Progressive Patterns

Richard Louv

In our day, I know of no one who has done more to promote a “get away from electronics and back to nature” philosophy than Richard Louv. He is a journalist and author of many books about family, nature, and community. His website is You can find his books on Amazon (of course). My two favorite books are The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods. Notes and quotes are below.

Last child in the woods


Kindergartners who played in natural areas vs those who played on manufactured playground were more alert, better coordinated, more imaginative, and more likely to create their own games. (p. 88)


Children who played in man-made structures established their social hierarchy based on physical competence. Those who played in green areas based their hierarchy on language, creativity, and inventiveness skills. (p. 88)

Famous people

Many creative historical figures raised in nature or experienced shaping events in nature: Thomas Edison, Ansel Adams, Jane Goodall, John Muir, Mark Twain, Eleanor Roosevelt, among others. (p. 89)

Nature’s restorative power

Participants in 1 to 2 week wilderness programs reported a greater sense of peace, and greater mental clarity, and attributed more to just being in nature than to the physically challenging activities.

Fascination (involuntary attention) gives directed attention (voluntary) a break. Office workers with views of bushes, trees, or other plants reported significantly less frustration and more enthusiasm in their work.

Proofreaders who went on a wilderness backpacking trip showed improved performance while those who took an urban vacation or none at all showed no improvement. (p. 101)

Nature’s Ritalin

Several studies showed that children who live near, or play in, green space have lower attention deficit symptoms. In contrast, indoor activities, or activities outdoors on pavement, increased ADHD symptoms. “The greener the setting, the more the relief.” Concentration improves. Impulsiveness decreases. Gratification can be delayed longer. This works for girls as well as for boys. (p. 105)


Our ecological preservation programs (recycle, save the rain forest, save the animals) may actually be instilling a negative attitude about nature under abuse, which is just another stress children will try to avoid. They are rarely educated about the positive things in nature right next door to them. (p. 134)

The Arts increase SAT scores

“A 1995 analysis by the College Board showed that students who studied the arts for more than four years scored 44 points higher on the math portion and 59 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT.” (p. 137) [note: Art is not nature, but creativity is a common theme.]

Finland’s curriculum

In the global OECD comparisons, “Finland scored first in literacy and placed in the top five in math and science.” The USA was in the middle of the survey of developed countries. Finnish students do not enter school until seven. There is a national curriculum and certification, but teachers are given freedom in their teaching. Between 45 minute classes, the students are given 15 minutes outside. (p. 204)

Better discipline

Schools with environmental programs have fewer discipline problems. They also reported increased science mastery, improved cooperation and conflict resolution skills, as well as gains in self-esteem, problem solving, and motivation.

Canadian studies

Compared to students in conventional schools, students in schools with diverse natural settings were “more physically active, more aware of nutrition, more civil to one another, and more creative.” Teachers also reported that when teaching outside they felt “excited again.” (p. 220)

Adventure therapy

Long term positive benefits in self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality, and relationships were more commonly achieved by wilderness programs such as Student Conservation Association, Outward Bound, and the National Outdoor Leadership School. (p. 230)

Camps for disabled

A 2001 analysis showed that people with disabilities participated in outdoor activities as much or more than non-disabled people. Findings from 15 summer camps with special programs for children with disabilities revealed improved initiative and self-direction transferred to home and school. (p. 230)

My thoughts

A thought provoked by a combination of things I read: Can years of not growing up in nature be compensated by months of hiking, camping, etc…?

A striking conclusion occurred to me. We need to make our schools, government, homes, and other institutions more like nature and less like prison. We choose our symptoms.

The Nature Principle

Better bomb spotters

An 18 month long study determined that the best bomb sniffers were rural hunters or city tough guys. Either environment was away from the computer screens and video games. Both required heightened senses integrated with intuition and knowing the surroundings. The worst bomb spotters were those who grew up with video games. They looked at the humvee windshield like a kind of computer screen instead of taking in all of their surroundings. "Even with perfect vision, they lacked the special ability, that combination of depth perception, peripheral vision, and instinct, if you will, to see what was out of place in the environment." (p. 16)

Distraction destroys creativity

Ever present advertising from billboards to posters above urinals to screens on gas pumps, walls, and airplane seat backs, has spawned a new field called interruption science. This has made a new label: continuous partial attention. While we might resist being told what to think, advertising (and other tech distractions) can keep us from thinking our own thoughts. Creativity is the connection of thoughts and sub-conscious contributions. Both are blocked by distraction. In fact, up to 28% of a typical worker's day can be interruptions and recovery time. (p. 22)

Feeling sharp vs being dormant

Louv writes about schools with some or all classes held outdoors. He then interviewed one director who designs such schools, Reyna Oleas, who was then living at one of her schools on the Galapogas Islands. He asked her if nature had made her smarter. "I'd prefer the word sharpness. I have more sharpness and perpetual awareness," she said. "Before I came here, my life was . . . dormant." (not asleep, but driven to distraction) "You're writing email, watching TV, answering the phone. You've got your head in so many channels. Your body could collapse and you wouldn't even realize it. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I was stressed out. I wasn't well. Here, I healed, I quit smoking… When there is something you have to deal with, you go do it. Solutions come more naturally. I can separate the real problem from the static. Before, it was--you have a problem, and everything is huge. And now, if something happens, okay, this is what it is, how are we going to deal with it?" (p. 24)

To plant a pine

Louv’s quoting of Leopold struck me: “To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a good shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree–and there will be one. If his back be strong and his shovel sharp, there may eventually be ten thousand. And in the seventh year he may lean upon his shovel, and look upon his trees, and find them good.” (p. 257)

Notes below to be expanded sometime later

27- study acuity grows

29- 1 hour = 20% improvement

30- green schools are better

32- nature connection, then info comes for the ride

59- walk in nature vs mall

33- kindergarteners

35- city time vs bio time

47- green hospital recovery

47- lower BMI

51- Japan stress hormone lower

80- elderly studies

185- job satisfaction improves

186- absenteeism decreases