Teaching Young Children Tracking

Being school vacation week, I was presented with more than just a great amount of free time to work on my own projects like my blog here, Facebook, YouTube Channel, even getting all of our most loved generational recipes together to put into book form.  School vacation week got me thinking quite a bit about how much we teach our children on a daily basis about the lifestyle we seek to live every single day.

Last night we talk a bit about how we are raising our children to be woodland, outdoorsy children, and part of that was that we are beginning to teach them about tracking at a young age.

A dying skill…

it is no surprise, or doubt that the art of being able to track an animal by it’s track marks, rub marks, and travel paths is a dying skill in our modern community.  Even most hunters now rely on technology in the form of trail cameras to monitor herds, feeding patterns, even animals entering their property.  But why?  Tracking animals is something that civilizations have been using for centuries as a tried an true method to finding animals they seek for food, or just the opposite in seeking to avoid animals that would be predatory to even humans.

Why is knowing how to track an animal important?

One of the key things about knowing how to track an animal whether it is in the outdoors, or in your backyard, is being able to track an animal gives you an upper hand as far as keeping your pets and yourself safe.  At the very bare minimum we are talking about protection.  Tracking has it’s benefits as far as hunting is concerned too.  It’s about being able to learn an animal or herds, learn their habits, where they go, what they do.  Knowing these things will help you when hunting season comes, because you will have a glimpse into their lives.

As far as children are concerned, teaching children basic tracking techniques is a great way to get them outside, a great way to get them interested in the outdoors, what will they find next?  It makes everyday an adventure outdoors, even snowy days.

Where to begin with children, 

The best place to begin with children is an amazing resource that I found through Mass Wildlife. What is even better, is that if you are not from Massachusetts a terrific group called Wildlife Forever has partnered with Fishery and Wildlife in almost every state to produce books that feature 50 species from each state.

critters
Great resource for children, available at MassWildlife for $5

We have two copies of this is our home, and it is a great book that we love to bring out with us.  It is a pocket edition so it’s about the same size as the photo that I shared which is great for bringing outdoors, you can slip it right into your back pocket.

Lets start talking about what animals here in Massachusetts I find are the easiest to teach children.

My personal favorite to start with is the Wild Turkey.

unset chaserThe wild turkey is extremely prevalent here in Massachusetts.  It is actually ironic how very prevalent they are considering that they were almost completely locally extinct in this area by 1851.  There had been several reintroduction attempts between 1911 and the 1970’s , finally an attempt to reintroduce turkey’s from New York into the Berkshires was successful.  In 1978, the birds from the successful relocation attempt had relocated well and had been reproducing well.  That year the state then began relocating turkeys throughout the state.

One of the reasons that I like to use the wild turkey as a start is because they are very easily identifiable for children and they are very non threatening to children.  The best way to explain a turkey track to a child is that they look like an arrow pointing.  This arrow shape is an easy track for children to identify, it is also very easily for them to imitate if they are out on a walk and you aren’t having very much luck looking for tracks, you can reinforce the tracks they do know and ask them to draw tracks that they know  Notice the Arrow-like Shape

You may also have noticed that I put in the first picture I put in I did identify the difference between a tom track and a hen track.  This is another excellent thing that you can teach little ones.  There is a visible difference between the track of a tom, or a male turkey and the track of a hen, or a female turkey.  The most noticeable difference is the middle toe.

WhitetailDeer
The Whitetail Deer

Whitetail deer are also a fairly easy track to teach children early on.  Again one of the biggest reasons that this is a good track to teach children, is because like the wild turkey it is a track that in this area you are going to have a great chance of seeing on a regular basis.  Showing and teaching children tracks that they will see on a regular basis, tracks that they can practice every single week on your walks.  I try to think of shapes that the kids know, shapes that they can identify the track with when they see it.  Something that they can remember.  For me this shape with a deer track is an upside down heart.

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One that we don’t get very often here but I do love to teach because of the similarities to their own little hands is raccoon tracks.  I love to teach them raccoon tracks because like with the arrow on the turkey print, like the heart with the deer print.  I use their very own hands as a demo with the raccoon prints.    Untitled design (2)

Your most valuable resources are right in your own backyard… 

We’ve already talked about the Critters book put out by State Wildlife and Wildlife Forever, but there are so many other great resources that are put out by your state’s wildlife office.  Another amazing tracking resource that I love from Massachusetts is their pocket guide to animal tracks.  This is even smaller than the Critters book.  This is a small little guide that you can keep in a shirt pocket.  They offer it available in PDF format on their website for printing as well.

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Individual states wildlife websites are also a great resources.  The will often times document all of the mammals and birds in the state in one source.  They will also offer you information about sightings of animals that may not be predominant to your area, we are going to being using our last track that we teach our children about to discuss this.

The final track that I like to teach our children is actually one of the hardest to teach to children for a few reasons, one being it is the only predatory animal that we really have in great quantity around here.  The second being that it is so close to a domestic dog that it is hard to teach the minuet difference between the two.  So here we go!

House Pet, Coyote, or Wolf-

I absolutely listed the wolf here in Massachusetts, and I will tell you why, and you can go ahead and call me crazy.  In 2011, when a woman reported that she saw a bear in her back yard on Cape Cod, people thought that she had done lost her mind.  Soon stories of other people seeing this bear began coming in, many believed at first that they were just seeing things because they had heard it, until it was on the news, until someone actually caught the bear on Cape Cod, on TAPE.  Well early this year there was a sighting in Bridgewater, Massachusetts of tracks that people believed to be Wolf tracks, at this point it has come back that they were not necessarily full wolf, but rather coywolf, or a hybrid of a wolf and coyote.  However in 2007, Massachusetts did have its first MassWildlife confirmed wolf sighting in over 160 years.  So I list that wolf track, because it will eventually become part of our training, but for now we will use it merely for size.

I want you to look at the graphic above and apologize about it’s piecemeal look.  The largest of the prints included is the wolf print.  A wolf print would be about 4 1/2 inches long from the tips of the claws down to the bottom of the pad.  Notice the shapes of the pads themselves as well, they like the domestic dog print are more round, wider at the bottom.  The coyote actually has the smaller of the prints in the comparison of the three.  Much more narrow around the toes, the claws seem to much closer together.

We will continue more with tracking throughout the summer, and will continue with more information that you can use in tracking such as rubs, and trails.  The biggest thing to remember when teaching children how to track, have fun! Let your children have fun.  If they want to draw big circles as you go and claim that they are bears, let them.  Always encourage them to take their guides with them, let them show you anything they find.  Just push the outdoors, and their love of nature.

Tara

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