Animal Tracks Unit Study for Elementary-Age Students

Updated on November 28, 2018

Mountain Lion Footprint

Mountain Lion Tracks
Mountain Lion Tracks | Source

Animals Leave Their Signs

Wildlife criss-cross my yard, field and forest. Writing in code they tell the tale of unseen visitors.

When you study nature it is often hard to get close to the animals you are studying, but often they leave their tracks. Learning to recognize the tracks of the animals that live near you will let you know which ones are visiting you.

Animal tracks are are also clues to the animal's range within their habit. They may also tell you whether the animal flies, crawls, runs, or hops.

Young children are fascinated by animals and you can use that interest to teach all across the curriculum. Put on your boots and lets learn about animal tracks.

The Animal Track Adventure Begins!

Gather the little ones around and help create excitement for an outdoor exploration to discover the animal neighbors living near your home or school.

Once the snow or rain has stopped the animals will begin to scamper about. This is the time to go out and look for tracks.

Be sure to bring:

  • camera
  • measuring tape
  • clipboard
  • pen to record your findings

Discuss possible places to find animal tracks as you venture outside. Where would you most likely find animal tracks in your yard, near the woods, in the woods, or under a tree. Keep your eyes peeled.

When you do find signs, caution the children to a step back from the tracks so as not to obliterate them. This will give everyone a chance to study and point out features that they notice.

Watch for tracks in newly fallen snow, sand or mud...

Little Xs in the Snow

If you see the tracks from songbirds near the bird feeder you may notice that two toes are ahead and two are behind. That is because songbirds are perching birds and need this configuration to better hold onto branches.

Now look at the tracks in the photo below. A four toed animal it walking through the sand. There are three toes in front with one toe in back. The back toe is for stability. You may be able to see marks made by its claws on the end of each toe. The toe in the back provides stability.

Study the tracks for a while and then try to create a story that explains what the bird was doing.

Bird Prints in the Sand on the Beach

Bird Tracks
Bird Tracks | Source

Creating Footprint Stories

When my children were younger we found small plastic animals that had footprint stamps on the bottom of their feet. We spent many happy hours creating picture stories showing where the animals lived and the trails they used through the forest and fields.

Children love to use Animal Tracks Stamps to help illustrate stories about the animals they are learning about and how they move through their habitat.

Think of the way that Jan Brett frames her pictures. Animal Tracks Stamps can be used to help children make borders for the illustrations in their stories.

Snowy White Clay for Animal Tracks

Making Animal Tracks in White Clay
Making Animal Tracks in White Clay | Source

Using Animal Track Stamps to Illustrate Stories

These naturalistic looking stamps would be great for adding borders to stories about animals. One day my daughter wrote a poem about what the Three Bears saw on their walk.

She typed her poem on the computer and then we mounted it on poster board. To add interest to the frame we used bear print stamps around the boarder.

Who's Footprints?

Another book I like to read to young children when we are beginning a unit study on the wildlife in our area is Who's Footprints?

A girl and her mother take a walk around their farm following the footprints of each of the animals that had walked there.

Each time they discover one set of footprints they discover another path of animal tracks which they delightfully follow. Finally they find a set of footprints that lead up to their front door.

"Can you guess whose footprints those are? Why, Daddy's of course!"

Daddy welcomes them home and on the final page you see the whole family curled up by the fireplace with snow just beginning to cover all of the animal tracks outside.

Math for This Unit of Study

Some people find it difficult to incorporate math into a unit study but a unit study about animal tracks is a great time to teach about measurement. Accurately measuring the length and width of a track can often help in identification.

Each child:

1. Trace an animal track.

2. Write under each track the name of the animal that makes that track.

3. Measures the length and width of the tracks and records the measurements.

Note: In order to create tracks that are of the actual size of an animal, use an Overhead Projector to enlarge a picture of the animal track onto a wall. Then move the projector back and forth until it measures the correct size. Trace around the track on a paper taped to the wall. Finally cut out the track.

The following video will help you to accurately measure animal tracks found in the wild.

Jim Arnosky's Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature's Footprints

Jim Arnosky's illustrations help children to learn how to recognize the animal tracks found around the yard and forest. It was Jim's drawings that first attracted me to his books. There is something about his drawings that help us to focus in on the discriminating characteristics of animals and their habitat making identification of species simpler.

You and your children will find many books written by Mr. Arnosky about all the animal species you are most likely to run across as you walk through the woods and fields near your home.

Activities: Looking for Animal Tracks

Mountain Hare
Mountain Hare | Source

Animal Tracks Along the Black River in New Jersey.

Leaves and Animal Tracks Along the Black River, Black River County Park, Hacklebarney State Park, Morris County, Hacklebarney, New Jersey.
Leaves and Animal Tracks Along the Black River, Black River County Park, Hacklebarney State Park, Morris County, Hacklebarney, New Jersey. | Source

Follow the Tracks

Following the tracks of wild animals helps you discover where they have been and possibly what they have been eating.

  • Can you track them back to their homes?
  • What is it in their habitat that makes certain animals want to live there?
  • Look for tracks near water sources.
  • Can you find where animals have encountered their prey?

When you are teaching about nature, going on a field trip or starting a new unit study you can't beat these books. Each one has activities that are easy to implement, fun for the children and guaranteed lead you to new understanding of the world around you. Expand your learning from animal tracks to habitat and an understanding of why certain animals and their tracks can be found in certain areas.

Solve the Animal Tracks Mystery—What Happened Here?

Look at the pictures of animal tracks above and see if you can discover what happened.

Notice which direction the animal was going. Do you notice a place where two or more individuals connect? Was this interaction peaceful or combative.

Think about the reasons for the two to interact with each other and begin to tell their tale.

Gather your children and encourage them to make up stories from the clues left in your yard.


Animal Tracks in the Mud
Animal Tracks in the Mud | Source

Games for Learning

Match the animal tracks to the animals that made them. Color the pictures and think about where these animals were going and why. Try turning these coloring pages and activity worksheets into card games. Matching cards can be turned into a Go Fish or Concentration Game.

Animal Tracks in the Mud

More and more people are seeing animal tracks as big as bears and cougars on their back porches. Why are these animals coming to your home?

Are you feeding the birds throughout the year? Bears and cougars may be coming too close to the house because they are looking for the food.

Which animal tracks do you see near your home? Which animals are coming to visit you?

Squirrel Tracks

by Marie Cecchini

Chitter, chatter,

Scold, scold

Gray squirrels scoot,

Through winter's cold.

Over ice,

Over snow,

Leaving footprints

As they go.

Identifying Animal Tracks in the Snow

This video is an excellent resource for learning what to look for when going on a walk in the winter woods or fields looking for Animal Tracks.

Identifying Animal Tracks in the Mud

Deer Tracks in the Snow
Deer Tracks in the Snow | Source

Animal Tracks Card Game

  • Whenever you discover animal tracks around your home, take a picture of them.
  • Make two copies of each track and begin to create a deck of Animal Track playing cards.
  • You can play Go Fish or Concentration with them.
  • If you are learning a second language you might even play the games in the foreign language.

Deer-Track Hearts for Valentine's Day

Did you ever notice how deer tracks resemble hearts? For Valentine's Day we decide to write letters to the deer that cross our field and live in our woods. We use the deer track stencils to create borders that resemble hearts crossing our fields. Then we use our best handwriting to write a letter to the deer wishing them a very Happy Valentine's Day.

Reading Magazines

Children Reading
Children Reading | Source

Winter Table

  • We are setting up our Winter Table.
  • It is covered in a white linen cloth to represent the snow covering the earth.
  • We will use a hole punch to make animal tracks and place stick animals whose tracks we have seen around our house on the cloth.
  • We made the animals from small sticks found under the maple tree in the fall.

Encouraging Children to Read

Wildlife magazines are wonderful resources when you are learning about wildlife.

I keep issues of Your Big Backyard, Ranger Rick and National Wildlife magazines in the bathroom to enticement to the children to pick up a book or magazine and read.

Animal Tracks
Animal Tracks | Source

Questions & Answers

    Let's Talk! Questions or Comments?

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      • KayeSI profile image

        KayeSI 

        5 years ago

        What a great site! And I loved the fun ideas for easy crafts for kids - as well as us seniors helping them. :)

      • Gypzeerose profile image

        Rose Jones 

        5 years ago

        Gorgeous lens - to your usual high quality. In California there is not much snow, so we are seeing the tracks in the mud. Pinned to my Teaching and Homeschooling lens, this activity with the tracking is perfect just on a family level. Blessed.

      • Loretta L profile image

        Loretta Livingstone 

        5 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

        Wow! Really interesting lens. Since we feed the birds, I'm glad we have no bears or other dangerous animals in the UK!

      • Stephanie36 profile image

        Stephanie 

        6 years ago from Canada

        We found what we thought were racoon tracks a few weeks ago. I love seeing our cats footprints, too.

      • profile image

        JennaBaxton 

        6 years ago

        Cool lens! :)

      • evelynsaenz1 profile imageAUTHOR

        Evelyn Saenz 

        6 years ago from Royalton

        @Tradeshowhobo: One of the great things about an animal tracks unit study is going outside to look for tracks every day.

      • Tradeshowhobo profile image

        Tradeshowhobo 

        6 years ago

        Fun way to teach about wildlife. A field trip would be a great way to finish.

      • profile image

        RuralFloridaLiving 

        6 years ago

        We look for tracks all the time - Enjoyed your lens!

      • lauranlauran profile image

        lauranlauran 

        6 years ago

        Interesting!

      • xXOUTDOORSXx profile image

        xXOUTDOORSXx 

        6 years ago

        I see mostly raccoon

      • Franksterk profile image

        Frankie Kangas 

        6 years ago from California

        Deer, but it's not usually tracks I see. lol Actually we have so much grass, Redwood tree droppings, underbrush, it is hard to see any tracks. I love this lens and the way you present the subject. Bear hugs, Frankster

      • dariameister profile image

        dariameister 

        6 years ago

        Sometimes I see Foxes'

      • infiniti99 lm profile image

        infiniti99 lm 

        6 years ago

        awesome lens thank you for sharing

      • ottoblotto profile image

        ottoblotto 

        6 years ago

        Great lens! We once made a mudpit, and put a stake in the middle with a little fox urine on it. EVERYTHING came that night to smell the stake, so we were able to cast a lot of tracks that way.

      • profile image

        Edutopia 

        7 years ago

        Great lens, really helpful and informative. I'm going to use this as the basis for a wildlife lesson at a camp I work with.

      • profile image

        Jeimuzu-san 

        7 years ago

        You see tracks almost everywhere, but never bother to take notice of them. Well done for proving our ignorance to the world!

      • norma-holt profile image

        norma-holt 

        7 years ago

        Another gorgeous animal discovery lens from you Evelyn. Learn more with each visit to one of them. Hugs

      • profile image

        GGGMarketing 

        7 years ago

        I like your lens. You have some great photos of various animals leaving their tracks.. from the snow to the sand. There really cool looking. Thanks for making a great lens and sharing it with the squidoo community.

        Cheers!

        Gary @ Marketing Naples

      • profile image

        detectivepi 

        7 years ago

        This is good stuff, we forget all this in our society now. I know I don't know too many different animal tracks. I'm trying to get better when I go on hikes though, I think it's good stuff to know.

      • TIRMassageStone1 profile image

        TIRMassageStone1 

        7 years ago

        I've always found it entertaining when a character in a movie is an expert tracker. It's interesting to see somebody in real life that knows a thing or two about animal tracks.

      • Anthony Altorenna profile image

        Anthony Altorenna 

        7 years ago from Connecticut

        There is lots of wildlife where we live, and we enjoy following the tracks through the woods after a light snow. This information will help us identify the different types of animals who left their marks in the snow.

      • phoenix arizona f profile image

        phoenix arizona f 

        7 years ago

        Cool lens.

      • VarietyWriter2 profile image

        VarietyWriter2 

        7 years ago

        Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

      • profile image

        Donnette Davis 

        7 years ago from South Africa

        You are such an inspiration ~ !!

      • lasertek lm profile image

        lasertek lm 

        7 years ago

        dogs! nice little dog paw prints.

      • IlanaMoore LM profile image

        IlanaMoore LM 

        8 years ago

        Forget teaching kids, your lessons would even inspire out-of-practice adults to learn! Thanks again!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        Wow, you have put together a really great selection of items and articles for those who love animal tracks. My husband is extremely talented at doing this; unfortunately, I don't spend enough time outside to be considered much of an expert. Great topic; great presentation.

      • Cheryl57 LM profile image

        Cheryl57 LM 

        8 years ago

        Great Lens! Brings back fond childhood memories.

      • mariaamoroso profile image

        irenemaria 

        8 years ago from Sweden

        I always used to when we lived in the forrest. We tought the children to see who had been walking there. Tracks like the ones you have on this lens.

      • Richard Ark profile image

        Richard Ark 

        8 years ago

        Great lens & Congrats in making the overall top 100..!

      • reflectionhaiku profile image

        reflectionhaiku 

        8 years ago

        Inspirational and educational as always. Thumbs up for showing us all the animal tracks - we had a great time here!

      • Barb McCoy profile image

        Barb McCoy 

        8 years ago

        Love your page, came by to give it an Angel Blessing.

      • profile image

        happynutritionist 

        8 years ago

        The first thing I look for on new-fallen snow is what new animal tracks appear...now that my children are grown. Their tracks were my favorites, I miss them. Beautiful page.

      • ChrisDay LM profile image

        ChrisDay LM 

        8 years ago

        Very nice stuff - yes, there's nothing quite like that first walk out in the 'untouched' snow in the morning, only to find lots and lots of 'folk' have been there before you. Lovely lens.

      • blue22d profile image

        blue22d 

        8 years ago

        What a fun and educating lens. I live in Utah (Eagle Mountain) and we get a lot of deer here. We have had lots of snow and we have deer tracks everywhere.

      • profile image

        SofiaMann 

        8 years ago

        These activities keep alive the curiosity of children. Great.

      • profile image

        tssfacts 

        8 years ago

        The animal track stamps look like real fun to use. I haven't seen these before. I remember watching animal tracks on the dirt road where I grew-up. Most of them were armadillo. This is a fun lens.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        Enjoy with your great Unit Study of Animal Tracks. I think is very suitable guide for children to learn :)

      • ScientificHomes profile image

        ScientificHomes 

        8 years ago

        Another really terrific lens! Adding it to my lensroll for Winter-Science Investigations; great resources and ideas!!

      • Barb McCoy profile image

        Barb McCoy 

        8 years ago

        I love this lens! I have made it a favorite so I can refer to it for our nature study. Lensrolled to several of my nature study lenses. Thanks so much for putting this one together.

      • JJNW profile image

        JJNW 

        8 years ago from USA

        ALL your animal unit pages are just SO incredible! THANKS!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        Nice lens, interesting and nice pics. I always love to see tracks in the snow! - Kathy

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Great lens! I just added it to my Lensroll. Such a wonderful place to help teach children (and those of us who are still kids at heart) about the tracks animals make. I'm new to Squidoo and learning so much from excellent lens like this one.

        ePlaceForPets Lens

      • evelynsaenz1 profile imageAUTHOR

        Evelyn Saenz 

        9 years ago from Royalton

        @clouda9 lm: With all the snow that has been blanketing the country, what animal tracks have you identified in your yard?

      • clouda9 lm profile image

        clouda9 lm 

        9 years ago

        Wonderful unit study. We love trying to id the animals that track through our property in the wintertime.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Wow! So much wonderful information and resources! My husband is taking my girls for a nature walk today and they are going to be making molds of animal tracks. I printed out a sheet for them to guide them in their search. There are a lot of great activities and books that I can use as a follow-up to their time with Dad. Thanks a bunch! I'll put a link on my site to send readers your way.

        Jen

        http://raisingcreativeandcuriouskids.blogspot.com

      • profile image

        CleanerLife 

        9 years ago

        Last year, after we rebuilt our deck, we were visited by some animals that left their muddy prints all over the deck, and furniture we have on the deck. We think they were raccoons, but I should have taken pictures so I could have figured out for sure.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        9 years ago

        Great lens ! Next week at our Cub Scout Pack Meeting we will be using the theme "Dinosaur Pack" and making fossil prints with Plaster of Paris. We've done the same thing out in the woods while tracking - the kids love it! 5*****

      • profile image

        marsha32 

        9 years ago

        I still really like this lens...you build very interesting ones and make learning fun.

      • naturegirl7s profile image

        Yvonne L B 

        10 years ago from Covington, LA

        Welcome to the Naturally Native Squids group. Don't forget to add your lens link to the appropriate plexo and vote for it.

      • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

        DesignedbyLisa LM 

        10 years ago

        Welcome to the Winter and Snow Group!

      • MiaD LM profile image

        MiaD LM 

        10 years ago

        hehe, i'll ask mia to take a print of my foot too - ciupi, by the way she told me about your lens after discovering it on digg!

      • kellywissink lm profile image

        kellywissink lm 

        10 years ago

        As always, a pleasure to learn from your lenses! Welcome to the HomeSchool Support Group!

      • profile image

        Andy-Po 

        10 years ago

        Great lens

      • profile image

        marsha32 

        10 years ago

        this is quite interesting indeed. We do have opossums around, but otherwise we see a lot of our own cat tracks and neighborhood dogs lol

      • ArtByLinda profile image

        Linda Hoxie 

        10 years ago from Idaho

        Very informative, so many times you wonder whose tracks you are seeing while out walking.

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        10 years ago

        I'm always impressed with your lenses when I visit. This is real fun one. Animal tracks are of interest to everyone! I love it!

      • Mortira profile image

        Mortira 

        10 years ago

        We used to cut our own firewood and a Christmas tree at a friend's farm every year. I loved going into the woods and looking for fresh tracks in the snow. I can't wait to do some of these activities with my son! * * * * *

      • sittonbull profile image

        sittonbull 

        10 years ago

        Great lens... I love trying to identify the animal tracks on my farm and figure their "sign" as it used to be called. What they were doing? How old the tracks are?, etc. 5* and favored.

      • profile image

        Andy-Po 

        10 years ago

        Excellent lens. Its good fun for adults and kids.

      • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

        ElizabethJeanAl 

        10 years ago

        Excellent lesson. The younger the kids are when they learn about their environment the better. Exploring nature is both fascinating and fun

        Keep up the good work.

        Lizzy

      • Barkely profile image

        Barkely 

        10 years ago

        Wonderful as always, I've always been fascinated with animal tracks, since I was a child. I had a guide and used it to see who was leaving prints in the woods near our house.

      • profile image

        WhitePineLane 

        10 years ago

        Another fabulous lens!

      • naturegirl7s profile image

        Yvonne L B 

        10 years ago from Covington, LA

        I always wanted to do a unit on animal tracks when I was a teacher / school librarian. This is great. 5 *'s, a favorite and lensroll to Preserving LA Flora and Fauna and Naturally Native Creations.

      • RuthCoffee profile image

        Ruth Coffee 

        10 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

        Coyote, racoon, and deer. This is a great lesson when taking kids out! (or my "citified" spouse)

      • Eevee LM profile image

        Eevee LM 

        10 years ago

        I love looking for Animal Tracks in the mud. One day I saw raccoon tracks.

      • jimmielanley profile image

        Jimmie Quick 

        10 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

        Great job! :-) Fascinating topic.

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