Author: Cindi Lou Grant
Hero: Nature skills that will make you, your child’s hero.
Crossing paths with wild animals may not be the most likely event on your next family outing; crossing their tracks, however, is almost guaranteed in the great outdoors! Teaching your kids which tracks belong to different animals may just pique their interest and keep them aware of their surroundings and on the lookout for wild creatures.
Animal tracking is also a fun way for kids to engage with science and gets their minds thinking about the scientific method without them realizing it. For example; when an animal leaves tracks in the sand, mud, or snow, the print left behind does not necessarily look exactly like the animal's foot that left it. This gets them thinking symbolically. They have to make a hypothesis about what animal it could be and may even prime younger minds for learning about other useful symbols like the alphabet.
As our kids are growing up in an age of gadgets, technology, and screens; identifying animal tracks can be a creative way for them to fuse technology and nature by taking pictures. The pictures they take can even help them correctly identify what they see. Awesome apps like My Nature Tracks link animal tracks and even plants with their pictures, turning nature into a game.
A fun, basic way to introduce our kids to animal tracks could be broken down in the following ways:
Zigzaggers usually have long legs. They conserve their energy in the most efficient way when walking in sand or snow as their back print lands on or next to the front print. If they are four legged, you may not see all four prints and this can get our minds thinking about how wild animals walk.
Examples: Elk, Deer, Moose, Mountain Lion, Dog, Coyote, Foxes
LEAPERS AND HOPPERS
Leapers and Hoppers have bigger back legs than front legs. Front feet land first, then back feet land in front! This keeps their momentum pushing through each step so they can get away from predators.
Examples: Rabbits, Hares, Field Mice, Squirrels, Voles
Bounders have symmetrical legs and long bodies. In the snow, bounders can even porpoise dive under the deep snow and pop their heads up on the other side. Most have short claws, big main pads, and toes.
Examples: Weasels, Ferrets, Pine Martens, Running cats and dogs
Waddlers can be slow and can also go fast; they drag their bellies when they walk and even drag their claws. They tend to have short legs and most of them are good tree climbers.
Examples: Beaver, Porcupine, Bear, Skunk, Wolverine
When we introduce animal tracks to our children they think about how wild animals move and why the tracks they leave behind look like they do. We hope this encourages kids to use their imaginations and think in a symbolic way. By seeing the result of animals moving through the forest, a sense of them being in an animals home is born, likely leading them to increase their respect for nature. Use animal tracking as a fun activity in both winter or summer and maybe it will stick with them. If identifying tracks has our kids excited about getting into nature, thinking about science, and becoming more aware of their surroundings, then everyone wins.
Fostering that sense of wonderment that comes so organically in kids, is our mission at Sawyer and we hope they take these skills into a life full of exploring. Give it a try and when you are done, let us know what your kids thought with the share button below.