Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three things I've changed because of reading "Last Child in the Woods"

I'm on my way to the National Marine Educators Conference in Mobile, Alabama (#NMEA13) and just finished reading Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." He's the keynote speaker the first night and while Aquaman (dear husband) owned this book, I had never read it. I started it last week and finished it somewhere on the drive between Texas and Alabama. It was thought provoking, and has already influenced the way I see the world. I realized on the drive that there are three things I've already changed - things I wouldn't necessarily have thought about before, but now are part of what's rolling around in my brain.

1) My attitude toward our treehouse

Last fall, Aquaman decided it was high time we built a treehouse for our 3 boys. We have beautiful pecan trees in the backyard that were begging to be part of something cool. Armed with a stack of books from the library, Aquaman drew up some plans and involved The Redhead, Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the construction. And while two of the three lost interest after the initial groundbreaking, one actually stuck with it until the project was complete. They had sleepovers in it immediately with other kids from our street on chilly nights in December. They outfitted it with a castoff rug and cushions and even came up with a set of Treehouse Rules, which they posted prominently.

As I read Louv's opinion of the importance of the treehouse, the fort, the unstructured time to explore nature, I realized we had done something very right. Rather than be annoyed at unannounced visitors, I was proud when a neighbor up the street insisted that new kids to the neighborhood come and see our treehouse and tickled when half a dozen kids ended up playing in our backyard for the evening. It has become a gathering place for kids on the street and that, I now see, is pretty terrific.

2) The way I help a friend

A dear friend going through the difficult process of a custody dispute prepared mentally for a long-awaited day of mediation. She was nervous and anxious and who wouldn't be? The night before, I insisted we go up in the treehouse, to its balcony, and talk things over there. "A different perspective on things is exactly what you need right now," I explained as we climbed the ladder to the treehouse. We dangled our legs over the side and talked with a view of our backyard that we, as adults, hadn't had before. It helped.

The next morning before she left for this difficult meeting, she texted me asking if I was up for a quick walk. I was. But instead of steering toward the easier path on the sidewalk around the block amongst the other houses, I ventured down the hill toward the park. Surrounded by trees that are a century or more old, I told her that once she saw the room she was going to be in for the day, she should try and position herself facing a window. I told her that I had just read that if that window had a view of a tree or two, it would physically calm her down. And if it didn't, she could conjure up the trees we were walking among in the park right then and that would help, too.

I wanted her to know that she was surrounded by nature and lived in a beautiful place and that she could get through the day picturing that. I don't know if that helped her more or less than any other encouragement she received, but it certainly helped me to feel like I was better able to offer something real and tangible to someone when they needed it.

3) The advice I give my children

Louv's advice to instill confidence, rather than fear, in our children was timely. As I dropped off our oldest for a week at his first ever overnight camp, I told him to "Pay attention" instead of my usual "Be careful." Telling our children to be aware of their surroundings is much more empowering than cautioning them to be wary of them. I feel like paying attention applies to every situation - urban and rural, whether in a group or alone. It emphasizes the importance of noticing the things around you, not being fearful.

This book made me think. More than that, it moved me to act differently. I have a greater appreciation for nature and the times I am able to enjoy being in it. I read part of this book in my backyard, surrounded by trees, underneath the shade of our treehouse. And I felt restored, instead of guilty. I see nature as more essential to my well-being now. And that strikes me as a very good thing.


  1. I too have changed "be careful" to "pay attention". It even works for things like crossing the street.

  2. Yes! "Pay Attention instead of Be Careful!"

    Love it, and the fact that you supported your friend in your tree house.

    Namaste! Nicole

  3. Hi Kate -- Wonderful post! Richard and his writings have played a big role in my thinking and career over the past couple of years. Among other things, he was kind enough to endorse my book, Under the Wild Ginger.

    He's a visionary, perhaps the clearest voice of a new generation of folks reconnecting with Nature.

    BTW, if you haven't yet read his next book, The Nature Principle, it too is worthwhile.

    Thanks for all you're doing on the education front to champion the cause!

  4. Nice article. I was also changed by Richard's book. The information that he provided has certainly helped me with the Millennials who I work with.

  5. Empowerment is the key to transitioning from childhood to adulthood. As for the tree and their calming effect it's not surpring that all the enchanting fairytales and fables are set in the woods or the forest.

  6. Great post! our family life changed completely after I read the book. We have a tree-house too. I wish we could use it more often. We spend almost all our out time in the woods, on the lake or at the creek.Now my son (10) is a birdwatcher and build nest boxes for birds who lost there habitat.

  7. Thank you for sharing your inspiration - I also credit this book with enhancing the value I put on my own nature-inspired writing. The more people recognise the value of trees and being in nature the greater it will be valued by the wider community. It gives hope for a time when nature is valued above the economics of decisions.