people standing in the snow examining animal tracks
Photo by Christine Cousins

Animal Tracks: Building Inquiry, Questioning and a Connection to Nature

Gina Marucci with Alexis Burnett and Chris Gilmour

your practice because you lack the beauty of an outdoor centre for your schoolyard. I challenge you to look at your schoolyard with new eyes this week when you go out for recess duty. Ball diamonds, long jump pits, sand boxes, puddles, dirt paths, gardens, each of these small eco-habitats likely holds some kind of track. Even human tracks – why not examine them? It is the process of seeing the little things and asking questions about the observations our students make that inspire them to go deeper. Nature is always teaching us and we can use our awareness to look for the moments and patterns that inspire curiosity in ourselves and our students. In doing this we use nature’s classroom to help our students understand humans’ place in the ecosystem.

Tracks allow us to be aware of our surroundings and know what animals are in our backyards, neighborhoods and local forests. They connect us to the natural world in a way that demonstrates our interdependence. When we are deeply connected to the land and our bio-region, it is not only beneficial to our personal, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, but we also notice the subtle and not so subtle changes that happen. When species' numbers start to decline, we can make changes to how we use the land before they disappear. It is not only about the animals, but also the wildflowers, trees, reptiles, amphibians and all the living things that make up the eco-system. And all these things matter and are connected to one another.

Tracking in Your Classroom and Schoolyard

  1. Use the long jump pit or any other dirt surface. Have students close their eyes and select one student to walk through the space. Classmates then examine the track and each other’s shoes to determine who walked there.
  2. Using the same space, have a student run, jump or walk differently through the space. Have other students try to figure out what the student was doing.
  3. Using plaster of Paris, make molds of tracks found in your local outdoor space, school yard or park.
  4. Create a sightings board in a central location at your school where anyone can record a species that they observed in the vicinity.
  5. For a nominal amount, tracking plates and stamps can be purchased from some educational supply stores. Create tracking activities inside the classroom.
  6. Using observations from tracks discovered outside, have students build field guide pages that can be put together into a local field guide. This can be developed after students have had time to explore field guides as a text.
  7. Through research, have students observe movements of different animals, then try to move like them. The YouTube video by Steve Leckman is fantastic for this – search Animal Gaits on YouTube. Another great link is the tracking video produced by Gilmour and Burnett that explores questioning and tracking ( watch?v=jU_-nizPl34).
  8. Using either found or created tracks, measure the length, width and distance between steps.
  9. Develop stories that explain found tracks. What was the animal doing? Where does it live?
  10. Design your own track for a make-believe species and explain the design of the foot and how it helps the animal.
  11. Research the cultural and natural history of the school neighbourhood. Which First Nation’s land is your school built on? What treaty are you part of? What animals have become extinct in your area? Are you located on a moraine?

We are grateful to the York Region District School Board’s Outdoor Education Advisory Committee for funding both tracking workshops. Many thanks to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit team at YRDSB and to the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation who support our learning journey. Finally, thanks to colleagues and friends for your comments and edits on this article.

Gina Marucci is a member of the York Region Teacher Local.


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