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Have you ever noticed that middle school boys are the most difficult age to round up co-op classes for? Last spring my daughter and I came up with the perfect boy (and adventurous girl) book class- My Side of the Mountain. Then all we had to do was put together the right set of activities.
This post isn’t about all the activities we did with My Side of the Mountain, but I picked one to share with you today.
Finding Animal Tracks
Wouldn’t it be the best to take your group of middle school co-opers on a tracking expedition? I’ve spent a lot of time around middle schoolers and while they are notorious for their energy, if you can channel it in the right direction, you’ve got it made!
But chances are, the logistics of getting your big middle school class on an outing is a little out of reach.
Still, you are eager to find some of your own tracks, right? Where are some good places to find them?
- Muddy places on a path
- Sand at the beach
- River banks
- Edges of ponds
Generally any place which is moist and animals walk through, you have a shot at finding tracks. You can also set a “trap” for tracks right in your own yard!
Collecting Animal Tracks
Did you know you can collect animal tracks?
- Take pictures– with your camera to record the track
- Make a mold– of the track
- Set up tracking boxes– You can leave out medium for animals to step in and collect tracks in your own backyard.
And here’s where we can make it easy to take those middle schoolers on a field trip without going anywhere. Simply set the tracking boxes out where your co-op meets and hopefully the next week, you’ll be in business.
It’s a good idea to scout an area first to see if it’s a good spot for making tracks. If you don’t have any or you come up empty, then be ready with some friendly dog or cat prints made by you.
Tracking boxes can be made of a shallow tray filled with damp sand. After all, you have to capture a good impression. We improvised with the bottom of a five gallon bucket and planted them in different places around our yard.
Making a Mold of an Animal Track
How cool would it be to make a whole collection of animal tracks that would leave you with casts of all sorts of animals? Collecting tracks by making a mold is pretty easy and doesn’t require a lot of set up or clean up.
- Cut a strip of cardstock– long enough to make a circle around the track on the ground.
- Encircle the track– make the strip into a circle that can go around the track and set it in the ground stapled in a circle shape
- Prepare the Plaster of Paris– by adding water and mixing it
- Pour the plaster– inside the circle over the track
- Let it set– about 30 minutes or so until the plaster has hardened
- Remove the paper ring– pick up the mold and remove the paper
- Label the track– turn it over and label the mold with the date it was made, where it was found, and the track identification
Identifying Animal Tracks
How do you go about identifying tracks once you find them? We can use several factors to narrow them down. Then use a field guide to finish the work.
- Count the toes– find a clear track and count the number of toes
- Look for tiny dots– which are the animal’s claws
- Note the shape– animals have differently shaped paws which can help identify prints
- Observe the size– raccoons and squirrels have tracks shaped like hands, but raccoon paws are much bigger.
- Consider the location– if you are trying to decide whether or not it belongs to a certain animal, think about whether the animal lives where you found the track.
Resources for Animal Tracking
Resources are helpful when you are learning something new. There are plenty of websites devoted to tracking. Ethan, our oldest, once made his own book of animal tracks for his siblings as a Christmas gift- laminated cards, ring, and all.
- Field Guide to Animal Tracks– this book will provide a good start to your tracking identification. It’s sized well to take with you on excursions!
- Tracks, Scats, and Signs– for younger children, this activity book will give you ideas to use with kids out in the field
- Big Tracks, Little Tracks Following Animal Prints– a Let’s Read and Find Out science book. Always informative, this series is wonderful for younger children.
- Tracking & the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks & Sign– information on the behavior and habitat of over 50 animal species and shows you how to identify animals by their tracks, tail patterns, droppings, dens, scratches and other signs
- Tracks and Trail Craft– fully illustrated guide to the identification of animals tracks in forest, field, farmyard, and backyard.
- Animal & Bird Tracks: Sierra Club Knowledge Cards– a card deck featuring pictures of animal and bird tracks along with information about each animal and where you might find the tracks.
- Wildwood Tracking– part of a survival site, this portion has loads of information on tracking and animal signs. You can even find quizzes that test you on your knowledge of tracks. This site has directions for building and using tracking boxes.
My Side of the Mountain class was a middle school hit. The kind of fun that is repeatable with just the right adventure book.
Stay tuned for more middle school adventures with My Side of the Mountain.