No Child Left Inside and Nature-Deficit Disorder

Book Review Last Child in the Woods

It is Spring and soon it will be Memorial Day — the perfect time to take children outside. Working as a nanny or au pair it’s easy to focus on our household duties, like laundry and tidying up, and forget to schedule outdoor fun with children each and every day. That is why Be the Best Nanny Newsletter is sharing the book review of Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv from AMC Outdoors.

AMC Outdoors, May/June 2010
The Nurture of Nature
By Kristen Laine

Five years ago this May, Richard Louv, a newspaper columnist from San Diego, published his seventh book. The book advanced the same theme found in his previous six: a plea for stronger communities and more engaged parenting. Yet this one would catapult Louv and his life’s work onto the national stage and inspire a grassroots movement on an international scale.

The title of the book was Last Child in the Woods. But it was the subtitle, “Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” that unexpectedly fueled the book’s popularity. The phrase “nature-deficit disorder” did not reflect an existing medical diagnosis. Using the language of disease, however, allowed Louv to diagnose societal ills in a way that resonated with readers. It gave him a perfect sound bite.

The book summarized decades of research—in sociology, education, public health, family science, and medicine—and made a persuasive case that nature-deficit disorder was a critical national problem. Louv linked that single disorder to widely ranging aspects of modern culture: childhood obesity, relentless exposure to electronic media, playground lawsuits, a narrow focus on testing in public schools, parents’ increasing fear of strangers, stress in over-scheduled children. Then he used additional research—and his rhetorical skills—to persuade readers that reconnecting children with nature could cure it. He took a host of complex, seemingly unrelated problems and offered a single solution for all of them: Get children to spend more time outdoors.

A common platform
Louv’s argument touched a broad cross-section of society. It addressed the mother concerned about the hours her son spent playing video games; the teacher who faced fidgeting children in schools that had removed recess from the school day; the pediatrician who saw overweight patients at ever younger ages; environmental groups that saw fewer young people getting involved. Suddenly, it seemed, people with a diverse spectrum of concerns found something in common to rally behind.

Several key elements helped Louv turn his message into a movement. He had his rallying cry, but he needed an organization to translate interest into action. With Cheryl Charles, who had founded and run several environmental nonprofits, he created the Children & Nature Network (C&NN) in April 2006. The new organization connected groups that had been working, in some cases for decades, on issues related to nature-deficit disorder. The network gave them a common platform, raised their profile through Louv’s star power, and gave them opportunities to collaborate.

Marilyn Wyzga, an environmental educator with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, was typical of the activists inspired by the new network. She heard Charles at a conference, and in January 2007 convened a statewide summit on reconnecting children and nature that brought together decision-makers from health, education, government, and state agencies. Later that year, she organized a forum in the state capital, and 1,000 people turned out to hear Louv speak. The New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition became the first statewide comprehensive collaboration and a model for other states.

The campaign quickly grew to include efforts in nearly every state in the U.S. Connecticut launched a program to encourage families to visit its underused state parks. New York City created green garden spaces just for kids. An environmental charter school got off the ground in Rhode Island.

Schools and beyond
Recognizing the key part that schools might play in the movement, Louv introduced the phrase No Child Left Inside in his talks. The phrase intentionally contrasted C&NN’s goals to the No Child Left Behind education act, which had moved testing to the center of education reform and had the unintended consequence of stripping recess and other outdoor time from many school schedules. A “No Child Left Inside” (NCLI) coalition of more than 1,500 organizations, including AMC, is now supporting joint bills to add environmental education guidelines and funding to the reauthorization of the federal education act. More than 40 states are crafting environmental literacy plans; in New England, four states that share standardized testing (Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) are collaborating on a regional plan. If the NCLI legislation passes as expected, it will be a landmark victory for environmental educators.

By the end of 2009, C&NN had gone international. It counted more than 65 initiatives at the city, state, regional, and Canadian provincial level, as well as programs outside North America. The efforts ranged from safe routes to school to one-page handouts encouraging pediatricians to prescribe the outdoors in well-child check-ups to a “green hour” initiative promoted by the National Wildlife Federation recommending one hour a day in outdoors play for all children.

Five years after the book’s publication, the movement has created something environmentalists have long hoped for—a tent large enough to include most Americans. That big tent makes possible the “deep, lasting cultural change” that Louv believes is necessary to reconnect children and nature.

New research extends the benefits to society when children have ongoing, direct experiences in nature. The route to active concern for the environment as an adult, according to these studies, is to spend a childhood experiencing “wild nature.” Unstructured, independent play in nature creates the strongest attachment. But just as crucial to the nature-child connection, according to this research, is “a mentoring adult” who teaches a child respect for nature.

Please click here to read the entire article at the AMC Outdoors website.

Stop by next Saturday for another book review for nannies and au pairs.


  1. So true. I hate nannies that sit in front of tv all day watching soap operas and let the kids just watch cartoons and play video games when they can be engaging with them. When it's nice outside there's no excuse! Michelle Obama has taken on this topic of obesity in children and getting kids outside is a great way to reduce obestiy. Nothing better than fresh air, plants, water, bugs, mud…for kids.

  2. The big suggestion I have made to unemployed nannies wondering what to do for work in summer months is to see if they can get hired by outdoor camps as counselors and other support staff. This can increase ones training into what they can do in nature with kids.I myself, have worked as a program director. Fortunately for me, I grew up going to camp so I knew what can happen at it. I also grew up in the country with a 300 acre woods and marsh on our family farm.I function much better (mentally and physically) when I get to the nature preserves and parks around where I live and work. And, I am always looking for programs, classes, etc. that I can enroll charges in. But when that isn’t an option, or if I want to expand upon some subject, I will turn to the internet to google ideas. For instance there have been times I have had my charges in a class where they learned about bees, and decided to create a theme for the week on insects.My charges love to get to the woods for walks and hikes. I have purchased the butterfly nets, bug containers, and other things at dollar stores for them to take with us. We have done things like nature scavenger hunts. Or working our way through the alphabet looking for things that begin with as many letters as possible.It’s great to get out there as seasons change. Some nature class involved learning about Native Americans, one during Maple syrup collection time in the spring. Another one during harvest time in the fall, including a camp fire.If you don’t have a nature program near you, create your own class with neighborhood kids or other nannies.

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