Kids’ play at Ontario Parks

Need a way to get your kid more active this summer? Try one of Ontario Parks’ amazing Natural Heritage Education (NHE) programs. Kids can run around, explore, and interact with other kids in safe park settings. The Natural Heritage Education programs are led by knowledgeable NHE leaders and the fee for most programs is included in the price of a day or overnight park permit. Over 34,000 kids participated in Ontario Parks’ NHE programs last year. Here’s a sample of Natural Heritage Education programs offered in Ontario Parks this summer:

The Insect Olympics were a big hit last year at Grundy Lake Provincial Park, north of Parry Sound. Kids perform mini versions of insect feats while learning about insects. The Monarch butterfly, for example, is nature’s marathon runner. You’ve got to believe the horsefly is the world’s fastest insect “sprinter” (at 40 kilometres an hour). The flea is the insect world’s longest jumper. Honey bees are the best dancers and cicadas “yell” the loudest. A new NHE program called the Bird Challenge will be introduced at Grundy Lake in the coming weeks. Five bird activity stations, each staffed by a park naturalist, will be set up and kids will perform bird-like tasks that birds must do to survive. The new “bird masters” will then receive their very own Bird Master Certificates of Achievement.

From vomiting vultures to poop-eating hares, kids discover how messy but cool nature is at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, east of North Bay. The park’s “Grossology” program changes a kid’s perception of nature and increases kids’ overall comfort level with nature’s messier side by inspiring investigation rather than revolt. Older kids also enjoy Champlain: the Great Map Maker. This program teaches the basics of orienteering. The great map maker and explorer himself once traveled through what is now Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

Blue Lake Provincial Park is one of six provincial parks in northwestern Ontario that offer NHE programs. The park’s popular Lazy Bones vs Workaholics program pits a taxidermy moose (the Lazy Bones) against a taxidermy beaver (the Workaholic). The two compete in a series of mini contests that describe how each animal lives and they are judged by audience cheers. The beaver, for example, mates for life and builds a spectacular lodge for its young. Moose are generally solitary but the biggest bond is between mother and calf. Audience cheers are measured by the park’s Neat-O-Meter (a giant orange hand operated by NHE leaders). In the end, a video explains that moose and beavers don’t actually compete in nature. In fact, a beaver built a dam that created a pond in Blue Lake Provincial Park that is moose habitat too.

Toddler Time introduces nature in a gentle way to tots at Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville. Meet a Painted turtle and a Snapping turtle. Sing turtle songs and make turtle crafts. There’s even a park Nature Centre that has a live honey bee display, a nocturnal room that shows kids where animals sleep during the day and a discovery room where kids can try on costumes and touch antlers and other displays.

The new, guided two-kilometre Footsteps in Time or FIT trail at Bonnechere Provincial Park, west of Ottawa, features 11 stops that make up the park timeline stretching back thousands of years and representing Bonnechere’s natural and cultural history. A favourite stop is a giant Tamarack tree. The Tamarack is described as nature’s medicine cabinet for First Nations. They used the tree as a cure-all for a variety of ailments. They also used its flexible wood to make snowshoes and runners for sleds. At the Tamarack stop, kids get to make their own tree from the inside out. Human “heartwood” forms a circle and flexes their muscles to show a tree’s strength. Human “tree roots” sit around the “heartwood” and make slurping sounds to demonstrate how a tree draws water. Human “zylums” throw their arms up to demonstrate a tree’s transportation system from roots to leaves and human “phloems” show how sugars are transported through a tree by rubbing their bellies and yelling YUM. Human bark then circles the tree to protect it from pests like pesky NHE leader ‘bugs’.

Link to the over 40 Ontario Parks with Natural Heritage Programs by using the Park Locator tool on the Ontario Parks website. Campsites are still available in many Ontario Parks this summer. To check here for availability.