by Emily Hane, Playground Supervisor, City of Vadnais Heights
This is my fifth summer with the program and never before have we had such a successful and fun-filled summer. This summer brought about many changes and challenges for our summer Playground Program due to some construction and space issues. We switched sites and changed many things about our program to better accommodate the 60+ children that attend in the summer time. One of the major changes was that we were close enough to a lake that we had the capability of expanding our program beyond the park. Our children not only got the experience of a summer outdoors, but also gained valuable skills such as patience and social bonding in an outdoor setting, brought on by the opportunity to fish with friends.
Our fishing experience was split into two different days. As a group, we rode our bicycles to the lake together. This presented some challenges as our age range is 5 to 10 years old. The different abilities in bike-riding led to some great leadership displays from the older children. The excitement of the activity ahead really seemed to lead them to be more responsible and caring for one another. Everyone wanted to get there and get started as quickly and safely as possible.
Once we reached the lake, the children were overcome with excitement, and with a quick review/tutorial of the way the fishing poles worked the children were spreading out along the shoreline and casting their lines into the water. Within a few minutes, the excitement grew more intense as some children were shouting out that they got bites, or that they felt something.
When the first fish was reeled in by one of our youngest fishers, the other children all looked on in amazement. The experience was made all the more wonderful when they realized that this was actually a possibility; that they really could catch a fish! The rest of the afternoon was full of excitement, anticipation, and celebration when another child caught yet another fish. That day brought us a total of 5 catches in a two hour span.
The second day went relatively the same. A new group of children had a fresh start to the experience, while others brought fishing poles of their own and previous knowledge from fishing with parents or other family members. As a staff member, it was incredible to watch the camaraderie of the children as well as the incredible patience it took for many of these kids to sit and wait for a bite (when we were used to seeing them run and jump from activity to activity on a daily basis). This day even brought a little lesson in other creatures of the lake when the children discovered a crayfish that was hidden under one of the rocks near the shore. It had scuttled out when a child dropped some of their corn bait into the water, and the children were fascinated by what they had found.
In the days following this incredible experience many questions came up about different kind of fish, invasive species from signs posted in the park, and other nature-related questions that would not have been brought up had we never been able to have this experience. Thanks to the DNR and the Pay it Forward program, the children were able to gain valuable experience with fishing, but also in patience, kindness, and nature conservation.
Thank you once again for providing us with the supplies for such a wonderful opportunity. The children of Vadnais Heights thank you!