January: Tracks and Traces



We are detectives and every set of tracks (or traces) is a clue. What critter made the tracks? Where did it come from? Where was the animal going and what was it doing? Following and interpreting tracks in the snow or earth is fun and can give you new insights into the lives of Tyler’s wildlife.

Animals walk in three basic track patterns.  Practice straight walking with two or four legs, hopping, and waddling.

  • Straight walking – Have children pair up (or can do by themselves). One child in front and another in back with hands on front child’s shoulders. As front child’s left foot moves forward, back child’s right leg moves forward at the same time. Next the front child’s right foot and back child’s left foot. Some animals that move this way are:
    • House cats and dogs
    • Foxes, coyotes, bobcats
    • Sheep, deer, cows
  • Waddlers – Have children pair up (or can do by themselves). One child in front and another in back with hands on front child’s shoulders. As front child’s left food moves forward, back child’s left foot moves forward also. Next the front child’s right foot moves forward, as back child’s right foot moves forward. Practice by yourself, using your arms as front legs – these animals are usually slow-moving animals that don’t need speed because they have other ways of protecting themselves. Some animals that are waddlers include:
    • Beavers, porcupines, raccoons, skunks, opossums and bears
  • Hoppers – Have children get on all fours, the hopper places the hands between their widespread legs. Moving, the arms swing ahead first to take the body’s weight. The back feet follow, swinging around to the outside of the hands and landing slightly forward of them. Well-known hoppers include:
    • Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, mice and shrews


We don’t see as many animals in the winter as we do in the warmer seasons, but if we look carefully we may see more signs that they were there.  Bare trees and snow can help us notice more.

Explain that a trace is something a person or animal leaves behind, that gives you a clue as to who was there. We can divide traces into three basic categories: animal homes and nests, signs of eating and body parts. Then show/explain one example of each category. After that, show an item and ask them which category the sign is.

  • Animal homes and nests – Show bird nests, wasp nest, and woodpecker hole. Ask the children if they know who built these. The praying mantis egg case can be included in this category.
  • Signs of eating – Show gnawed cedar cones and rubber deer scat.
  • Body parts – These can mean that an animal has died (turtle shell, raccoon skull) or that it has grown or changed (snake skin, deer antler, caterpillar chrysalis and cocoon, cicada shell). Ask the children what has happened. Ask them what kind of traces people leave behind.


  • Put a black piece of paper in the freezer. When it snows, get your child bundled up and take them out. Have them catch the snow on the paper and then examine the snowflakes with a magnifying glass.



  • Have your children step in gray paint and then walk across a piece of butcher paper. It will look like they are walking through snow. For added effect make animal prints around your children’s prints.
  • Make homemade play dough and make tracks with plastic animals. Have your kids make up a story to go behind the tracks.

Tyler Exploration:

  • While there is snow on the ground, have your kids follow the tracks of bunnies or squirrels. Please be careful where you step, it may be a flower bed. If you go outside the fence, you may find deer tracks. Squirrels and rabbits are bounders, and when they hop the back legs land in front of the front legs…so follow the big feet, not the little!
  • If it is not snowing, check out the mud on the sides of trails or at the pond. You will be surprised what you find. At the pond if you see a track that looks like a hand – a raccoon has been there!

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