Episode 2: Nature Deficit Disorder Inspires a New Movement in 23 US Cities: Children are Safely ReConnecting with Nature to Reduce Childhood Obesity and ADD

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Meredith Medland, Founder, 3outcomes.com meets up with Richard Louv, author of "last Child in the Woods" as he steps off the dock and out of his loveboat spark after bishing with his wife, (Bird watching and Fishing) to educate, expose and propose new ideas that are rapidly increasing the number of children living medication-free lives and maintaining healthy weight levels. This is fast paced show, packed with personal stories that will forever alter your appreciation of the outdoors. Pop in your ear-buds and take this show outside or tune in on the web to experience moments of natural wonder with this illuminating guest. Highlights include a look at the impact of nature on Ansel Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, an intimate view of Richard’s lasting legacy in the making and action steps you can use right now to celebrate the wonder, awe and transcendent moments that occur from being in the outdoors.


Nature Deficit Disorder Inspires a New Movement in 23 US Cities: Children are Safely ReConnecting with Nature to Reduce Childhood Obesity and ADD.


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Meredith Medland:  Welcome to Living Green.  I’m your host, Meredith Medland.  Today on the show we have Richard Louv, author of the best selling book ‘Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’.

Richard Louv:  There is a wonderful story that I’ve been able to tell recently.  I was in a San Francisco hotel room not long ago.  I picked up one of those magazines they leave for free there. 

On the back page was this wonderful black and white photograph of a little boy on a California beach with dark waves and dark storm clouds coming in behind him.  He is running around on that beach and his eyes are just bright and alive and he’s excited, about eight years old.

The story goes on about that photograph to talk about that little boy and how he was so hyperactive and so out of control in class that they kicked him out of school. His parents didn’t know what to do but they did know that their child loved nature and that nature seemed to have a calming effect on him.

So they spent the next 10 to 15 years exposing their boy to all kinds of nature across the west, all kinds of forests and mountains.  The little boy’s name was Ansel Adams.

What would have happened if little Ansel had been put on Ritalin?  Would we have those photographs that we have today?   Would we even have much of the value we place on our national parks for instance?  What if Teddy Roosevelt, who had very much the same kind of behavior, had been placed on Ritalin, instead of having that deep experience of nature?

When Teddy Roosevelt was little, he couldn’t see.  They didn’t know that he had bad eyesight until later.  He developed this amazing sense of hearing.  He could name and mimic hundreds of birdcalls.  What if he had been placed on some kind of medication instead of that experience?  Would we have the national parks today?

I think we need to understand how important it is for these children to have that experience for their health and also for the health and future of the earth.

Meredith Medland:  I’m so excited to share Richard with you today because one of the most exciting things happening in the United States right now is that more than 23 cities have launched regional campaigns to get kids reconnected to nature.

So today we are going to spend our time learning about this from Richard.  Richard you are known for your contribution as Chairman of the Children in Nature Network which is a non-profit organization helping build the movement to reconnect children and nature.  You also are the father of two children who are now grown men – Jason, age 24 and Matthew, age 19.  So you certainly have first hand experience.

I also hear that really even though you are a writer, your number one desire is to go fishing on any occasion.  In fact, I think you went fishing yesterday, didn’t you?

Richard Louv:  That’s right.  I snuck off and even left my cell phone in the van.  I did go fishing, yes.

Meredith Medland:  So what did you catch?

Richard Louv:  I didn’t catch anything yesterday.  The water is still cold here so it’s hard.  But it’s great just being out in the water.  I actually have a float tube and I go out and I float around in the lake with my flippers and fish from the float tube.

Meredith Medland:  Oh, that’s so fun.  How long do you spend out on the water?

Richard Louv:  Well, yesterday I spent about four hours.  I’ve spent as much as 16 or 17 hours sitting out there in that float tube, paddling around and fishing.  My younger son who is particularly interested in fishing – I knew he had the fishing gene because when he was three I caught him fishing in the humidifier – when he and I go fishing we are known for being the last off the lake.  They have to wait for us to open the gate and let us out.   We have long attention spans when it comes to fishing.

Meredith Medland:  Excellent.  Do you do a lot of thinking about your books and this movement when you are outdoors?

Richard Louv:  I try not to think when I’m out there.  I focus on where I’m at as much as I can.

Meredith Medland:  Give me an overview of where we’re at right now with this new movement connecting children to nature.  Give our listeners and me an overview of what the status is in the United States.

Richard Louv:  Well, first there have been a lot of people working in this issue for many decades; long before ‘Last Child in the Woods’ was published they were out there.  I’m meeting a lot of them as I move around the country, people who were creating nature preschools and other pioneering efforts long ago.

Only now, I think, are they getting the proper recognition.  This partly because of the book, which came out more than a year and a half ago. 

But it’s also because I think a number of trends are converging.  Our recognition of the amount of time kids spend plugged into some kind of electronic medium; global warming certainly intensifies our awareness of the environment, there are a number of trends that are affecting this. 

But certainly the publication of ‘Last Child in the Woods’ had surprised me in its success certainly.  Last week it entered its thirteenth printing.  I hope it is really making a difference.  It certainly has been part of the stimulation of this opening of regional campaigns across the United States and now in Canada, which have as their goal to reconnect children and nature.

Meredith Medland:  For people who haven’t read your book, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Richard Louv:  Sure.  The title is ‘Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’.  It is about that.  It’s about the generational disconnection of children from nature, which has occurred I think primarily in the last three decades, and the implications of that.  These are staggering in terms of health, physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health and our cognitive functioning too - children’s cognitive functioning, their ability to learn.

This has happened very quickly.  We are just now recognizing the importance of this.  At the very same time though, the good news is that we are finally seeing a number of important studies that have been done on the impact of nature activity on child development.  I report on those in ‘Last Child in the Woods’.  They are quite hopeful in their implications.

Talking about kids going outside is not just a matter of nostalgia.  For all of human history and pre-history, human beings went out and in their formative years spent most of their time either playing or working in nature.  We are seeing the virtual disappearance of that activity with the matter of a few decades.

I do believe we can turn it around though once we become conscious of the implications of it not only for the health of our children but for the health of the earth itself.

Meredith Medland:  So lets go through the implications quickly and then we’ll go right into what’s possible and what are things that parents can do to shift this and how we can contribute to this growing movement.  So, implications – we know that technology is certainly affecting children and the amount of time that they spend in nature.

Richard Louv:  Well we know that at least 44 hours a week are spent by children plugged into some kind of electronic medium.  That’s more hours than some of their parents work. 

I am not a Luddite.  I actually love my Macintosh and my wife will tell you I love it too.  I am not anti-technology.  I am not anti-video games.  My kids had them.  It’s really not a question, at least in my life; in other people’s families it’s different.  Some families expect the television down the basement stairs and with good effect.  But we haven’t gone that far.  I think it’s, for me at least, more a question of balance in life and in my life.

So this is part of the reason for this disconnect.  But electronics aren’t the only reason. The other reason primarily is fear, fear of strangers.  Parents are terrified if they let their kids go outdoors.  I understand that fear.  My kids did not have the kind of free-range childhood that I did because I felt that fear also.

I was, however, very intentional about getting them outdoors.  We did a lot of fishing and we did a lot of hiking.  Often I went with them or my wife went with them.  But the fact that I felt that fear even knowing that that fear was largely unfounded, I think is telling.

The statistics show that the stranger danger, the number of child abductions, for instance, has actually been either stable or going down for two to three decades.  Almost all of child abductions are not by strangers but by family members or somebody the family knows.  And yet we live in this state of fear.  It’s very much changing the quality of our lives. It has disconnected an entire generation or much of that generation and possibly future generations from an experience of nature.

Meredith Medland:  So what I hear you saying is we have fear-based parents really listening to our media and making choices based on what a lot of our media is telling us.  And now you are looking at statistics as well as children being pulled out of nature from fear.

There is something else that I’m also experiencing when I speak to friends and family members of mine who are parents, and that is the fear of other parents.  It’s the fear of judgment from communities or suburban areas.  “Oh, if I have my child biking around in a two-mile radius from the house, where I believe as a parent is safe, then my child understands that other parents might have judgment about my parenting.”

I’d like you to talk a little bit about that.  What’s going on in the minds of the parents who are open to their children doing some foreseeably safe roaming around when they’ve had these conversations with their children?

Richard Louv:  Well you are absolutely right.  I heard more about that after the book was published than while I was writing the book.  In fact, I was giving a speech in Florida recently and a woman came up to me afterwards and said that she and her husband had moved to a house with woods behind the house.  They encouraged their kids to go out and play in the woods.

One day, another parent, a mother from down the street, came to their door and asked them what they were thinking about, having their kids outside all the time.  The mother said well, it’s good for them.  It’s great for their health, etcetera, etcetera.  The visiting mom became very exasperated and said, “You’re such a liberal!” which is a really bizarre definition of a liberal.  I’ve heard many of them.  Perhaps one of the more bizarre ones is somebody who lets their kids go outside and play in nature.

So there are parents out there who feel a lot of social pressure because they somehow are viewed as neglecting their kids.  There is comfort though here.  One of the first e-mails I got after the book came out was from a mother.  She and her family had made conscious decisions to live where their kids could have some nature.

The subject line of her e-mail was one of my favorites.  It said, “Now I know why I am doing what I’m doing and why it’s right.”  I think that there are a lot of parents out there trying to do the right thing.  They don’t get a lot of support.  Not only that but like me, many of them have been doing it out of nostalgia and just an instinct that it was good for their kids.

The good news is that we now have a scientific basis, a basis of scientific knowledge that really supports that idea in terms of attention span, stress reduction, physical health and so on.  That is good news for the parents who are already doing the right thing and I think we’ll be encouraging many parents who would like to do the right thing.

Meredith Medland:  I think you’re right.  We’re going to take a break to thank our sponsors here in just a moment.  I want to promise our listeners that when we come back from the break we’re going to focus on solutions, ideas and simple practices that you can put into place to reconnect your children to nature.  So thank you so much. 

We’re here with Richard Louv.  Richard is the author of ‘Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’.  Richard is helping us understand how we can reconnect to nature and enjoy the sport of our choice, whether it’s fishing in your case, or just being in the lovely outdoors.

My name is Meredith Medland.  I’m your host of Living Green and we’ll be back right after this.


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Meredith Medland:  We’re back.  I’m Meredith Medland, your host of Living Green.  We are talking to the author of the best selling book ‘Last Child in the Woods – Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder’.  This is Richard Louv.

Richard, what can we do to get our kids outside?  Give us some creative ideas.

Richard Louv:  Well, first there is not an easy list.  There are specific things that parents can do of course, at all ages, and we can talk about some of those.  I think what’s most important is the way we view what we’re doing as parents.

First, I’m very careful in the book not to put all of the weight on parents’ shoulders.  That’s another form of blame when we take that approach that somehow this is only the parents’ job.  We have enough guilt as it is as parents.  It’s a tough job.

The truth is that we cannot do this alone.  Having said that, it’s important for parents to take the first step, or other guardians, grandparents, etcetera, to do what they can where they are to get their kids in nature.

Meredith Medland:  What would those first steps be?

Richard Louv:  Well, let me be careful here because I think that in addition to those first steps, society has to support the institutions and the organizations that help parents get their kids outdoors.  That’s equally important as what parents can do.

Meredith Medland:  So when you say support these organizations, we talked about in the beginning of the show that there are 23 cities that have launched regional campaigns to get kids reconnected to nature.  Is that what you mean, getting involved with those movements?

Richard Louv:  That is part of it.  That is more at the movement level and that really is meant to get support for the Nature Centers across the country, to have more of them and to support the ones that are out there and to support the teachers that actually take their kids outdoors despite the pressure not to do that by the ‘Leave No Child Behind’ Act.

It’s meant to give support to Scouting Organizations, to environmental organizations that are increasingly going to need to create programs to get parents outdoors, if they care about their survival as organizations.  Also any kind of organization – the Kiwanis, the Rotarians, all kinds of civic organizations should begin to pay more attention to this and to create programs.

The reason this is important partly is because you have a young generation of parents coming up right now, many of who did not have any kind of significant or meaningful experiences with nature when they were kids.  So the don’t know where to start.   They don’t really start with the kind of tools that you and I begin with in terms of a memory of our own childhood.  So that’s another reason why it’s important before discussing the specific things that parents can do, to emphasize that parents need help getting this done.

Meredith Medland:  It would seem to me that it would be really frustrating as a parent to be bringing your child to basketball practice or cheerleading practice and then worrying about if they are eating their correct packaged foods.  All of the things that I worry about, just keeping myself living green, to do that for my child seems an enormous amount of responsibility.

So, I’d love to know what resources, in the realm of creativity and ideas we can give for parents, but even more so than that, what would serve the needs of parents and also serve the needs of children?  Do we create a camp where the kids go to camp and the adults go to camp?  What do we do?

Richard Louv:  That’s a good point.  The camps are very interesting because there are of course thousands of summer camps that are out there.  Increasingly they have become computer camps or camps for children who weigh too much, to go to gym class, to all kinds of business camps – anything except nature.

Many of these camps have moved away from nature.  In Girl Scout camp now, girl scouts are prevented from climbing trees because of the fear of lawsuits and for fear of parents who don’t want their kids out there getting dirty.

Meredith Medland:  Now I do want to make sure that our listeners know about the Omega Institute, which is omega.org.  They have family camp weeks that happen over about a four-week period of time.  You register for one week at a time.  That’s one of the most creative things I’ve seen right now where parents and children come together to experience organic meals, served three times a day.  They learn about food distribution.  They have games.  They do outdoor events.  There is kayaking and canoeing.

And there are resources for both the parents and the children.  That’s the closest thing that I’ve seen so far that really heals and brings both parents and children together through nature.  Do you know of anything else like that?

Richard Louv:  Sure.  In many cities now there are Nature Centers.  These are often sponsored by an organization such as the Audubon Society.  Increasingly these Nature Centers are moving away from being museums of nature to being places that get kids and parents outdoors.  That’s another place to look for it.

We’re going to try on this website, the Children in Nature Network website, to begin to provide these kinds of resources to parents and to educators and to others because there isn’t really an easy place to go to find out what you can do in your own community for instance.

Meredith Medland:  Let’s take a minute just to give our listeners, when they are looking at the episode page on personallifemedia.com, they will be able to see the list of links that we are talking about on the show.  But just for right now if they want to find out more information about you they can go to the futuresedge.com.  Why don’t you give the URL that you just referenced a little while ago a little more clearly for the listener?

Richard Louv:  Sure.  It’s www.seenaturenet.org.  Or an easier way to get that is leaveno childinside.org.

Meredith Medland:  So leavenochildinside.org.

Richard Louv:  Right.  You can just look at my name too.  If you look for Richard Louv, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, eventually you’ll find that.

Meredith Medland:  Yeah, you certainly will.

Richard Louv:  Another good place is the Green Hour; the National Wildlife Federation has a program called the Green Hour.  Its goal is to help parents and educators and others to get kids outside for one hour a day.  They have some resources on their website.  So if you just Google National Wildlife Federation, you’ll find it.

Meredith Medland:  Are there any resources for parents who are dealing with the scrutiny from other parents about the choices that they make in letting their children play outside?  Are there any psychologies, or – I mean what do we do to serve the parents who are remaining conscious and understanding that connection to nature is imperative?   How do we help them?

Richard Louv:  I think that one of the useful things about this movement, all of the sometimes they’re called, ‘Leave No Child Inside’ campaign, they are around the country in places like Cincinnati and the Bay Area, in Florida and other places.  To get involved with that would be a good thing.

Again, if they go to the Children in Nature Network, see the kinds of campaigns that are emerging around the country and they’ll learn maybe how they might be able to start one in their own community.  I think that’s one of the best ways, to take action and find other parents.  But not only parents, but also other businesses, non-profits, nature centers and schools, etcetera, right now are involved in trying to turn this around.  Even residential developers now are getting involved.

One of the things that is important for parents to understand too is that they don’t have to know everything about nature to begin to get their kids outdoors.  So often, we feel today that we have to have all the information and if we don’t that we are somehow deficient.

Rachael Carson has a wonderful thing that she said that I quote in the book.  She said, “It is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world.”  In other words, our enthusiasm about just being out there with our child in a field, in the woods, next to a stream, and experiencing that with our child, having that wonder, that’s what counts the most, not whether you know the names of the species that you are looking at or the natural cycle of the butterfly or anything else.  The most important thing is to feel.  The most important thing is to share your enthusiasm with your child.  Your child will then remember that for the rest of his or her life.

The same is true in how we approach the environment.  We spend so much time talking about the problems of Global Warming, the problems of how to recycle, why to recycle, all of the detail.  We miss the forest for the trees.

The most important thing that we can pass onto our kids about the environment is not a sense of fear, not a sense of detail in terms of book learning about it, but our sense of engagement and excitement and wonder.   Really, it’s tough to put words to that and to quantify that.

Meredith Medland:  Yeah, it’s experiential.

Richard Louv:  Yes.

Meredith Medland:  So, I couldn’t agree with you more.  I have wonderful moments of growing up on a big lake in Gresham, Wisconsin at the lake cottage home that my parents had that we went to on the weekends.  I was raised very very connected to nature growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin.

One of the things that I see in the friends around me who have children is a little hesitancy to just send their child outside and say, “Go play.”  There are certainly things that parents need to do. 

So what could we do right now?  What ideas can we create of ways to send their children outside to have some sort of an adventure that gets reported back to the parent and maybe gives a piece of that nature connection back to the parents that creates fun in the family.  Do you have any creative games or ideas?

Richard Louv:  Well, one thing is that we have to be realistic.  Most parents today are not going to say to their child what our parents perhaps said to us, which is, “Go outside this morning and don’t come back until the street lights come on.”  That’s just not going to happen in so many families because of that sense of fear, which my profession, our profession, the entertainment and news media, has created.  That fear is not going to go away.

So we have to recognize the reality of that.  What that means is that parents are going to have to often take their children into nature themselves.  We are not going to be able to get around that.  Now in those neighborhoods and in those instances where it’s possible to let go of some of that fear and encourage our kids to go outside, a good place to start is the backyard – to go backyard birding for instance, bird watching in the backyard.

Right now, a few minutes ago as we were talking, my office has glass window and a glass door that opens onto our backyard.  I have binoculars here.  I was just watching some birds as we talked because my younger son, who has gotten into birding, encouraged his mother and father to get into it.  So it can work both ways.

Meredith Medland:  Now that’s Matthew and he’s 19, right?

Richard Louv:  Yeah.  But you can encourage your kids to collect bugs and bring them back indoors in jars.  Look for animal tracks.  That’s a wonderful thing.  In the spring, you can go out with your child and catch tadpoles and transfer them to an aquarium and watch them turn into frogs and then return those frogs to the wild.

Meredith Medland:  Oh, those were some of my favorite moments growing up.

Richard Louv:  Sure.

Meredith Medland:  I had a whole tadpole collection.

Richard Louv:  Last weekend, in Canada, the daughter of Robert Bateman, the famous, famous wildlife artist, was at an event at which I was.  She said that her daughter woke up one morning recently and said, “It smells like a great day to go catch frogs!”

Meredith Medland:  Aaaaaah, isn’t that delightful?

Richard Louv:  So, the more we can encourage that kind of thinking, the better.  Another thing is encouraging your child that we don’t have to go to Yosemite.  There is a phrase called ‘nearby nature’ which the people who study these things talk about.  That is the ‘cul-de-sac’, the little clump of trees at the end of the cul-de-sac’ or the ravine behind your house.  To the adult eye that can look like something quite insignificant.  But to a child it can be the whole universe.

Encourage your child to get to know that 10 square yard area at the edge of the field or pond or garden.  Help your child look for the edges between habitats where the trees stop and the field begins, where the rocks and the earth meet water.  The most life is always at those edges.

It’s interesting, when people do studies of how kids play at parks, the kinds of flat, boring parks that we often see – kids, when they’re not playing soccer will head right to the rough edges.  That’s where they love to play. 

Meredith Medland:  I like that.  Well thank you so much for those ideas.  Definitely creative game playing, there is a need for some more information on that.

We are about to take a short break to thank our sponsors but before we do that, Richard, I’d love it if you could share a story of sharing nature with Jason and Matthew, your two sons.  Maybe give us a little intimate look of when they were growing up of a really special moment that you remember with them.

Richard Louv:  Well, we went fishing a lot.  There is a lake near San Diego called El Capitan.  It’s a very very long lake and the lakes of San Diego are very rugged around them.  There is no development.

Down at the end of one particular lake that leads into an Indian Reservation, the San Diego River comes into it and it’s very small but it goes through a lot of low cottonwoods.  Really depending on the light of the day, it can look like Africa, it can look like Montana; it’s a very mysterious place.

We came to call that Mystery Valley.   One of its peculiar qualities that all three of us noticed is that as we would approach it in our boat the closer you got to the Mystery Valley, the farther away it looked.

That kind of awareness of the hidden qualities of nature that make it more mysterious than any video game I think is the source of so much wonder that we have as children and then later as adults.  But going to the Mystery Valley, or trying to get there was often the moment that I think stands out.


Meredith Medland:  That’s lovely, thank you.  That reminds me that the journey is the destination.  Mystery Valley.  Thank you for that story.

We’re going to take a short break to support our sponsors.  This is Meredith Medland, your host of Living Green and I’m here with Richard Louv, he’s the author of the best selling book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ and we’ll be back right after this.


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Meredith Medland:  We’re back and I’m Meredith Medland, your host of Living Green.  I’m in the middle of a great conversation with the author of the best selling book, ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv.

Hi Richard.  Before the break we were talking about some wonderful scenes from the experience you had with your children and what’s ahead for parents.

Now I’d like to take a look at what’s ahead for you.  In the next three months what do you have going on?

Richard Louv:  Well the book has kind of taken over my life.  After 25 years as a columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune I let that column go a few weeks ago primarily because we’ve received something in the neighborhood of 1,500 speaking requests since the book came out. 

And I’m on the road a lot.  I was in Canada last week.  Next week, in fact tomorrow, I go to Washington D.C. to give Congressional testimony on the future of parks, then on to Dallas and Florida.  So I am mainly focused on doing what I can to advance this movement.

Meredith Medland:  What is it within you that has you jumping on planes and flying all over and taxing your body that way?  You obviously are passionate about this issue.  You’ve written many books and columns and done tons of interviews and speaking engagements.  There is something inside you motivating you to do this.  What is that?

Richard Louv:  I’ve been asked that before.  It’s hard to answer.  I tell people I started writing this book when I was eight.  This is my seventh book and if I look carefully at those other books, each one of them led to this one.

I cannot think of a more important issue.  For one thing, as I said earlier, we’re not only talking about the health of the kids, we’re also talking about the health of the planet.  The studies of conservationists or environmentalists, whatever we want to call them, shows that almost to a person, they had some transcendent experience in nature when they were kids as I did.

What happens if that ends?  For a large part of a generation and a larger part of the next, who will be the future stewards of the earth?  Who will care about the spotted owl in 10 or 15 years?  So I see the child in nature as actually the most endangered species, as the leading indicator species.

Meredith Medland:  So if you could turn it all around, and in the next three months you could create three specific measurable outcomes that actually had a universal, a magnitude of a switch for this whole movement, where people just got on board, there are these 23 cities that are launching regional campaigns.  It was outrageous, thinking big, also thinking realistic, but really thinking big.   What would those three things be?

Richard Louv:  Well the primary effect I think would be, I use the list on the refrigerator door as the metaphor.  Right now as parents we have two lists metaphorically on our refrigerator door.  One is the list of all the things we should be doing to be good parents.  We never quite get done with that list and we feel guilty about that.

The second list is the list of the things that we’d like to do to be good parents.  It’s a very different list.

Meredith Medland:  What do you feel most guilty about as a parent that you should be doing?  Give us an example of that list.

Richard Louv:  Oh, when my boys were growing up, the amount of time that I had.   But the second list is interesting.  It’s all the extracurricular things.   It’s actually the most fun in terms of lists.

Right now nature if it’s anywhere on the refrigerator door, is on that second list.  The problem is that it is seen as an extracurricular activity.  As long as it’s seen as a ‘nice to do’ it won’t be taken fully seriously.

So in terms of your question of what would I like to see happen the most, I would like to see nature moved to the first list.  It’s possible for that to happen as the word gets out about this emerging body of evidence, that shows just how important that experience in nature is for a child’s health, for their healthy development, for their attention span, for their physical health as a guard against obesity, for their stress level etcetera.  We now have a body of knowledge and as that gets out, nature could move to the first list.

That first list is not set in stone.

Meredith Medland:  I love it.  So how could we prove if we did an interview with you in three months and nature had moved into the ‘should be’, the number one refrigerator list, what are some tangible pieces of evidence.  How could we measure that?  How would we know that there had been such a jump in improvement?

Richard Louv:  I think one thing would be is when academics and government do surveys of what parents do with their time, they might ask them, “How much time is your child spending in nature?”  They don’t even ask that question now.  So if it started showing up on the surveys, as an indication that it’s taken seriously, that would be wonderful.

Meredith Medland:  Perfect.  Do you have an example of maybe two of those surveys?

Richard Louv:  Not on the top of my head, no I don’t.  Well, one example would be – it’s not exactly a survey, but in the debate about child obesity for instance, there was a huge special section done last year that was in the Sunday New York Times.  Kaiser Permanente and San Francisco State and a third party whom I can’t recall sponsored it.

It was all about child obesity.  There were probably 10,000 words in that.  I got on-line and I found an on-line version of it.  I did a word search.  I couldn’t find the word nature once in those 10,000 words.  And this is a huge thing all about child obesity. 

What are they recommending to parents?  They’re recommending to parents to get their kid into organized sports.  The greatest increase in child obesity in our history occurred during the same two decades as the greatest increase in organized sports for children.

Meredith Medland:  Yes, it did.

Richard Louv:  It’s not solving the problem.  There is nothing wrong with organized sports but it’s not solving the problem.  So one indicator would be that in the discussion of child obesity, nature experience would be near the top of the concerns.  It would be on the map finally.  That would be another measure.

Another measure might be the amount of money gong to nature centers and other institutions and other organizations that are supporting parents in getting their kids outdoors.

Another measure might be the number of parents and kids who are going to parks, particularly national parks.  There is recent evidence that has come out that national park attendance by families and children primarily is plummeting, particularly in the last five years.  There is deep concern in government right now in the national park system about that.

A few weeks ago, the director of Yosemite National Park came out and was quoted nationally as saying that what we really need in this country is a ‘leave no child inside’ movement.  So that would be another indicator, attendance of families and children at those kinds of places.

Meredith Medland:  Excellent.  This is really solid information.  So what I hear you saying out of all of that is if we can include nature as a primary part of combating or assisting in the reduction of childhood obesity, and that can be added to surveys as well as mainstream press as one of the ways to assist children, this would be one of the major outcomes within the next three months for you.

Richard Louv:  Right.  Another outcome might be to connect this more to Attention Deficit Disorder, child depression, and teen suicide.   Some of the most interesting studies have been done at the University of Illinois and they show that in children who have the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, those symptoms get much better even in kids as young as five with just a little bit of contact with nature.

So we need to begin to see that as part of that debate too.  I’m not saying that some kids don’t need medication.  Obviously some kids do.  However, I believe that the woods were my Ritalin.  I would have been placed on Ritalin without that.

There is a wonderful story that I’ve been able to tell recently.  I was in a San Francisco hotel room not long ago and I picked up one of those magazines that they leave for free there.

On the back page was this wonderful black and white photograph of a little boy on a California beach with dark waves and dark storm clouds coming in behind him.  He is running around on that beach and his eyes are just bright and alive and he’s excited, about eight years old.

The story goes on about that photograph to talk about that little boy and how he was so hyperactive and so out of control in class that they kicked him out of school. His parents didn’t know what to do but they did know that their child loved nature and that nature seemed to have a calming effect on him.

So they spent the next 10 to 15 years exposing their boy to all kinds of nature across the west, all kinds of forests and mountains.  The little boy’s name was Ansel Adams.

What would have happened if little Ansel had been put on Ritalin?  Would we have those photographs that we have today?   Would we even have much of the value we place on our national parks for instance?  What if Teddy Roosevelt, who had very much the same kind of behavior, had been placed on Ritalin, instead of having that deep experience of nature?

When Teddy Roosevelt was little, he couldn’t see.  They didn’t know that he had bad eyesight until later.  He developed this amazing sense of hearing.  He could name and mimic hundreds of birdcalls.  What if he had been placed on some kind of medication instead of that experience?  Would we have the national parks today?

I think we need to understand how important it is for these children to have that experience for their health and also for the health and future of the earth.

Meredith Medland:  Excellent. Thank you for those stories; I think they really have impact.

If we take a look at outcome number three, and in three months we speak to you and definitely two things have occurred.  We’re looking at the news media and we see a connection with nature has integrated its way into the conversation around ADD as well as teen suicide and we’ve also seen an increase of a call to nature in the discussion of child obesity.  What in your life, if we’re going for the big win or big dream, what will we see as outcome number three for you?

Richard Louv:  In my own life?

Meredith Medland:  Yeah.

Richard Louv:  Well, that’s getting difficult.  I tell people I’ve got a bad case of Nature Deficit Disorder right now because of this book.  I’m on the road so much.  But I am very much trying to get myself outside, my wife and I outside.

My wife is a vegetarian and she carries black widow spiders out of the house so she doesn’t fish.  But I fish.  So a couple of weekends ago I asked her to go fishing with me.  She said what does that mean?  I said bird watching and fishing.  You can sit in the front of the boat with your binoculars and I’ll sit in the back of the boat and drive it and I’ll fish.  I call that bishing, with a ‘b’.

Meredith Medland:  [Laughs] Bishing!

Richard Louv:  I’d like to do a whole lot more bishing with my wife.

Meredith Medland:  A whole lot more bishing with your wife!  So using nature to connect and continue to reconnect that love spark between you and Cathy.  I like that a lot.

Thank you so much for spending your time with us today.  I have one last question for you and then we’ll move on and get ready for our shows to come.

I would love to know, as you look back on your life, and place yourself around the age, let’s say, 75, 85, somewhere in there, and you look back, what is the legacy that you would like to leave your children?

Richard Louv:  These are such great questions.  I think that I would like my boys to be able to say that they learned by example from their father how to see the world with a sense of wonder and to not let the way that a child sees the world leave just because you age.

Meredith Medland:  A sense of wonder.  I love it when you say sense of wonder.  Richard, thank you so much.  This show is all about living green, so as we wrap up our show today and you think about the characteristics of what it means to live green and take care of our planet, will you send our listeners out with some inspirational ideas?

Richard Louv:  I think that environmentalism is changing.  I think that as a culture, we have to move away from a kind of fear and shame based environmentalism.  We have to stop thinking about doing with less and thinking only about conserving energy, with continuing to think about that and do that, but to add to that.  It goes beyond just saving energy.  It goes to creating human energy.

The whole arena of green urbanism and biophilic design as it’s called, I think is starting to make a transition from just talking about how many wattage hours we’re saving to the fact that a green building for example actually increases productivity.  It increases our ability to work.  It decreases sick time and high turnover at companies.

That can be true in schools.  It can be true in our own home.  It can be true in our neighborhood.

I was speaking in Florida recently and the Lieutenant Governor there introduced me.  She said something very interesting to me right before I stood up to speak.  She said, “Rich, do you think we’ll ever get back to the way it used to be?”  When I spoke I said, “The Lieutenant Governor asked me this question.  It’s a good question, but it’s the wrong question.  The right question is how can we make life better than it ever has been?”

That has to be our goal.  If we don’t have that as our goal we’ll never bring teenagers and others along with us.  We really need to be thinking about how to make a better life than we’ve ever had by being part of nature; by the way we design our homes and our cities and everything else.  It can actually get better.


Meredith Medland:  It sure can.  Richard, thank you so much for helping make our world and our planet a better place.

That brings us to the end of our shoe.  Thank you so much for listening. It’s really been a pleasure speaking with you Richard, thank you.

Richard Louv:  Oh, thank you.

Meredith Medland:  For text and transcripts of this show and other shows on the Personal Life Media Network, please visit our website at www.personallifemedia.com.

This is your host, Meredith Medland, illuminating the psychology of ecology for you.  You are on Living Green.

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