What Can Children Learn from Animal Tracks?

Animal tracks in nature

It is a special thrill when a child finds an animal track outside.  When you happen upon one, you realize you have discovered a visible clue:

  • who came before us?
  • where did they go?
  • will they return?

If you are lucky enough to discover an animal track on a walk with the children, tap into the children’s natural intrigue and do some problem solving. Ask the children:

  • “Who do you think left this animal track?” 
  • “Do you think the animal was big or small?” 
  • “What about the animal track makes you think it was a big animal that left the footprint behind?”

Questions like the ones above allow the children to use their critical thinking skills and problem solve in the preschool outdoor classroom.  As children take a closer look at the animal tracks, they begin to understand the spatial layout of the track.  They can observe how far apart the tracks are or how many feet the animal walks on.

Animal Track Identification

Take a picture of the animal track so you and the children can research who might have made the track. There are many animal track identification sheets online and you can search for animal tracks specific to your state.   

Animal Track Identification Extension

Finding a real animal track in the ground is usually a serendipitous event, a chance opportunity that leads to a teachable moment in the outdoor classroom.  Because I haven’t always been lucky to find animal tracks, I do the next best thing.  I take the animal track identification sheets, cut each track out, laminate the track, then hide the tracks around the playground or my backyard.  My son was thrilled to search for the hidden animal tracks in our backyard.  I even had small puppets and stuffed animals that matched the animal tracks.  We collected all the sheets and stuffed animals, then tried to identify which animal left the tracks. 

Hands-On Learning Activities

  • Imprints:
    Provide plastic animals and play dough or clay for the children to make their own animal tracks.
  • Print Making:
    Have the children dip the animal feet into paint and “track” it across the paper.
  • Children’s Tracks:
    Take the children outside and see what “animal track” their shoes leave.  See if the class can guess which child made which print.
  • Animal Tracks Matching Game:
    Create an animal tracks matching game for the children to be able to sort and match the tracks.
  • Research:
    Read books about animal tracks or explore information on the internet. 

Continue Learning in the Sand

If the preschool playground soil is too messy, let the children create tracks in the playground sandbox. The children can mix sand with water, until it is malleable, then make imprints with their hands or feet.

Check out toddler and preschool playground sandboxes: http://adventurouschild.com/section/sand-water/

Children playing in outdoor sandbox

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