This winter, one of the outdoor projects our family has added in to our lives is animal tracking — that is paying attention to, asking questions about, and learning from the signs animals leave behind.
My husband David has years of practice and some pretty respectable training in this area, but Jasper and I were starting out from ground zero. Luckily, this wintery season has given us the opportunity to engage with the tracks left in the snow a whole lot of different animals.
Tracking animals with kids is enriching in a number of ways — from language acquisition as we name animals and use descriptive language, to animal classification and developing the inquiry process — all while getting our bodies moving outside and engaging all of our senses in the natural world.
- Pay attention. This is the wonderful gift of developing knowledge about the natural world: developing awareness is inherently calming to the mind. It’s like meditation with a mission. The only way to notice signs of the other creatures we share the world with is to be mindful in the moment.
- You don’t have to go far. In fact, it’s okay to stay home. We’ve had great conversations about the tracks we see in our own backyard, and I’ve been able to identify several high traffic, multi-species areas in our little patch of the world. Even learning to recognize what makes my tracks different from yours is useful.
- Take pictures and follow up with more information. When you notice a set of tracks, talk about what you see — how big are they, how many toes do we see, etc. Was it a bird or a mammal?Ask questions before immediately identifying what animal you assume it is. Take a photo (sometimes placing something beside a print is useful for scale) or make a sketch (a great nature journal exercise). When you get home, look up the print. iTrack Wildlife is a great app for this.
- Make tracks, animals and the outdoor world part of your indoor life, too. Some time last year, in the tornado that is the dinner-making hour, I stumbled on a brilliant toddler activity: making animal tracks in playdough with toy animals. The key here is good quality (we have both Schleich and Safari Ltd animals) models, which are made from safe materials and have accurately shaped feet! We also have this wonderful print-out hanging on our fridge, where these local animals and their tracks become part of our everyday life. If your little one is into nomenclature cards, this free, printable set from Montessori For Everyone is a great addition to your selves.
What are you discovering this winter?