Animal Tracks Unit Study for Elementary-Age Students
Mountain Lion Footprint
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:
- measuring tape
- 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
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
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.
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.
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
Animal Tracks Along the Black River in 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?
by Marie Cecchini
Gray squirrels scoot,
Through winter's cold.
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
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.
- 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.
Online Animal Tracks Quiz Game
- EEK! - Cool Stuff - Track Quiz for Beginners
If an animal were walking in the snow, would you know which animal left the tracks? Take the EEK! Tracks Quiz for beginners to begin learning about the different types of tracks.