Children remind adults of nature’s beauty

children-remind-adults-of-nature’s-beauty

By Nicole Padron | Contributing Columnist

The mysteries, wonder and simple joys of nature can be rediscovered through the eyes of children.

Growing up, I was lucky to spend a great deal of time outdoors. My family often took us camping and encouraged us to connect with nature. Sure, Super Nintendo was a favorite pastime for my generation, but there were only two controllers, and I had two older brothers. You can guess how much I got to play. Fortunately, nature was always beckoning.

On family camping trips while my brothers fished for trout, I plopped myself on the bank of the stream to dig my hands in with delight. I have a vivid memory as a barefoot preschooler, sifting the sun-warmed sand back and forth through my hands. It was a mystery to me how something could be so fine and smooth and in those moments I was fully present in the sensory experience. I loved my “soft sand.”

When I took a soils class in college, I learned it wasn’t sand at all, but silt. Silt is finer, composed of much smaller rock and minerals that weigh less than sand. Sand that is carried in water settles out first on the shore, followed by silt. That did not ruin the magic for me though. The silt I found sprinkled on top of the stream banks was my treat and my hands indulged in it.

  • Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s...

    Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s Co-Executive Director Nicole Padron, discovers the joys of nature in Yucaipa in May 2023. (Courtesy of Rivers & Lands Conservancy)

  • Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s...

    Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s Co-Executive Director Nicole Padron, plays in nature in Yucaipa in May 2023. (Courtesy of Rivers & Lands Conservancy)

  • Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s...

    Leo Padron, the 2-year-old son of Rivers & Lands Conservancy’s Co-Executive Director Nicole Padron, enjoys playing in nature in Yucaipa in May 2023. (Courtesy of Rivers & Lands Conservancy)

As an adult, it is harder to make space for moments of being so delighted and completely present, but I still seek out soft sand. Perhaps I only pause for a few short seconds at a creek crossing to grab a handful and let it softly swish through my fingertips before continuing my hike. “Oh, soft sand,” I pointed out to my mom on a camping trip, and we had both chuckled about how some obsessions stay with you for a lifetime.

At Rivers & Lands Conservancy, we strive to ensure there are places where our community can make wild discoveries or reconnect to nature. More than that, we work hard to make sure natural, wild and open spaces remain for our children and grandchildren. I know for certain what can be found on the land can bring you joy and wonder for a lifetime. It is just harder to step away from my desk these days and enjoy our work for myself. Fortunately, I’m a mother now and I have my children to show me the way.

Lately, I find myself wondering what Leo, my 2-year-old, will discover and carry with him through his life. Perhaps he’s not old enough for memories yet, but I’m watching closely to find out.

I have been taking him to a small neighborhood creek that drains into San Timoteo Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana River. I let Leo lead the way, going wherever his little body can bring him and I stop when he does, careful neither to interrupt nor rush him along. He reminds me about presence and how to play.

Unstructured play allows children to create, discover and explore freely without any set guidelines and it has been shown to boost cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. It turns out there are many benefits of play for adults, too. Play can increase your creativity, help you better handle stress and even improve your sense of humor. Who couldn’t use a better sense of humor these days?

The other day, Leo was shuffling down the creek and eventually paused to inspect a dry bank that was free of the small rocks which scattered the edges of the creek. He squatted down, the way only toddlers can, and pointed at the ground, pursing his lips into a deep “oooh.”

I told him it was sand, and he turned back to the bank to place both his hands gently down. Then he began swishing them back and forth.

“Is it soft?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied with a smile. Then he grabbed a handful in each fist and without prompting said, “soft sand.”

I knowingly smiled back at Leo and his fists full of sand and then plopped down by his side. We stayed there for several quiet moments, each of us transfixed in our own quiet play, savoring the sensation of the soft sand between our fingers.

Maybe he will not remember this moment, but I will. I’m grateful to have him as a guide back to my own favorite moments of being completely present in nature. I hope that this summer everyone else is reconnecting to their own unstructured moments of joy on the land, or even better, watching a child discover theirs. I know I’m going to be.

Rivers & Lands Conservancy connects our community to natural, wild, and open spaces of Southern California through land conservation, stewardship, and education.

Nicole Padron is the co-executive director of Rivers & Lands Conservancy, has a master’s of science in biology from Cal Poly Pomona and is passionate about inspiring the next generation of land stewards.

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Children remind adults of nature’s beauty

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