IDEA #43. Learn to identify at least three different kinds of animal tracks
While animal tracking is no longer a vocational necessity in most parts, learning to observe the passage of other creatures through our world is an exercise in looking closely and analytically at our environment. The tracks in this activity do not necessarily have to be of wild creatures; learning to differentiate one family pet from another would also fit the suggestion.
Animal track guides can be found in most reference books, even including some dictionaries, and local environmental organizations or hunting clubs may have specific guides to animals found in your region. With winter approaching in much of the Northern Hemisphere, snowy yards and fields become a great places to find well-articulated and easily identifiable animal tracks. If the child who finds this activity engaging should have occasion to travel, it might even be worth trying to locate tracking guides for the destination.
Identifying a track is one thing, but actually following an animal’s trail is another. If there is a teacher or acquaintance skilled in this art, then perhaps he or she could be enlisted as a mentor. Otherwise, the aspiring Davey Crockett can start by trying to identify all the tracks in a certain small area, perhaps, and then expanding the territory. Over time patterns may emerge, and the youngster can learn to see not just tracks but animal movement. Other clues that can be learned include animal scat (droppings), which differ significantly from one species to another.
As always, if the youngster’s tracking takes him or her into an area with natural hazards, some safety guidelines should be put in place through rules and instruction. If there is serious danger—poisonous snakes, for example—it would be better if the child tracked with a friend, and possibly an adult friend at that.