Increase Concentration? Go Outside! (Lookin’ Critically at Last Child in the Woods)

[Written for Gardens class, potentially an article in the Manitou Messenger, campus newspaper]

It’s Sunday afternoon, and you have found the perfect study spot. Rolvaag, fifth floor study room, facing the football field – you are ready to tackle that history reading on post-reconstruction America. So you crack open the book, turn to page sixty-seven, and dive in.  A paragraph or two goes by, and then – you’re thinking about dinner. Dinner? Why dinner? You just ate lunch! You brush off the light stomach growls and settle back in. Two more paragraphs, then – shoot, you forgot to send Prof. Groton that email! Well, it can wait – you resume reading. Two more paragraphs, then – I wonder what we’re doing for rehearsal today…gah! Why can’t I just do this reading! Frustration sets in – where did my concentration go? Why can’t I get through more than a few paragraphs, or pages, or problems before getting distracted? The answer may lie in a variety of places – lack of sleep, bad eating habits, ADD? No, none of these seem to be the culprit. What else might cause this stress-inducing behavior?

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, would say you are suffering from just that: Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv makes a case for placing more value on time spent outdoors, because being outside promotes (among other things) the ability to focus, skills in identifying details while also looking at the big picture, and physical health. Thus, people do not experience the psychological benefits of spending time in nature if they rarely spend time in nature (Nature Deficit Disorder). His book targets parents, but even if you didn’t come to Olaf looking for your MRS degree, his book is still quite applicable to the information-inundating lifestyle that we experience as St. Olaf students.

Louv presents two main points: One, that kids today do not spend enough time outside, and Two, that this lack of outdoor time is considered a bad thing. Louv supports these points well and is then able to ride these conclusions through the rest of the book as he searches for solutions.

Louv’s writing is not without flaws; he occasionally gets sidetracked from his central argument and lands on the soapbox of other, more loosely-related issues. These issues, while still important to the tenets of environmentalism, are not consistent with Louv’s themes. However, the organization of the book allows the reader to skip over sections that may be uninteresting to him or her. I would particularly apply this method to Parts 6 and 7 (“Wonderland: Opening the Fourth Frontier” and “To Be Amazed,” respectively); Louv starts to get lost in his issues and becomes less convincing while addressing topics like new urbanism, faith and environmentalism, and constructing ecologically-sound cities.

Despite such flaws, Louv’s argument is well-crafted and the writing is accessible. So, the next time you’re bogged down by papers, tests, and reading, take Richard Louv’s advice – get outside! Whether for five minutes or forty-five minutes, a walk around campus isn’t just for residents of the Wendell Berry house anymore.

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