Table of Contents

    Issue Theme
  • Free The Big One

    Teaching about climate change

    By Bill Bigelow

    The environmental crisis requires a profound social and curricular rethinking.

  • Cover Story
  • Free A Pedagogy for Ecology

    By Ann Pelo

    Helping students build an ecological identity and a conscious connection to place opens them to a broader bond with the earth.

  • The Wonder of Nature

    By Bob Peterson

    A review of The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, The Sense of Wonder, and A Sand County Almanac.

  • Rethinking Lunchtime

    Making lunch an integral part of education

    By Michael Stone

    Lunch is too important to be thought of as the ritual pit stop between classroom and playground.

  • Educating Heather

    First-person narratives bring climate change closer to home

    By Lauren G. McClanahan

    First-person narratives about climate change bridge the gap for students between theory and reality.

  • Teachable Moments Not Just for Kids

    By Susan Naimark

    When parents avoid connecting, they model for children how not to talk about race and racism.

  • Beat It! Defeat It! Racist Cookies

    Promoting activism in teacher education

    By Bree Picower

    How racist cookies spurred a teacher and her education students to take action.

  • "Bait and Switch"

    New report pushes voucher fans to fast-talk around problems

    By Barbara Miner

    Voucher advocates are fast-talking their way around a new report that cast doubts on the value of the program.

  • America's Army Invades Our Classrooms

    The military’s stealth recruitment of children

    The Army's new high-tech strategy for winning recruits.

  • Teaching for Joy and Justice

    By Linda Christensen

    An excerpt from Christensen's new book, Teaching for Joy and Justice: Re-imagining the Language Arts Classroom.

  • Boycott!

    Los Angeles Teachers Say NO to More Testing

    By Sarah Knopp

    Los Angeles teachers take on LAUSD's mandated tests.

  • Free Connected to the Community

    An effective model for preparing and retaining teachers

    By Marianne Smith, Jan Osborn

    A look inside I-Teach, an effective model for preparing and retaining teachers.

  • Izzit Capitalist Propaganda?

    By Julie Knutson

    DVDs from Izzit.org follow a familiar free-market script.

  • "It Was So Much Fun! I Died of Massive Blood Loss!"

    The problem with Civil War reenactments for children

    By Karen Park Koenig

    A mock battle highlights the line between role-playing and re-enactment.

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The Wonder of Nature

The Wonder of Nature

The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv
(Algoquin Books, 2008)

The Sense of Wonder
by Rachel Carson
(HarperCollins, 1998, originally 1964)

A Sand County Almanac
by Aldo Leopold
(Oxford University Press, 1987, originally 1949)

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovers four feet from my head as I sit mesmerized watching its flight against the shimmering waters of Wisconsin's Flambeau River in the late afternoon sun. I don't know whether to focus my binoculars on the iridescent acrobat as it beats its wings 50 to 60 times a second seeking food from the hummingbird feeder or turn my gaze 200 yards up river where two deer stand knee-deep in the water grazing on waterweeds.

I flip through one of my bird guides and realize that it's no surprise these hummingbirds — the Ruby-throated male and the White-throated female — have been visiting the feeder all day. They must consume 50 percent of their body weight in sugar daily just to stay alive. Granted, they don't weigh a lot — one tenth of an ounce — but eating 50 percent of one's body weight in sugar would be an insurmountable challenge for even the most ardent, sugar-addicted preadolescents whom I teach.

As I read more about the hummingbird and watch it fly vertically, horizontally, forward, and even backwards at times, stopping instantly and turning with near perfect precision, I am filled with a sense of wonder. This little bird, whose relatives have been on this planet far longer than the species I was born into, is only 3 and 3/4 inches long and yet has a heart that beats about 1,260 times a minute. Talk about hyper! Even more incredible, come fall this little critter in northern Wisconsin flies south — not in a flock, but usually singly — and winters in Mexico or Central America. It flies nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico, able to store enough fat beforehand to make the trip. Barring catastrophe, it will return to my feeder next summer.

Last summer while staying on the edge of the Flambeau River in a small shack without electricity, running water, or cell phone coverage, I had time to read a new book and revisit two others that seem particularly poignant given increasing recognition that we are causing irreparable damage to the planet.

The book that I've spent the most time with is Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Originally released in 2005 and updated in 2008, writer and environmentalist Louv asserts that "within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically," with nature increasingly "something to watch, to consume, to wear — to ignore." Louv marshals an impressive set of data from studies around the world and anecdotes from his personal experience to show that "at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature — in positive ways."

Louv examines several factors that contribute to our "spectator" society that separates children and youth from the natural world. He looks at the loss of the natural habitat and the effect of urbanization and suburbanization on children's relationship to nature. He reviews what he calls the criminalization of natural play, making apt criticisms of schools that are obsessed with scripted curriculum and testing and of urban settings with a paucity of parks. Louv notes that only 30 percent of the people of Los Angeles live within walking distance of a park, and that children are too often "over-scheduled and over-organized" leaving little time to interact with nature.

The book's power rests not only in Louv's basic message, but in how he weaves together many psychological, educational, and environmental insights from poets, scientists, and parents who have worked or reflected on ecological matters. The well-organized 388-page book makes a convincing case that for the sake of our children's mental and physical health and for the sake of our planet's future — today's children will be the ones making key decisions in the not too distant future — we must radically change how we as communities relate to nature, and in particular, how we help children relate to nature.

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