Harvard professor Howard Gardner achieved fame in the 1980s for his theory of multiple intelligences. Children have seven major intelligences they need to develop, he said, from linguistic to interpersonal to bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Eventually he added an eighth intelligence—naturalist intelligence, or familiarity with and interest in nature. Richard Louv believes this eighth intelligence is vital not only to the health of our children, but to the health of our society and even its existence.
American kids today generally prefer video games and cartoons to a walk in the forest or birdwatching. Why? Louv explores a number of answers, from the loss of attention span to fear engendered by "safe" living to the fear of parents worried their kids will get hurt or lost. Lack of real nature education is another factor, as schools and parents either simply won't or aren't equipped to teach kids the names of different trees, to identify animal tracks left in the post-rain mud, or to distinguish birdcalls without seeing the birds themselves.
But Louv isn't just a doom-and-gloom prophet pointing our attention to the death of nature study. He outlines the benefits of letting children explore nature: activity and fresh air promote good health and preclude the need for gym memberships or specific exercise regimens; the immensity of nature keeps kids inquisitive and confronts them with the limits of their own knowledge; and nature fosters creativity and imagination in a way plastic toys and computerized entertainment never can.
Not least is the importance of nature in a child's spiritual development. The wonder of nature points directly toward God and away from the sterility of a generic existence, and the Christian call to dominion and stewardship becomes more comprehensible when we are confronted with the beauty, strength and fragility of His creation. Louv is a conservationist—but one who understands we preserve nature for our own benefit, not simply as an end in itself.
Louv ends with a series of appeals to parents and educators to return children to the fields and streams where they belong, as well as presenting a number of practical suggestions and ideas for accomplishing this. He stresses that it doesn't matter where you live, your kids can still experience and be taught to enjoy nature—whether you live in a field in Nebraska, a suburb in Southern California, or a tenement in the Bronx. Almost as refreshing as a walk in the woods, this book will certainly make you want to get yourself and your kids outside as soon as you've finished it.