As I am fond of telling my students, every trail has a story to tell and if you are patient enough you can learn to read the writing each footprint makes in the soft snow of winter. Go to a nearby forest, field or natural area. When you find tracks, follow them. Ask your children which direction the animal was heading (look for scuff marks, usually located at the rear of the tracks). Was it running, walking, laying down? Look for signs of browsing (rabbits have sharp teeth and nip small saplings at a 45 degree angle, deer don’t have any top teeth and they tend to tear and chomp overhanging branches and saplings (especially cedar). Red squirrels love to husk cones, pulling off the scales in large piles called middens. Was the animal walking in a straight line (fox, coyote, house cat)? Was it hopping (squirrels, rabbits, mice), or did you notice one larger foot landing beside one smaller foot (raccoon, porcupine)?
The more children follow tracks, the sharper their eyes become. Remember, tracks are more than just few marks crisscrossing the landscape; they tell a fascinating tale. If you are lucky, you can follow tracks right to their source (perhaps a squirrel up in a tree).
For added adventure, try a tracking stick. Use a ¾ inch dowel about 2 feet long and attach 2 hair elastics, one for either end. If you find tracks in the soft mud or snow, slide the hair bands on the tracking stick so you can measure the stride of the animal (the distance between the paw prints from the heel of one to the heel of the next paw print ahead). Once the tracks leave the mud or snow, flip the tracking stick over and this will tell you were the next paw print should be. Look for subtle disturbances (bent grass, scratches etc.). Follow the trail as far as you can.
Here is hoping that you can immerse yourself in the magic that is this very day by taking yourself and your loved ones outside!
Submitted By Jacob Rodenburg
Jacob is the Executive Director of Camp Kawartha, an award winning outdoor education centre and summer camp. He has worked in the field of outdoor education and camping for 30 years.