Have you ever laid in your bed in the early morning between the twilight of dreams and reality? Mentally I crawled out of my sleep remembering the Children’s Nature Institute (CNI).
Many years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, I volunteered with CNI. After the I passed the requisite child abuse and criminal checks and was trained, I graduated to taking 3 and 4 year olds on short hikes, ok we walked really short distances. They were too little to go very far.
I carried a bag full of kid nature stuff to keep them busy on our walk in Topanga State Park. I showed them the poison ivy first–leaves of three stay way from me! I also asked them to leave nature behind before they left the park: flowers, twigs, rocks, and such. We walked a bit and then I pulled out my hand and finger puppets. A bit further, I asked them to stop to listen to a bird. More puppets. We came close to a creek and we stood to look and listen. I handed out stickers of animals to the children. Throughout the walk parents stood on the edges and watched.
One little girl stood out during the walk. She stayed very close to me asking questions. At one point she started talking about her mother who it seemed was away on business. Her father stood close by with a worried wearied look on his face.
I ended those walks at a large boulder. We all–the children and I–clamored on top of the rock so I could read the book Antz to them. The little girl sat next to me, leaning on me as I read. When I finished I asked the children to listen and to look at everything around them and to tell me in a few minutes what they saw.
The girl told me how much she missed her mother. And that her mother would be back tomorrow. I said I know your mother misses you and she will be so happy to see you tomorrow. The girl nodded her little head saying yes and said she would be glad to see her mother. The father looked on grateful, eased about a conversation that relieved the tension he must have been handling in the short absence of the mother.
I turned to the children and asked them what they saw. Little voices shouted out leaves, rocks, twigs, birds, squirrels, and more. We jumped down from the boulder and headed back to our cars, the return route a bit swifter.
Volunteering for CNI was one of the highlights of living in Los Angeles. If there are similar programs near you, check them out. There is nothing more gratifying than working with children.