Would you like to go on a secret mission, and track an animal through the woods? What if you could track lions, gazelles, badgers or even a Tyrannosaurus Rex?
Well, our forest school area is not full of creatures like that, but we do have a way to create fun footprint trails that allow children to track the beasts of your choice and have fun doing it.
In this article, we’ll show you how, and you can download a free printable template of animal tracks to make it super easy to use this activity.
Animal Tracks Activity
What’s not to love about following a trail through the woods? This activity is a kind of outdoor scavenger hunt and takes a bit of pre-planning but it’s definitely worth it. Here’s how to do it.
What you need:
- A stencil in the shape of an animal footprint (scroll down to download ours)
- Jam jar
- Something to punch holes in the lid of the jam jar
- A soft toy or plastic animal that matches the footprint (optional)
Step 1: Make your stencil
Find and print out a picture of an animal footprint of your choice and cut it out. Ideally you’d want two feet together (a left and a right) so think about how the animal walks and what your stencil needs to look out.
We made a couple of different templates and laminated them so they were a bit more robust to take out into the woods.
Step 2: Make your flour shaker
Punch holes in a jam jar lid to make a shaker. Fill the shaker with some flour. This is what you are going to use with the stencil to make the footprint trail.
Note: you can do this with a sieve and some flour (spoon out the flour into the sieve and shake it through the stencil) but it was too time-consuming for our little trekkers! The shaker works better as it is faster and easier to give to children if they are making their own tracks.
Get Step 1 and Step 2 complete before you want to run the activity.
Step 3: Make the trail
Use the stencil and the shaker to make a trail of flour footprints through your area. At the end of the trail you can put a picture of the animal or a stuffed toy of the animal, or have an animal quiz.
Step 4: Send the children on the trail!
We’ve run this activity successfully with children from preschoolers to Year 4 and it’s a big hit every time. Children love finding the next steps in the trail and trying to guess what animal they are tracking from the footprints.
You can link this outdoor learning activity to the curriculum in many ways. For example:
- Learn about how animals move
- Choose animals that relate to curriculum areas of focus to prompt conversation about how they are equipped to live in that period of history (e.g. dinosaurs) or that geographic location
- Measure the distance between the tracks
- Count the footprints
- Discuss the kinds of creatures that live in different habitats
- Talk about the foot chain – this is really good if you have two different stencils, one a predator and one a prey
Take it further
Older children can make the trails for each other to follow.
- Give each team a shaker, a stencil and an animal information card to leave at the end of the trail.
- Teams make their animal tracks.
- Teams switch tracks to follow another team’s trail, finding the animal at the end of the trail.
- Do an animal-related learning activity or quiz.
- Finally, teams sweep away the trail so you can run the activity again with a different group.
This is an easy autumn forest school activity or something you can use with your children at any time of the year – as long as it is dry enough not to wash away the flour footprints!
What animals would you choose to track?