An easy way to explain tracking to your child is to walk barefoot through dirt or sand and look at the impressions you leave behind; talk about how everything leaves a footprint, and sometimes we can follow those tracks to find animals.
Each animal has a distinct print when it walks. Here are some of our favorites:
And just for fun, here are the animals they match up to:
Use the chart above to become familiar with the tracks each animal leaves behind. If you like, you could make it into a game like Memory or Bingo until your child is familiar with each one.
Host a relay race based on animal tracks: at each section, have a sign with the footprint and picture of the animal. Once this is set up, the children walk like the pictured animal until they reach the next check-point.
For younger children, you can still walk like the animals without the race component. Just use the animal pictures above, turn them into cards by printing and cutting them out, then act out each animal as you turn over the card. Do actions like making sounds and walking like the animal you chose.
Follow a set of tracks to find a treasure at the end. Again, use the pictures and tracks above. As you follow each trail, ask questions: What kind of tracks are these? What did we find?
For older kids, do something more advanced – create a trail using specific items or clues, like breadcrumbs from Hansel and Gretel, for a more challenging treasure hunt.
Use animal tracks to play a variation on hide-and-seek: Leave a trail of some sort (tracks, items, clues) and see how quickly the others can find you. Be creative about the kind of trail you leave. Think about using rocks, sounds, or maybe you could even make a big stamp of an animal track and squish it in the ground as you go. Potatoes make a great base for a homemade stamp. Put one at the end of a long stick for an easy track-maker. Check out this link for instructions: http://www.camping.com/articles-and-info/kids/2077
If you’re able to take a field trip, visit a local pond or beach and see how many different types of tracks you can find and identify; there are usually a lot of ducks and birds near water, but there can be other animals too. Use your tracking guide (see above, or find a book at your library) to identify all the tracks you see in the wet sand or mud. Remember to bring along a picnic and enjoy being outside!
If you don’t have a pond, beach, or stream nearby, try going for a hike. Take your camera and have the children document all the different tracks and animals you see.
If you live in a place where nature is scarce, think about visiting your local zoo. There may be some good opportunities to find tracks in each cage or preserve area. They may even have an activity area focused on animal tracks.
If you aren’t able to leave the house, ask your children: How easy are you to track? Do you leave a trail of something behind you? Maybe toys, or dirty clothes? Maybe trash? Walk around your house and look at all the clues you leave behind to let others know you were there. Make a plan to be sneaky, so people can’t track you. (This can be a great way to make cleaning fun for younger children.)
When you’re ready to sit down and be creative, break out the Plaster of Paris, paint, or the ink pads and make handprints and footprints. Once they’re dry, hang them up somewhere. While you’re working, talk about how everyone leaves tracks. If you have children interested in dinosaurs, talk about fossils and how we can even track the dinosaurs through fossilized footprints.
If your child is interested and wants to do more tracking activities, consider researching animal dens / homes. Learn what they look like, where they are, and how you can find them.
- Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne (ISBN: 0525430350; Call #: J Milne) *I love the part where Pooh and Piglet get lost following their own tracks.
- Hansel and Gretel - The Brothers Grimm (ISBN: 0803734913; Call #: J 398.231 H198)
- We Walk in Sandy Places - Byrd Baylor (ISBN: 068414526X; Call #: P Baylor)
- Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks - Fran Hodgkins (ISBN: 9780892727148; Call #: P Hodgkins)
- How to be a Nature Detective - Millicent E. Selsam (ISBN: 9780064451345; Call #: 591.5 Se49)
- Animal Tracks and Traces - Kathleen V. Kudlinski (ISBN: 0531151859; Call #: J 591.51.K953)