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Book Club

Last Child In The Woods

The lives of our kids are so much different than ours were.  Not just slightly different either, hugely different.  I was telling my kids stories about it the other day, as I often do.  One day they’ll get tired of hearing “When I was a kid …”, but they haven’t yet.  Anyway, I was telling my kids about how we used to skate on the Cow Pond when we were kids.  I didn’t realize how city-fied they are until they said “Why would you skate on … a pond?”.  Yeah, I’ll have to work on that.

I told them the story of when I fell through the ice at the Cow Pond.  The water was only waist-deep so it wasn’t a terribly traumatic event.  I just climbed back up with the help of my friends, all of us giggling the entire time, and trudged home sopping wet.  I was offered a skidoo lift back home from our much older, very good looking neighbour, but being the independent self-conscious preteen that I was, I declined.

And I’ve told them about climbing trees and building forts (like the semi-subterranean fort my brother built) and playing hide-and-seek in the woods, but they really won’t get to experience that themselves.  Sure, Grampa built a tree fort at his place for them to play in and they love the tree swing there, but it’s not the same.  Gone are the days when kids would spend hours alone in the forest, playing, scheming, strategizing, planning, building, and creating.  When the kids are in the fort at Grampa’s, one of us adults is always glancing out the window to make sure the kids are still okay.

So that’s why I was interested to read Last Child In The Woods.  I read it a couple of years ago while doing home daycare, and it really opened my eyes to the opportunities we’re keeping from our kids.  I had a plastic jungle in my backyard for the daycare kiddos.  It looked like Little Tikes threw up, and while the kids enjoyed playing in all of the playhouses, climbers and slides, I couldn’t help but feel they were missing the point of “outdoor time”.


We always spent a lot of time walking through the fields out back, watching tadpoles and Red-Winged Blackbirds, and listening to cicadas and crickets, but I wanted to bring that experience closer to home, especially when the developers invaded our fields out back.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThe result was our natural playscape experiment, and the kids seemed to really enjoy it.  They went home a lot messier, that’s for sure.  But in the meantime they had exercised their imaginations and their creativity, all five senses had been challenged, and they had experimented with physics and biology.


Last Child In The Woods is a brilliant argument for bringing nature back into the forefront as an essential ingredient in the development of all children.  I always noticed a huge difference in the behaviour of the kiddos while we were outside, and the author, Richard Louv confirms this in his experience too, in the chapter Nature-Deficit Disorder and the Restorative Environment.  It’s an interesting connection – that of certain childhood disorders being treated with more exposure to nature.  And it’s not just by burning off energy by running through fields or climbing trees.  Even laying in the tall grass or watching tiny insects outside in their natural environment can have the same affect on hyperactivity or attention issues, according to Louv.

I found this myself when I took my own kids to the beach last week.  They may have been fully outfitted in winter gear, but their bickering and boredom was quenched the second they got out of the van and saw those frozen waves stretching up and down the beach.  They ran and jumped off of the waves, but they also sat and peered into smooth crystal balls of frozen water, strained to see the water below the cracks in the ice, and climbed snow formations like they were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  I was the one who had to drag them home with promises of hot chocolate when I couldn’t feel my legs any longer.  That foray into nature in the dead of winter gave them exactly what they were unconsciously craving and what they really needed that day.

If you have kids, give this book a read.  Even in our busy, non-stop, whirlwind lives, we need to carve out some time for our kids to experience nature in it’s purest sense.  Running up and down a soccer field is great, but it doesn’t count.  Kids need to have the experience of free exploration, muddy hands and dirty feet.  Last Child In The Woods is a great place to start!



PS – Here’s a great online resource for when you’re stuck inside because of bad weather: the Nature Sounds website allows you to choose and mix various nature sounds.  Playing this while my daycare kiddos were stuck inside had an amazing impact on their indoor play habits!  They were much calmer, didn’t get as stir crazy and were much more relaxed than if I had played kids music 😉

Article written by:

Megan is a WAHM to 3 (and then some) kids, who spends the majority of her time working as an Administrative Assistant, blogging and washing dishes. She loves to write about her adventures in parenting, running a home daycare, adoption and whatever else strikes her fancy!


  1. Micah

    Lindsey read this, I heard the coles notes on it (as per usual). We spent full 9 to 5 days in the woods – mom used to tell us to stay outside sometimes and not to come in for a couple hours :P I remember well we spent complete days well out of eyesight and out of earshot as well getting into all sorts of trouble. once our kids know enough to stay off the road, I’m hoping we’ll be able to be equally careless in a good way as our parents were of us. I hope our kids fall in the river and learn something, I hope they fall out of a tree and learn something, I hope they get yelled at by the neighbour for crossing a line and learn something. Cause thats what I did for many summers.

    • Megan Elford

      Yep, I agree, there’s alot to be said for having the chance to learn boundaries on your own. He suggests in the book that some kids may be more prone to risk-taking as they get into the teenage years simply because they haven’t had a chance to take the smaller risks of climbing out onto a tree branch or crossing a frozen pond as a kid. In my opinion, it’s much better to learn about the risks involved in nature when you’re younger and have less of a chance to get yourself into really serious trouble (like with drugs or drunk driving …).

  2. Together we roam

    Popping by from Bloggy Mom March Blog Hop. Love this idea of natural play. Must get book!

  3. Irene @ FindAuPair

    Our childhood is so different from that of our children because we didn’t have so many things and we didn’t take them for granted. Oh, and I’m not talking about our own tablet or mobile phone since we were preteens…That’s why it’s so hard to teach our children the values we were used to.

  4. Angela @ Setting My Intention

    My sisters and I rode bikes around town (without helmets!) the whole day long. We played in ditches collecting tadpoles and sliding down dirt piles on cardboard (our version of sledding in CA). I’m too afraid to let my sons so that yet in our urban setting.
    Go check out Angela @ Setting My Intention’s latest post! Our Unfancy Family Command CenterMy Profile

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