Animal Tracking with Children

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Animal Tracks- after a fresh snowfall, it’s so much fun to find and follow a set of animal tracks in your backyard (even cat tracks are fun to find and follow). See how far you can follow the animal tracks and try to figure out who left those tracks.Older children might enjoy drawing the tracks they find into a journal and identifying them. If you carry a digital device you could also use an app like “SEEK” to help you identify the tracks in the moment. 

Fiction Book to get your tracking started – Read the book “Tracks in the Snow” by Wong Herbert Yee about a little girl who sees tracks out of her window. A refrain in the book is wonderful to share when you go outside on your tracking adventure…. “Tracks in the snow. Tracks in the snow. Who made the tracks? Where do they go?”

Snowshoe Stomping Paths- who made this heart? As a big kid, I love to put on my own snowshoes and stomp out special messages or create paths for my preschoolers. I think it’s important to show children how much we ourselves enjoy playing outdoors all year round!

Mini World Animal Play – adding cotton batting to the indoor science area, providing small play animals, and books is a great way to extend their learning.

Photograph Tracks & Research –  Take a photograph on tracks on your hike, then print out the pictures, and look in a tracking book to find a match. One of my favorite books to have on hand in my classroom is called Tracks, Scats, and Signs by L. Dendy. Helping children to learn how to use books as a tool is wonderful life skill and children love to feel ‘grown up’. 

Follow the Footprints activity: Make animal footprints that are to scale of the actual size of the animal. (I am using Deer & Moose this year.) Before the students arrive, put the footprints out in the outdoor space. Then have the children track the prints down and follow the animal.

Flip Flop Tracks – there are lots of pins on Pinterest showing how people transform flip flops into various animal tracks. It would be fun to make these so they could be tied onto a pair of boots, then kids could stomp out their own versions of animal tracks. 

Animal Signs in Winter – Look for other signs of animal activity – nibbled twigs, chewed acorn shells, pinecones that have been shredded, scat, or scratches in bark – as we go on our winter walks we look for signs that animals have been there. There is a great one page handout in the Cultivating Joy and Wonder curriculum (on page 228) to use as a reference. 

  • Look for the ends of twigs that have been gnawed, nibbled, or snapped off
  • Look for bark that’s been gnawed or stripped off, or the the remains of nibbled nuts
  • Look for poop! Animal poop (scat) can help us identify the naimale and what it’s been eating
  • Look for animal homes (squirrel leaf nests, holes in trees, dead logs) 

https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/resources/cultivatingjoyandwonder

Winter Track Walk Data Collection: Taking a winter walk in the forest looking for animal tracks can be quite the adventure for young children. Explain that in addition to tracks people also look for tree scarring and scat (animal droppings). Look for real animal tracks and other signs that animals have been there. Help the children learn how to approach the tracks slowly without disturbing the tracks so all their friends can see before we make our own tracks over top of them. Over time continue to take photographs of the tracks so that you can print and make a classbook of your discoveries. Who are the frequent animal visitors in your area? Make tally marks or some other data collection so you can see who are the most frequent visitors. 


Animal Track Pattern Cards – give each child their own ‘Animal Track Pattern Cards’ to wear as a necklace. Help children learn the four categories of animal movement (straight walker, hopper, waddler, bounder) and test it out with your own body. I like to start with teaching about the “hoppers” and pretend we are snowshoe hares. When children feel this movement in their body it is easier to understand how different animals move. This makes for a great gross motor game to play! You can get a free printable “Track Patterns” from the Shelburne Farms Cultivating Joy and Wonder book on page 221 – https://shelburnefarms.org/our-work/resources/cultivatingjoyandwonder

Looking for a few more curriculum ideas? Check out these three elated lessons from the Cultivating Joy and Wonder book from Shelburne Farms: 

“Active in Winter! Animals on the Move” p.102-103 (115-116)

“Signs in the Snow” p.106-107 (119-120)

“Owl Eyes” p.131-132 (144-145)

Make a cast of a track in MUD – directions at this youtube video with plaster https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_ksi4Ih_wU&t=54s

Small Scale Track Making : Bring a few plastic toy animals outdoors. Show the kids how they can make the animals walk through the snow leaving behind mini tracks. Tracks can also be made with toy vehicles. Play a version of hide and seek where children make tracks with toys and another child goes to look for where they end & find the toy. Tracking Basket: in the outdoor classroom, display an animal track identification poster on the fence or wall. Keep a small tracking manual or plastic tracking cards available for the kids to explore. Animal Tracks matching cards could be laminated and kept on a ring. One set that is very preschool age appropriate (though the tracks are not to scaled) is at PreKinders. This link takes you to a  *FREE*  printable animal track book with predictable text “This is a raccoon track.” with color pictures and clip art of the track. There is also a set of animal photos and track cards that can be printed out and made into a matching game. https://www.prekinders.com/animal-tracks-book/

Children’s Booklist for Animal Tracks:

Arnosky, Jim. Wild Tracks!  (This is a wonderful book with amazing fold out pages of life sized tracks)
Arnosky, Jim. I See Animals Hiding.
Benjamin, Cynthia and Jacqueline Rogers. Footprints in the Snow. (This is an easy reader book that is often found as a $1 book through Scholastic Book Club.)

Dendy, L. Tracks, Scats, and Signs. (Favorite reference book to keep in my backpack to use to identify animal tracks and scat.)
Dodd, Anne Wescott. Footprints and Shadows.
Dorros, Arthur. Animal Tracks.
George, Lindsay Barret. In the Snow: Who’s Been Here?
George, Lindsay Barret. In the Woods: Who’s Been Here?
Hulbert, Laura. Who Has These Feet?

Hodgkins, F. Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks. (includes tracks from: cat, turkey, moose, skunk)
Jones, Jennifer. Who Lives in the Snow?
Judge, Lita. Red Sled

Levine, Lynn and Martha Mitchell. Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Tracking Guide (Another great reference book with actual size tracks that make it easier for children to identify.)

Miller, Dorcas. Track Finder: A Guide to Mammal Tracks of Eastern North America.
Selsam, Millicent E. Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints
Sams, Laura. Stranger in the Woods – Photographic Fantasy.
Lawlor, Elizabeth P. Discover Nature in Winter (Discover Nature Series)
Stall, Chris and Steve Whitney. New England Animal Tracks.
Wilson, Karma & Jack E. Davis. Moose Tracks!

Yee, Wong Herbert. Tracks in the Snow. (A great story to introduce young children to tracking. A girl follows tracks around her home and discovers that they are her own tracks from the previous day.)

Ice Lanterns ~ Arctic Temperature Fun!

One of the realities of life in northern Vermont that winter brings us extreme low temperatures. Rather than deny it or bemoan it, I suggest that we embrace it!

When I know that we are going to have a Arctic like temperatures I like to seize the opportunity to make: ice lanterns, ice balls, and other icy explorations for my preschoolers. This post is a round up of pictures to inspire you to try your own hand at making the most of the frigid temperatures!

ICE LANTERNS – gather up large plastic containers and fill with water to freeze, add some natural materials like pine boughs. When frozen solid, put on eye protections chip a little indent with a screwdriver and insert tea lights or small candles. Some sources suggest using two different containers one inside the other, but my method makes a really solid lantern that will last a LONG time! I use mine outdoors and love the glow amongst the dark night!

Create a whole display with multiple ice lanterns and adorn them with icicles. After dark the icicles glow as the shadows of the candles dance!
Ice Balls ~ these are great fun to make with children. If you want more perfect spheres, fill the balloon with water and then set inside a similar sized plastic bowl. If you lie them flat like here they don’t roll as well…and you definitely want to try rolling these for a bowling game or with ramps!

As the lanterns are used the crevice becomes deeper. You can try adding more water on another frigid night so that it will last longer. The ice lanterns I made in 2021 lasted for almost 2 months!

Ice Sun Catchers – using small shallow pans try creating sun catchers with natural materials. Children love to create these and then once frozen…deconstruct them. Just remember eye protection when chipping or smashing ice.
Ice Sculpture – go big or go home! Grab all the buckets and containers you can find and make a entire palace out of ice. I saw took this photo years ago as I was driving home from southern Vermont. The family had created an ice rink and also had this inspiring colorful ice sculpture display!
Ice Hunting – I have an ongoing project to find the largest icicle that I can. While hiking the Rail Trail in December we found some beauties but these are tiny compared to last years 5 footers!
Bundle up ~ invest in a Balaclava!

No exposed skin is the way to survive (and even thrive) in the frigid temperatures. It turns out that with layering and getting out of the wind, you can still get outside even when an Arctic blast rolls through! I shared this rather unflattering photo on Instagram recently with the caption: “Question: What would you do to spend some quality time with your teenage son? Answer: Travel to the planet Hoth for some ice fishing while hoping that a Tauntaun might come offer a warm spot to defrost! “

Unlike Elsa who said, “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”…many of us just are NOT comfortable being outdoors in the cold. In one of my recent trainings, “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Wellness” I shared some of my tips for staying warm outdoors.

Staying Warm Strategies:

  • Get the right gear & wear layers. Not sure what to buy ~ borrow gear from friends to test out & talk to others. Outdoor stores are happy to talk about options to keep you warm. You don’t have to break the bank when you learn how to layer. (which is a post for another day)
  • Try going outdoors for shorter lengths of time
  • Be active while outdoors – keep moving and PLAY!
  • Go out at the warmest part of the day
  • Avoid windy areas 
  • No exposed skin — get yourself a Balaclava type mask which is made of stretchy, breathable fabric that protects your face while wicking away moisture. Function before fashion!
  • HYDRATED before going out
  • Consider using toe or hand warmers 
  • If the cold really bothers you…invest in heated gloves, socks, vest, or jacket! It’s not a sign of weakness but rather a strategy that might motivate you to go outdoors more often this winter!  

Additional blog posts for winter ideas:

Winter Science for Preschool – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/18/winter-science-for-preschool/

Winter Inspired Math Activities – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2020/12/21/winter-inspired-math-activities/

Children’s Books for a Winter Study Unit – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/11/15/childrens-books-for-winter-studies/

Snowflake Catching Necklaces – https://aprilsteachingtree.com/2017/01/19/snowflake-catching-necklaces/

Upcoming Training ~ “Nurtured by Nature: Winter Self Care”

Sponsor: Northern Lights at CCV

Instructor: April Zajko

With shorter daylight hours and frigid weather you might find yourself ready to hibernate. This two-hour training will give you a toolkit of simple wellness and gentle self-care strategies to integrate into your daily routines. You will learn ways that nature can gently nurture you and help you feel invigorated throughout the winter months!

Outdoor Classrooms Community Conversations

I am excited to announce my “Outdoor Classroom Community Conversations” that are open to anyone who is interested! Throughout the Spring of 2021, April’s Teaching Tree will lead two monthly *FREE* community conversations about outdoor classrooms & nature-based education.

April Zajko, M.Ed. is dedicated to building community & deepening our roots for nature-based education

Format for these conversations:

10-15 minute slideshow and discussion led by April Zajko

15 minute guided small group activity using ‘break out rooms”

30 minute whole group conversation

Other details:

Community conversations will be on Zoom (to get the link – email aprilzajko@gmail.com )

No registration required

FREE

There will be NO certificate or PD hours for attending since this is an informal conversation.

You are welcome to invite friends and share the link.

NOTE: These sessions will be recorded and will be posted on April’s Teaching Tree on Facebook & Instagram. 

Currently Scheduled Sessions:

Outdoor Classroom Vision Map – Sunday, March 14, 2021 4-5 pm EST

Outdoor Classroom Overcoming Obstacles – Sunday, March 28, 2021 4-5 pm EST

To get the link – email aprilzajko@gmail.com 

Children’s Books to Inspire Collecting & Playing with Natural Materials

Thanks for dropping my April’s Teaching Tree. I am April Zajko, M.Ed. and I am nature-inspired early childhood educator. Through my blog, writing, and professional development offerings I aim toward ‘growing a holistic view of childhood’.

Children need nature now more than ever ~ fresh air, freedom, movement, and play….all important parts of raising happy and healthy children. Please subscribe to my blog by putting your email address in the top right corner!

Follow along with April’s Teaching Tree on Facebook or Instagram for a daily photo and idea to for “Growing Outdoor Classrooms”!

Books are perfect way to inspire children and families to collect and play with natural materials. Loose parts are open ended play materials foster children’s creativity and imagination!

No book list is ever complete but here is a start. I’d love to hear about books that you like to read aloud to children to inspire playing with natural loose parts! I have tried to create categories…but near the top of the list is a new book I added this year to my book collection called “Anywhere Artist” and an old favorite “Hannah’s Collection”. 

 

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” ~Simon Nicholson

 

 

 Collections:

Collections by Margaret Ballinger and Rachel Gosset

Hannah’s Collections by Marthe Jocelyn

Look What I Found! By Deborah Schecter (Level A Reader)

Small Treasures by Akimi Gibson

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert (collection of good snowman making things)

When This Box is Full by Patricia Lillie

 

Nature:

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by LeUyen Pham

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco & Steve Jenkins

Discovering Nature’s Alphabet by Krystina Castella and Brian Boyl

No One But You by Douglas Wood

One Little Balsam Fir: A Northwoods Counting Book by Lesley A. DuTemple

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams II

 

Rocks:

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Roma Gans

Stone Soup by Jess Stockham

Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, Rough

On My Beach There are Many Pebbles

Elizabeti’s Doll

Rocks, Fossils, & Arrowheads (Take Along Guides) by Laura Evert

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

 

Sticks, & Bark:

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

Trees, Leaves, & Bark (Take Along Guides) by Diane Burns

Clay:

When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor

Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg

 

Leaves:

Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber

Leaf Man – Lois Ehlert

Leaves by Violet Findley

Leaves on the Trees by Thom Wiley

Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! By M & G. Berger

Look What I Did with a Leaf! By Morteza E. Sohi

Make a Leaf Rubbing by M. Ballinger,Gosset

The Leaves are Falling One by One by Metzger

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by S. Metzger

When the Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger

Why Do Leaves Change Color? By Betsy Maestro

Acorns & Squirrels

Acorns Everywhere! by Kevin Sherry

Busy Squirrels by Melvin and Gilda Berger

Chipmunk at Hollow Tree Lane by Victoria Sherrow

Earl the Squirrel by Dan Freeman

Just One! by Sam McBratney

Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith

The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri (board book)

The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose

Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin

 

Pinecones:

Evergreens are Green by Susan Canizares

The Pinecone Walk by Barbara Springfield

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

Shells:

What Lives in a Shell? By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfelf

Seashells, Crabs, and Sea Stars (Take Along Guide) by C.K.Tibbitts

Seashells by the Seashore by Marianne Berkes