In 2005, Richard Louv published Last Child in the Woods, introducing the world to nature-deficit disorder — the idea that a lack of nature in a child’s life is directly tied to health and behavioural problems such as an increase in obesity, attention disorders and depression.
Now Louv is helping people reverse the trend. In his new book, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life, to be released April 12, explores ways that adults and children can reconnect with and immerse themselves in nature. Here, Louv discusses the book and some of its ideas.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
In recent years, I’ve been collecting ideas for how families and communities can improve their lives by connecting with the natural world. Some of the ideas are from my own family experiences and others are from friends and experts on connection to nature, as well as from the growing body of nature-connection literature.
Why do you think children have lost touch with nature and the outdoors?
Human beings have been moving more of their activities indoors since the invention of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution and through continuing urbanization. Social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated that change in both cities and rural areas. Poor design in neighborhoods, homes, schools and workplaces, and media-amplified fear of strangers, and real dangers in some neighborhoods, including traffic and toxins, are among the many barriers to connecting with nature. Also technology now dominates almost every aspect of our lives. In and of itself, technology is not the enemy, but the lack of balance in our schools and lives, I believe, can be lethal. In addition, much of society no longer sees independent, imaginary play, especially in natural settings, as “enrichment.”
Are Canadian children out of touch with nature and the outdoors?
The gap between children and nature stretches around the world, particularly in developed countries, and even in places where you would least expect it to exist — including Canada, which is rich in natural environments.
What can parents do to help immerse their children in nature?
It can be as simple as planning regular walks around a local park or going on a picnic. You can participate in wildlife rehabilitation, or go canoeing, birding, fishing or camping. The key is to make getting outside in a natural area an intentional act, a regular part of the life of a family or community.
The new book explores ways to create a nature-rich home and garden, inside and outside. It offers suggestions for how to be a “natural teacher,” and how, as a parent or a professional educator, to find or create a nature-rich school. It offers suggestions for how families, libraries, schools and local governments can create a nature-rich community. It includes ideas for people with disabilities and explores the ways that different cultures experience nature.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
Last Child in the Woods introduced the idea of nature-deficit disorder, which isn’t a medical diagnosis but a metaphor for the price we pay when we’re alienated from nature. Over the past ten years, a movement emerged to counteract the growing disconnect between children and the natural world. Thousands of people and organizations, including many in Canada, have built this movement, which was already germinating when the book came out. Awareness has grown, but we need to move more quickly into an action mode, both at the family and the community level.
I’m hoping the book will be useful not only to parents, but also to grandparents, teachers, pediatricians, mayors, young adults and single people, too. All of us can use a little vitamin N, and each of us can help someone else connect to nature.