    Which is why I am not telling you not to read it.

    If you are like me, and always need a push to do nature study, this book is most definitely for you. It’ll bolster your resolve.

    So what is my issue?

    Politics, really.

    The first two-thirds of the book focuses on all the amazing benefits of being outside, of being in nature, of being free in nature. We learn about all of the negative influences of the crazy rules introduced over the last few decades. You know which ones–the ones where children can’t dig up flower beds at parks or build tree forts in their front yards, the ones which insist they are keeping these children “safe.”

    It’s sort of a wild combination of social work and do-good-ism having a love affair with zoning laws and the desire for every neighborhood to look like a country club.

    Or so I hear.

    If the book had stopped there, I’d be writing a glowing review.

    But at the end Louv got all political and I sort of spat him out of my mouth. If I hadn’t committed to reading every book I opened this year all the way through, I’d have stopped.

    Louv seems to think that the greatest tragedy in all of this is that children disconnected with nature just aren’t growing up to be environmentalists as they ought. Something of this sort is expected in a book of this kind, so I was prepared, but I was reading the “updated and expanded” edition, which means that instead of having a chapter or two on this travesty, Louv went on and on and on.

    What can I say? I can’t remember the last time I felt bored, but I was bored near the end. I was forcing myself to just. get. through. it.

    So here is my deal: I’m not an environmentalist. I’ve seen environmentalists cause far more problems in this state than they ever solved. I don’t think it is tragic that children are growing up without swallowing the Green party voter guide hook, line, and sinker.

    But I do think that Man is the crown of this creation, and that to truly have dominion over it, he needs to know and understand it. The great tragedy of hyper-industrialism is not political, it’s in our children not fully becoming what they are created to be. There are things they might not learn about God if they lived their entire lives indoors, and there are things they might not learn about mankind–who they are and what they are to be about–as well.

    I’m just choosing choosing Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin over the Sierra Club, if you know what I mean.

    I hope you do, because I think I’m done with my little rant.

    If you get a chance to read this book, do it. It’ll make you feel good about kicking your children out of the house in every kind of weather, or about not landscaping your flowerbeds so that mud pies might be made with wild abandon. If you find the end tiresome, you have my permission to terminate your reading early.

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  • Reply walking March 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    I probably need to read the first two-thirds for it sounds like the final third will disappoint. But, since we do make a point to walk our adopted trail every week and picnic afterwards, year-round, and, since we are raising tadpoles in our home, may be I can spend that time reading something else! On our walks we see plenty of examples of what children do when left outdoors for unstructured play time.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

      For “indoor” people, there *is* a list of ideas in the very back, so I guess the entire last third isn’t horrible. 🙂

  • Reply Sarah March 14, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    As I recall, I didn’t finish the book either. He probably could have said his piece in less pages. But I did agree with him that children need to spend lots of unstructured time outdoors.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      I found that so freeing! I think when there is an emphasis on nature study, it can make us feel a lot of pressure, like we’re supposed to have these elaborate plans for their outside time. But I’m learning that nature study and nature encounters are two different things, and both have their place…and it’d be appropriate to experience more of the latter than the former!

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