A Lesson in Observation with Animal Tracking
Do your children ever play spy or detective, or maybe veterinarian? Whether your kids have an interest in detective work or animals, or if they just love any excuse to get outside, animal tracking can be a great lesson in observation.
Before you head off on your tracking adventure, download the animal tracking guide below for animal tracking tips, as well as pictures and descriptions of common animal prints across the United States.
Where to Start
Tracks made in softer earth are typically more distinct and easy to identify, so look for spots with:
- New snow
- Wet sand
However, if you don’t have any land in your area that fits the ideal terrain for animal tracking, remember that there are other signs of animal activity, such as fur and feathers, broken or gnawed branches and tree trunks, scat, and more. Encourage your child to be aware of his or her surroundings and to look for signs of life beyond prints.
When to Start
It’s typically easiest to track prints in the early morning or late afternoon, as the sun will cast a shadow inside of the grooves of each print and make them easier to see.
The time of year for print tracking does not matter as much as the weather and environment you and your child will be tracking in. As mentioned above, tracks made in new snow or mud are easier to see and identify, so winter and spring weather lend themselves well to tracking.
What to Bring
Along with your tracking guide mentioned above, there are a few tools your child may want to bring along to make print tracking more effective and fun.
- Tweezers can be used to remove dirt and other debris from the top of a print in order to clearly see the print and identify the animal more easily.
- A magnifying glass will allow your child to examine the fine details and will also help him or her feel more like a detective!
- A ruler can help your child measure the distance between each track. If the earth is loose and you are having trouble finding some of the track marks, knowing the distance between each stride can help you and your child find where the next print should appear.
How to Make Tracking a Lesson in Observation
Using the animal tracking guide, prompt your child to identify tracks he or she finds with the following questions:
- How many toes does each print have?
- Does the track appear to have claw marks?
- What is the shape of the print?
- How far apart are the tracks?
- What is the size of each individual print?
Hone your child’s critical-thinking skills with these more abstract concepts:
- Did the animal stop to eat?
- Is the animal headed toward a body of water or to a landmark?
- Was the animal in a pack or alone?
- What other signs of wildlife can you find along the tracks’ path?
- How old do you think this track is and why?
Have you and your child ever tried animal tracking, or is there another science activity that gets your child excited about getting outside? Let us know in the comments below!