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Richard Louv – Last Child In the Woods

July 11, 2009

I had the chance to hear Richard Louv speak twice this past weekend. Once at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake and once at the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid. I heard him speak once before at the 2008 Wilderness Education Association Annual Conference where he was the recipient of the Paul Petzoldt Award. Since Paul Petzoldt was my mentor and good friend that event was particularly important to me and I got to share the fact with Mr. Louv that I’m sure Paul would have been thrilled to see him receive the award. Mr. Louv is an excellent speaker and his message a powerful one. A number of things struck me as I listened to him speak.

  1. Tom Brown, world renown tracker and author, makes the observation that the white man constantly tries to put things between himself and the natural environment and that makes nature a more alien world. Think about it. At the most elemental level we avoid sitting on the ground and prefer to sit on a chair, a pad, even our clothing. We do almost anything to keep from directly touching the earth. I would say that even outdoor education centers, despite their great value, places us largely one step away from true nature. As I look out on the lake I live on and watch all the pontoon boats head up the lake I realize that one of the reasons these boats are so popular is because people can enjoy nature without getting dirty or uncomfortable but the result is that they are once again insulated from the true natural world. We need to find ways to breakdown the barriers to the natural world and have direct contact with nature.
  2. The natural environment is a great place to learn so much more than just about nature. The natural environment is a great place to learn life skills (recently codified as Skills for the 21st Century). Decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking and leadership are just some of the life skills that the natural environment help teach. When I was Director of the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College graduates would return and almost without exception, those who were not working in the field of outdoor recreation would say something like, "I’m not working in the outdoors but you know I use the skills I learned in the program on a daily basis. I’m constantly having to make decisions, solve problems, take a leadership role. The skills I learned in the outdoors at NCCC did a great job of preparing me for life." The outdoors is a great place to learn that our actions have consequences and if we allow learners to have those authentic experiences then we will have real learning taking place.
  3. I believe that the "Last Child In the Woods" movement is excellent but it needs a learning theory to build it around and I would argue that the theory should be constructivism. We need to train people in the understanding of that theory and the practices that go with it. That would improve learning both in the outdoors and indoors.

Those are some of my thoughts this Monday morning after a great weekend. I spent most of Saturday hearing about nature without being in it and on Sunday I got out into nature taking a four mile bushwhack in an area I’d never visited before.

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