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SUBMITTED by Kate Chamberlin (23-Jun-2010)

Our Town of Walworth has begun the task of re-evaluating the town’s master plan. I’d encourage each member of the taskforce to first read “Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv.

It is a deceptively easy book to read, but, quite thought provoking.

Louv discusses how guided focus play includes organized sports; guided play includes pea gravel surrounding the swing set, slides, and jungle gyms and parks where you stay on the paths; and natural play includes trees to climb and make forts in, streams to dam, and bushes to explore. This third category is mostly missing from, what Louv calls, the generation growing up in the Third Frontier (video games, computers, and virtual reality).

Louv suggests that, as we move into the Fourth Frontier, we need to make a concerted effort to, socially, culturally, and legislatively, make it possible for our children to inter-act with nature in natural free play. It might mean that parks should be planned with a section of trees for children to climb; legislation would not immediately be of the “so, sue me” mentality, and children would experience the natural consequences of their behavior (hm-m-m, sound familiar?).

As I usually do when I read a book, I try to figure out how it might relate to me and mine. The west end of our little ¾-acre lot, abuts a multi-acre field. It used to be planted in corn, but has over the last 20 or so years, lain fallow. There is plenty of scrub bushes, sapling weed trees, old furrows, and the ubiquitous snow-mobile trails. I’m wondering if I can let my little ones, maybe plant pumpkins just over the border into the field, or carve out a miniature “Hot Wheels” track, or play tag among the saplings?

To the east of our home is a new housing development and a retaining pond in what used to be a swampy area (Excuse me, I meant to say a wetlands area.). Would it be okay for them to observe the frog eggs hatch into tadpoles, or marvel at how the graceful heron walks in the water plucking up frogs, or, well, maybe even get their feet wet? I don’t think they should go swimming in the pond, even though, they are good swimmers. They would, of course, use the buddy system and wear a whistle on a lanyard, just in case they needed to summon assistance.

This book brought back memories of my First Grade experiences of walking through a woods to get to school when we lived in Ohio. During Third Grade our home in Pennsylvania had a thick woods behind it. We made a fort out of the crate our new freezer came in and spent many nights listening to the night sounds. Our Illinois home had abundant woodland flora and fauna to observe and feed our imaginations. Come to think of it, I’ve always had woods, fields, and ponds to explore and restore my sense of well-being.

I’d like that for my children, too. I don’t want to be the “Last Child in the Woods”.

Oh dear Gussie, perhaps I can find a NCLI chapter in my area (that’s No Child Left Inside)?

Now is the time to do a master plan that incorporates the natural green indigenous to our community. Let’s not just mandate a “Rte. 441 corridor" of commercial blight.

NOTE: “Last Child In The Woods, Saving Our Children from The Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, 384 pages.



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