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Last Child in the Woods ~ Chapters 1-4

Welcome to our book study of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. To be honest, I have no idea what this "study" is going to look like. I imagine that when we get together I will post about all of the things that caught my eye. And I would ask that you leave a comment, or a link to your own blog post in the comment, about what caught yours. This isn't anything formal, ladies, just a place to talk about what we have read.

I have now read the first four chapters of Last Child in the Woods two times. It is just so good. Several things have specifically hit me deep, but in general I just realized that "times, they are a changin'." Things aren't the way they were when we were kids.

Chapter 1. Gifts of Nature ~ "When I see birches bend to left and right ... I like to think some boy's been swinging them." ~ Robert Frost

What is your definition of nature? What feelings, visions, senses does it conjure up? For me, it's not a nature preserve or a botanical garden, it's just being outside, wherever your outside is. My nature is my backyard, primarily. It's where I can observe, listen, touch, and just be silent with God's creation.

One of my favorite quotes so far was on Page 10. "Now my tree-climbing days long behind me, I often think about the lasting value of those early, deliciously idle days. I have come to appreciate the long view afforded by those treetops. The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses."

I know that I get the most out of nature when I am ALONE. I've always been that way, and I see that now in my children, as well. I have memories of being outside, and when I felt the most at peace, I was alone. I wasn't really doing anything, most times. I was just being alone with nature. Now as a mom, I will look outside and see Eli just walking around in the backyard, talking to himself, soaking in the outdoors. He is so at peace. I will see Brynne swinging on the swingset, singing to herself, just carefree and at peace. PEACE.

Chapter 2. The Third Frontier ~ "The frontier is a goner. It died with its boots laced." ~ M. R. Montgomery

Could you imagine the three frontiers defined in the chapter? I could. The first frontier was a time of free land, a time of passing from savagery to civilization. I could see the pioneers. The second frontier was the time when we lived (that wasn't very long ago!), a time of the family farm. People were in touch with their daily existence and substinance. I can feel and smell the farm life. And the third frontier is here all too quickly. Children don't know their food sources, there are medical advances with animals that make them more human than animals, there are so many animal rights. We are no longer taming the wildlife, they are taking us over with their rights. It seems chaotic, doesn't it? Where is the PEACE?

On Page 19, it says "[m]any of us now in our forties or older knew farmland or forests at the suburban rim and had farm-family relatives. Even if we lived in an inner city, we likely had grandparents or other older relatives who farmed or had recently arrived from farm country ... For today's young people, that familial and cultural linkage to farming is disappearing ..." I got to thinking. My children do not know ONE person who farms. Not one.

Instead of natural living, we now have "green" living or urban living. There is a difference.

Chapter 3. The Criminalization of Natural Play ~ "For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Rules and regulations now dictate what we can and cannot do with our environment. We live in a neighborhood with a strict homeowner's association. We live in actual FEAR of getting that letter telling us what we have done wrong. If the adults are being mandated, you can bet the children are, as well.

My dream is to have chickens. That's not happening while we live in this neighborhood. And unless we put in a $50,000 in-ground saltwater pool, my kids won't get the summer pleasure of splashing around in a pool while we live in this neighborhood. Anything above-the-ground would get us in "trouble". It's annoying. It frustrates me. I want more for my kids.

Because of all of these rules and restrictions, kids are just staying inside. On Page 33 it says that "average eight-year-olds were better able to identify characters from ... Pokemon ... than native species in the community where they lived: Pikachu, Metapod, and Wigglytuff were names more familiar to them than otter, beetle, and oak tree."

My children are guilty of this. I am guilty of this. THIS is something I aim to change.

And another thing that stuck out at me was the decline of FREE play. As parents, we are all about structured play: activities, organized sports, lessons, etc. But do our kids have the opportunity to just PLAY? I think my kids do. That's what they want to do, so we let them do it. They don't want to be in many organized activities, so we don't make them. To many, we are bad parents because of it. But in reading this, it just fuels my desire for my children to be children with their OWN imaginations, not playing under the rules of someone else.

And studies are showing that "exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)." Do you agree with that? I absolutely do. Remember the quote from Chapter 1? "The woods were my Ritalin." 

Chapter 4. Climbing the Tree of Health ~ "I bet I can live to a hundred if only I can get outdoors again." ~ Geraldine Page as Carrie Watts, in The Trip to Bountiful

I don't know that there is that much to say here about this chapter. Being in nature improves our physical and emotional well being. I'm not even sure we need to read any statistics to know that it really is true. We only need to call on our own experiences.

I have revealed that I have been involved in a very stressful and upsetting situation in the past few weeks. I have been depressed, angry, sad, and more. And I have found myself stepping outside several times a day, with no agenda, just to be alone and with nature. I have picked a few weeds, looked at some newly planted trees, filled some bird feeders, worked a bit in my garden, sat and watched my dogs play, and just sat on my porch swing. Each and every time, my mood improved. I felt better. I felt more PEACEFUL.

I recall being a teenager. I was having typical parent troubles, probably boy troubles and friend troubles. I can remember driving to the town park and sitting on a park bench just looking at the lake. It calmed me. It helped me. Even as a younger girl, I would just go play in my sandbox, or swing on my swingset. Being alone, outside, with nature, got me through some hard times, and still does today.

** Wow. Okay, this was a long post. I hope you were able to stick through it. Now take some time and comment on how you felt about the first four chapters. Obviously my main feeling was Nature=PEACE. How about you? If you do your own blog post, please leave the link to it in your comment.

See you next week! Please read Chapters 5, 6, and 7 by next Friday.


  1. Hi Nicole,

    Here are my thoughts on the first 4 chapters. I will admit I read it several years ago and have only skimmed it for this. I am using what you have written as my guide.

    Chapter 1: Gifts of Nature - I agree wholeheartedly that the overall feeling I get with nature is peace. It was interesting for me to read where you get your nature "fix". For me, puttering around my yard doesn't do it. The woods are where I need to go. I grew up on a street that backed up to a small wooded area (probably much smaller than I remember). The kids of the neighborhood were always playing there. My kids also have a wooded area they could play in, but they don't. I regret this. I think it partly has to do with my over-protection when they were younger and partly that there are no other kids outside!

    However, during the summer, they get lots of time in the woods. When my father was 17, he bought an island in Maine. I spent every summer there and my kids and their cousins are doing the same. They swim, they explore the coves and the woods, they are completely free. I am so thankful we have this place for them to enjoy.

    Chapter 2: The Third Frontier
    Your comment about your kids not knowing a single farmer got me thinking. I think it is the opposite for me. I do not remember knowing a single farmer - people had gardens, but I am not sure I could think of a farmer from my youth. Now we live in a town that is fairly agricultural even though it is considered a suburb. My kids know several families that have farms and buying local means supporting our friends.

    Chapter 3: The Criminalization of Natural Play
    My kids, like yours, don't really want to participate in organized activities. Unfortunately, it seems like all the other kids are involved in so many activities that there is no one left around for my kids to just play with. The neighborhood is so quiet during the day. Where is everyone?

    Chapter 4: Climbing the Tree of Health
    Nature, the great de-stressor. I know nature is essential to my well-being and peace of mind. Although I enjoy being outdoors, I can easily find excuses not to be. I am trying to change that by doing more hiking. I have been organizing hikes with other homeschoolers and we have been getting outside to new places each week.

    The advantage our generation has, even if we have gotten away from nature as adults, is that we have the touchstone of experiences in nature from our youth. We can remember what fun we had or what drew us to the outdoors. I hope that I have given my kids enough experiences that they too will enjoy the outdoors as adults and seek out time to spend in the woods, along the shore, or watching the stars.

    Sorry this is so long. Thanks for organizing this book club.


  2. There are so many thoughts I have about being out in nature. I hope that I can express them as well as you have in my blog post for the book club. Visit me at for my post.

  3. Nicole,
    I just got my book from our inter-libary loan program and have started reading. I agree with you on a number of the things that jumped out at you. I do have to say I think a big reason kids don't enjoy nature or being outside is do to fear. They see kids being abducted all the time on tv and with school shootings and such you just can't trust anyone. Being outdoors alone can be a scarry thing, I know my daughter is very hesitant about going out alone. I think kids feel somewhat safe indoors where they can control their enviroment which has now lead to major problems since they have no physical activity at all unless you count the hand & eye cordination of video games.
    Look forward to reading the next chapters.

  4. Hi Nicole,

    Thanks for hosting this book study! I wanted to read the book and it's great to read it along with other people and get their input. I enjoyed your comments, especially your discussion of the decline in free play in general. I really agree with your overall philosophy on less organized activities and more free time for kids as you've mentioned on your blog before. Here is my post.

    Home Schoolroom

  5. Nicole,
    I've started planning for The Guiding Readers Book Study and you mentioned you would like to be involved. Here is the link to the schedule if you are still interested.

    Thinking of Teaching

  6. Sorry for the late commenting - I'm trying to adjust to the TOS schedule and I haven't written my post about this yet!

    I am LOVING this book.

    I also was discussing it with my 19 year old, who has ADHD, and mentioned the quote to him about "the woods were my Ritalin". he thought about it for a while, and said that he agrees wholeheartedly with the sentiment. He also said that since he went off Ritalin 6 years ago, and we moved to the boonies where we can get outdoors every day, he finds his thoughts are clearer and more focused.

    What a great affirmation of nature's benefits!

  7. I totally agree about the effects of nature on children and their behavior! My youngest son doesn't have ADHD, but SPD requires him to move a lot to feel "regulated" and good. Without his outside time every day, life would be very hard for him (and us). And nothing cures the grumpies like free play at the lake or walking along in the woods!

  8. Oh, and how frustrating about your home owners associations. Do you know if you can submit changes to be voted on by the community? A few chickens (with no roosters) really aren't very noisy or smelly! But I agree on the rules and regulations...despite living in a very rural area with lots of trees it still amazes me that just down the dirt road are signs EVERYWHERE about no trespassing. And I mean EVERYWHERE! All these homes are 2-3 season camps from out-of-state owners. Does it really hurt if a family walks on the side of their property for view of the pond?


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