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Animal Tracks Unit Study for Elementary-Age Students

Evelyn is a first grade teacher who specializes in teaching students how to write in cursive and in print.

Mountain Lion Track

Mountain Lion Track

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 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 let's 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.

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 was 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

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

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 border.

Whose Footprints?

Another book I like to read to young children when we are beginning a unit study on the wildlife in our area is Whose 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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Let's Talk! Questions or Comments?

KayeSI on March 08, 2013:

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

Rose Jones on March 08, 2013:

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 Livingstone from Chilterns, UK. on February 26, 2013:

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

Stephanie from Canada on January 20, 2013:

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

JennaBaxton on September 18, 2012:

Cool lens! :)

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on August 23, 2012:

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

Tradeshowhobo on August 23, 2012:

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

RuralFloridaLiving on August 15, 2012:

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

lauranlauran on August 07, 2012:


xXOUTDOORSXx on June 12, 2012:

I see mostly raccoon

Frankie Kangas from California on June 01, 2012:

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 on April 18, 2012:

Sometimes I see Foxes'

infiniti99 lm on March 18, 2012:

awesome lens thank you for sharing

ottoblotto on March 04, 2012:

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.

Edutopia on January 15, 2012:

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.

Jeimuzu-san on December 30, 2011:

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

norma-holt on December 24, 2011:

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

GGGMarketing on December 22, 2011:

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.


Gary @ Marketing Naples

detectivepi on October 30, 2011:

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 on August 16, 2011:

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 from Connecticut on July 29, 2011:

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 on July 15, 2011:

Cool lens.

VarietyWriter2 on July 12, 2011:

Blessed by a SquidAngel :)

Donnette Davis from South Africa on July 06, 2011:

You are such an inspiration ~ !!

lasertek lm on May 16, 2011:

dogs! nice little dog paw prints.

IlanaMoore LM on February 14, 2011:

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

anonymous on February 01, 2011:

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 on January 28, 2011:

Great Lens! Brings back fond childhood memories.

irenemaria from Sweden on January 17, 2011:

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 on January 15, 2011:

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

HubLens Admin on January 14, 2011:

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

Barb McCoy on January 13, 2011:

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

happynutritionist on January 12, 2011:

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

ChrisDay LM on January 12, 2011:

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 on January 10, 2011:

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.

SofiaMann on December 13, 2010:

These activities keep alive the curiosity of children. Great.

tssfacts on December 08, 2010:

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.

anonymous on December 08, 2010:

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

ScientificHomes on November 13, 2010:

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

Barb McCoy on November 10, 2010:

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 from USA on September 10, 2010:

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

anonymous on September 08, 2010:

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

anonymous on February 15, 2010:

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

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 07, 2010:

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

clouda9 lm on December 24, 2009:

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

anonymous on May 22, 2009:

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.


CleanerLife on May 02, 2009:

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.

anonymous on April 22, 2009:

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*****

marsha32 on February 26, 2009:

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

Yvonne L B from Covington, LA on February 15, 2009:

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 on February 09, 2009:

Welcome to the Winter and Snow Group!

MiaD LM on February 04, 2009:

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 on January 28, 2009:

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

Andy-Po on January 28, 2009:

Great lens

marsha32 on January 27, 2009:

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

Linda Hoxie from Idaho on January 22, 2009:

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

anonymous on January 22, 2009:

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 on January 13, 2009:

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 on January 08, 2009:

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.

Andy-Po on November 26, 2008:

Excellent lens. Its good fun for adults and kids.

ElizabethJeanAl on September 28, 2008:

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.


Barkely on August 27, 2008:

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.

WhitePineLane on August 25, 2008:

Another fabulous lens!

Yvonne L B from Covington, LA on June 01, 2008:

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.

Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on May 31, 2008:

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

Eevee LM on May 31, 2008:

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

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on May 30, 2008:

Great job! :-) Fascinating topic.