Anyone who knows my family knows that my husband and the kids love to fish. So I was delighted to accept an invitation to visit Earl Rowe Provincial Park to discover the ins and outs of their Learn to Fish and Learn to Camp programs.
Offered at six Ontario parks, Learn to Fish is a *free* two-hour program that provides all the training and equipment a kid needs to start fishing. The first hour is a practical, interactive fishing session covering how to identify local fish species through games, how to use and cast a fishing rod, and how to fish sustainably.
The goal of the casting lesson was to land the lure into the hoops set in front of the children. See that tall tree leaning slightly right in the photo below? That’s where my enthusiastic son cast his line. In other words, he rather missed the hoop. Friendly and capable staff freed it from the tree – phew!
The second hour is even better, as kids get to actually fish! The facilitators found a nice balance between assisting the kids where needed and helping identify habitats that fish prefer, and letting them fish more independently as they were ready.
My son didn’t catch anything, but when we talked about the day on the drive home, he said it was great. If you’re new to fishing you might want to prepare your child for any disappointment at not catching a fish, but more seasoned fisherkids accept this possibility while still enjoying the activity.
The truth is, fishing is mostly waiting. But what I’ve figured out is that it’s also a way of interacting with the world outside, a way to be part of it at a time when our connection to the outdoors is pretty fragile. As urbanization increasingly keeps us indoors and on our screens, programs like Learn to Fish offer accessible ways to engage once more with the natural world. They slow our bodies and minds down, and make way for a deeper relationship with our surroundings than daily urban life usually allows.
Ontario parks also offers the more immersive Learn to Camp program, which is a guided overnight camping experience. It began in 2011 after statistics showed that 25% of Canadians had never been camping. The program’s goal: to provide an easy, affordable, and supportive trip for people new to camping and to promote the pleasures and benefits of spending time outdoors.
And it really is easy. Campers just bring food and bedding while Learn to Camp provides everything else for a safe and comfortable camping trip (including spacious tents, inflatable mattresses, shelters to cover picnic tables to keep out bugs, cutlery, paper towels, and more).
Campers learn a range of skills, from setting up a tent to building a campfire to identifying animals sounds. (Do you know the difference between the sounds of a wolf and a coyote? Between a squirrel and a chipmunk? I do (now).)
Also included in the Learn to Camp package: a S’mores kit. Obviously critical to any successful camping trip, especially one with kids. We were given instructions on how to roast the perfect marshmallow, and did so over the campfire we had just learned to build. Integrative learning at its tastiest.
One thing that stood out to me was the thoughtfulness and attention to detail in this program. I was so impressed to learn that they offered vegan marshmallows. These are not particularly easy to find, and Learn to Camp‘s efforts at inclusiveness while delivering excellent programming really shone bright.
Learn to Fish is part of the Learn to Camp experience, and there’s free time during the camping program to enjoy the beaches, boats, hikes, and more. And on the practical side of things, there is a store and comfort stations boasting hot water showers, flush toilets and sinks.
There’s also a Resource Centre where kids can learn about the wildlife around the park. Of the pelts on display, my son and I decided that the red squirrel was the softest. Then we spent some time outside, and found a live red squirrel, which was, well, better.
Learn to Camp is a fantastic and social way to ease into the Canadian camping experience. It’s also entirely affordable, at $93 for one night/two days and $139.50 for two nights/3 days per group of up to 6 people. Honestly, I’d love to sign up. It’s not designed for our family, as we’re not new to camping but I can’t help thinking about it. The idea of toting a sleeping bag and some food and having the rest of a camping weekend organized for me sounds to this tired and organizationally challenged mom like a simply awesome vacation.
This article was sponsored by the Ministry of Natural Resources. All opinions are entirely my own.