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Has anyone read, "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Lourv ?

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Any scouters out there familiar w/ this book? I just completed it (told about it by my ACM in the pack - I am the CM). This book makes a lot of connections for me that I've always felt, but was unable to verbalize in a constructive manner.


The author makes a case that in the past generation (from the 1970's forward) - we as a society have severely limited our children's free play and specifically free play within and interacting in nature.


He speaks in specifics about what effects a child removed from nature can be facing. He talks about the toll the combination of litigation threat (sound familiar to BSA folks), the "Boogeyman Syndrome", and overzealous environmentalism has played in removing kids from roaming the in forrest, building treehouses, and interacting with nature on their own visceal level into the heavily structured / overscheduled world of playdates and organized sports.


He also makes the case that such issues has created a generation of helicopter parents, even in a time when, statistically, violent crimes and abduction of children is 4 to 5 times LOWER now than it was in the late 60's and early 70's.


He questions the type of people we are raising by having future generations being "afraid" to be alone / unsupervised / unscheduled at play. Especially alone in the woods.


Anyways - I thought it was a pretty interesting read. So much so, I have recommended it to all the adult leaders in my Pack. If I had my way, it should be required reading for BSA trained leader status (as should the "Dangerous Book for Boys" - but thats another topic)...


Just interested if others out there have read this book and what you thought of it? Its a cheap read at about $15-$18 on Amazon or at Barnes-N-Noble.



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I've been planning on getting the book, just haven't around to it yet.


Our boys were lucky. We had them out camping and playing in the woods from the time they could crawl. We would camp as much as possible from late April until late October, during mid-week when possible.


The non-summer months, especially mid-week, were best. Very few people around the campgrounds. The boys had the run of the grounds and the woods surrounding the site. SWMBO and I would sit back, relax and just keep a distant eye on what they were doing, with very lttle interference. Occassionally, we would have deer walk right through the middle of our site during midday, feet away from us as we ate lunch.


Unfortunately, the town we live in, about 5000, didn't have a lot of woods excessible to play in. More farmland then woodlands. Typical Ohio.


As they grew older and ready for school, we by chance found Spring Garden (SGWS), a Waldorf school about twenty miles away. The school encouraged the children to explore nature at every turn. Parents had to dress the kids for the weather, and send an extra change to be kept at school. The children were outside every day rain, snow or shine. Our school, at it's original location, then it's final location, had fields, woods and streams for the children to explore and play in.


My oldest hated leaving but was also ready for public high school when the time came. He would complain about SGWS's shortcomings, but lately, he has stated that he will find a way to afford to send his kids to Spring Garden Waldorf.


Now we, SWMBO and I can't wait for grandkids to appear on the scene. When they do, we will kidnap them and run off to the woods to play, probably with their parents playing somewhere close by a few trees over.


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  • 1 month later...

It is worth reading, and has stimulated a lot of conversation among various nonprofit outdoor and conservation groups around Chicago. I've corresponded (briefly) with the author, who is not very up on scouting, likely due to a progressivist bias.


The actual science supporting his claims is very thin. I would not make as many definitive assertions as he does based on this. . . but to be sure, not much research as been done on "nature deprivation"!

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Mr. Boyce writes:The actual science supporting his claims is very thin. I would not make as many definitive assertions as he does based on this.True, but Louv has said many times that the phrase he coined, "nature deficit disorder" is not a medical term, but a condition that he has observed.


Louv is a journalist, not a scientist, but there are scientists looking into this syndrome and others that are similar. Google Pergams Zaradic to read about their research into "videophilia".

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Mr. Boyce writes:


"the author...is not very up on scouting, likely due to a progressivist bias"


I'd say just the opposite. Louv is sharply critical of progressive causes such as guilt-tripping kids about the rain forest, radical Leave No Trace, and PETA's anti-Fishing Merit Badge campaign.


It is the BSA that has been radically progressivist since 1972 when we replaced our traditional outdoor values with corporate manger theory hyped as "leadership skills:"


"In general, Patrol Leader training should concentrate on leadership skills rather than on Scoutcraft Skills. The Patrol will not rise and fall on the Patrol Leader's ability to cook, follow a map, or do first aid, but it very definitely depends on his leadership skill" Scoutmaster's Handbook [1972], page 155).


This progressivist indoor manager bias continues to the present day as BSA millionaires now seek to "reinvent Scouting" to lure boys indoors away from the Patrol Method, so they can sit in front of computer screens "side by side with adults of character:"


"You can teach a kid about character and leadership using aerospace and computers. The secret is to get them side by side with adults of character...We recognize the evolving science of leadership. We've had CEOs on our board say they want to send their people to Wood Badge, our adult leader training program, because we use state-of-the-art techniques" (Chief Scout Executive Robert Mazzuca, USA Today, "Advice from the Top: Leaders Need Scouts' Qualities")


Richard Louv presents a balanced account of Scouting. The following excerpt is typical:


At Scout headquarters at San Diego's Camp Balboa, an urban campground created in 1916, Narayan and Karyl T. O'Brien, associate executive director of the regional Girl Scouts Council, spread out a stack of literature to describe the rich programs they provide to more than thirty thousand girls. Impressive, but over the past three years, membership in the region has remained flat, even as the population has grown precipitously. This region's council markets itself aggressively. It offers such programs as an overnighter with the city's natural history museum, a daylong junior naturalist program, and popular summer-camp experiences. But the overwhelming majority of Girl Scout programs are unconcerned with nature. Included (along with selling cookies) are such offerings as Teaching Tolerance, Tobacco Prevention, Golf Clinic, Self-Improvement, Science Festival, EZ Defense, and Financial Literacy. Soon, Camp CEO will bring businesswomen to a natural setting to mentor girls in job interviewing, product development, and marketing.


The divide between past and future is seen best at the Girl Scout camps in mountains east of the city: one is billed as traditional, with open-air cabins and tents hidden in the trees; the newer camp looks like a little suburbia with street lights. "I flipped when I learned that girls weren't allowed to climb trees at our camps," says O'Brien. Liability is an increasing concern. "When I was a kid, you fell down, you got up, so what; you learned to deal with consequences. I broke this arm twice," says Narayan. "Today, if a parent sends a kid to you without a scratch, they better come back that way. That's the expectation. And as someone responsible for people, I have to respect that."


Scouting organizations must also respect, or endure, outrageous increases in the cost of liability insurance. This is not only an American phenomenon; in 2002, Australia's Scouting organizations Girl Guides and Scouts Australia reported increases of as much as 500 percent in a single year, leading the executive director of Scouts Australia to warn that Scouting could be "unviable" if insurance premiums continued to rise.


Considering the mounting social and legal pressures, Scouting organizations deserve praise for maintaining any link to nature. Narayan pointed out that most of the two thousand girls who attend summer camps are touched by nature, even if indirectly. "But we now feel compelled to put tech labs in camps or computers in a nature center, because that's what people are used to," says O'Brien. Scouting is responding to the same pressures experienced by public schools: as family time and free time have diminished, Americans expect these institutions to do more of society's heavy lifting--more of its social, moral, and political juggling. Ask any Boy Scout how difficult that act can be.


...Like the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts struggle to be up-to-date -- and marketable. At the new National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas, displays use virtual-reality technology to allow visitors to climb a mountain, kayak down a river, and conduct simulated rescues on mountain bikes. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) activists launched a campaign to convince the Boy Scouts to drop their fishing merit badge. In 2001, the Dallas Morning News reported that some Boy Scout councils across the country were selling off wilderness camps to pay their bills.


For the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, it's not easy being green.


Today's parents push such organizations toward even safer, more technological activities. Scouting struggles to remain relevant, to be a one-stop shop, to offer something for just about everyone. That may be a good marketing policy. Or not. (An astute book editor once told me: "A book written for everyone is a book for no one.") As the scope of Scouting has widened, the focus on nature has narrowed. But a slim minority of parents and Scout leaders is beginning to argue for a back-to-nature movement. "They're usually the older adults," says O'Brien, "The ones who can remember a different time." Could this set of adults offer a targeted marketing opportunity to future capital campaigns? Rather than accept nature's slide, or suggest that non-nature programs be dropped to make way for the outdoors, why not ask these adults to build a whole new nature wing to Scouting? Interesting possibility, said O'Brien. In fact, it makes sense not only as a marketing tool--define your niche and claim it--but also as a mission.


Scout leaders emphasize that Scouting is an educational program that teaches young people about building character, faith traditions, mentoring, serving others, healthy living, and lifelong learning. Boy Scouts founder Lord Baden-Powell surely sensed that exposure to nature nurtures children's character and health. The best way to advance those educational goals (and, in a marketing sense, revive Scouting) as a return to the core orientation to nature -- an approach that many parents and Scout leaders support [Last Child in the Woods, pages 152-154].





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I'm a freelance writer and contributor to Scouting magazine. I interviewed Richard Louv for an article in Scouting a few years ago, and I think he was definitely "onto something" of great significance to young people.


For a future article, I am looking to talk (via email or phone) with Scout leaders who are finding ways to encourage fitness and to prevent obesity through Scouting activities. I plan to cite Louv's work, so anyone who's been inspired by Louv's book, and in turn tried some ways to respond through your troop, I would love to talk with you. Please contact me directly.

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Read it and love it.


Re: Louv's take on scouting--- In an extended dinner conversation, Richard expressed his strong support for the methods of Scouting. Perhaps his only reservation is adults trying to organize kids too much. His thesis is that kids need "unstructured" time with nature. In a good troop with the program led by boys, with lots of outing and time on those outings unstructured, we are delivering what kids need!


Berk Moss

ADC Pioneer District

Cascade Pacific Council


Newberg, Oregon


(200+ nights camping)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had a scoutmaster meeting (with the ASMs) and we were talking about how the number of scouts going on campouts was dropping and one guy, that does a lot with the council, said this is a problem nation wide. Now, I happen to be violently against electronic toys of any type on campouts and someone said maybe we should think about having a video game campout. I gave him the look of death before I came up with a better idea. Scouts can figure out major, memory-for-life fun if they're put in the right environment. A hill full of snow, a snow skate, and some picnic tables (ski jump), a lake with some blow up rafts (king of the rafts), a hike along a river (water fight), a croquet set in the woods with impatient scouts (full contact croquet, no high sticking). The thing is the scouts don't have enough experience creating these types of situations and so the adults are trying to be creative and think of some. We're going to spend our next meeting coming up with more ideas. But the best fun is spontaneous so you can't really plan it out. It takes the right set of toys in the right environment with minimal goals or pressure to get something done. Then you just let the scouts go and magic occurs. Sometimes they need a hard goal but sometimes they just need time to have fun. Anyway, I'd like to hear more ideas of situations where your troop just had spontaneous fun.

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I read the book when it first came out. I took it as a major indictment of modern parenting and society's relegation of children to the shelf. I recommend it to anybody I can who works with children. It brought back a great deal of memories, and some dreams I had let go of. He mentions "Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties" by Daniel Beard, a book I knew of as a child, but had no access to. Well, he reminded me of it and I was able to find a copy on the internet. It is chock-a-block full of gritty basic fort construction techniques that I happily shared with my son.


But I digress... It is important to me as a father, and youth volunteer, that we pay more attention to how we are choking the life out of our children with over-scheduled, under-creative activities. Give me a walk in the woods any day.

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