Wild Imagination: A Child’s Perspective on Nature

Photos by Cyndi Gailey

A child’s perception of the world is magical. It’s filled with wonder and a euphoric understanding of the simple pleasures found in bugs, grass, the shapes of clouds, and even the nostalgic smell of dirt. Through the eyes of a child, light dances slower, canyon walls are giants, and the elements of the outdoor world are characters in an eternal play.

Some may say that this enchanting perception is a product of imagination, or perhaps a naïve understanding of the world’s vastness; all things that diminish with time and age. However, the more valuable perspective may be what we, as adults, learn from the experience of kids.

I have worked with children in the outdoor industry for the last three ski seasons. Teaching and coaching young kids the art of skiing proves to be creatively straining, exhilarating, and above all, fascinating. They are so wonderfully open to the beauty, ambiguity, and whimsy of every moment. I remember distinctly a kid whose gloves, boots, and helmet were giving him trouble. The cold, exhaustion, and strain of uncomfortable gear was insurmountable. But before you pity him, I suggest you lend your sympathy to me, the real victim of the crisis. Regardless, the problem quickly became a tantrum-inducing catastrophe. It seemed entirely unresolvable until suddenly, a small bunny hopped from behind a tree. The bunny dove headfirst into a snowbank. The child was immediately mesmerized, laughing and pointing in awe at how silly the bunny was to choose such a cold place to hide. The boy then turned to me and began hopping and throwing his body into snowbanks as if he too was a silly bunny. The pain and misery of cold toes had been forgotten in an instant, overwhelmed by the bliss and excitement of the natural world.

I believe I can say with confidence that almost everyone has core memories of their early connection to a backyard, park, tree, or place of outdoor solace. It’s the original escape; a place of independence where a child becomes the adventurer extraordinaire. Visions of explorers, fairies, and mythical creatures emerging from the trees elevate a child’s experience. As kids, our imagination guides how we enjoy the world around us. These early memories structure our interactions with nature for the remainder of our lives. The love, acceptance, and fresh air in our lungs can take us back to our childhoods, if we allow it.

Children are organically curious. Their fascination is a means of survival. After all, knowledge is power. While curiosity is essential, what if it’s actually the enthusiasm and wonder that is truly life-giving? As adults, we must work to delve into and decode our senses. It takes effort to be quiet enough to listen to what the outdoor world is telling us. Noticing rustles in the wind, sunlight through treetops, and spotting interesting cloud formations are never frivolous endeavors, a child could tell you that much. So, I challenge us all to take our kid goggles off the shelf and place them over our eyes, illuminating our retinas to a world in which even the most ordinary rock is simply so much more than a rock.