Following Animal Prints in the Snow

In this lesson, children will investigate footprints left in the snow and follow the clues to discover who left those prints!

Content Area:

Weather and Seasons

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Explore concepts and information about the physical, earth and life sciences
  • Understand that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Planning and carrying out simple investigations
  • Collecting, describing, comparing and recording information from observations and investigations
  • Identifying, describing and comparing the physical properties of objects
  • Using tools and technology to assist with scientific and engineering investigations
  • Generating explanations and communicating ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations
  • Observing and discussing changes in the weather and the seasons using common vocabulary words
  • Exploring the physical properties of objects
  • Exploring the concepts of force and motion
  • Exploring changes related to the weather and the seasons
  • Using tools and technology to assist with scientific and engineering investigations
toddler with sunflower

Following Animal Prints in the Snow

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Read the book, Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints in the Snow, by Millicent E. Selsam
  2. Examine the laminated footprint cards with the children. Say: “Different animals make tracks with different shapes. The shape of the track can help you identify the animal that left it.”
  3. Ask: “What animals might be outdoors on the playground?”
  4. Explain: “Size also makes a difference. Adults make larger footprints than kids.”
  5. Explain: “Gait is the pattern of motion or size of the paces of the person or animal. For example, a fox that is running will have a different pattern of motion than one that is sniffing and tracking. An animal that is moving fast will have a different pattern than one that is moving slowly.”
  6. Tell the children that they are going on a scavenger hunt to look for animal footprints.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Once the children are assembled outdoors, ask them to walk carefully around the playground to look for footprints.
  2. When they discover a footprint, tell them to examine the footprint closely to see if they can identify it by its size and shape.
  3. Ask: “Do you recognize this footprint? How would you describe it?”
  4. Ask: “Can you match the footprint with one of the footprints on your card? Who does this print belong to?”
  5. Ask: “Do the footprints lead to a tree or bush? Can you find a habitat nearby that matches the footprint clue?”
  6. Ask: “Do your own boots leave tracks that look different than your friends’  boot prints?”
  7. Ask: “Do your footprints look different if you hop or skip?”

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Analyze: To examine something in detail
  • Clue: A hint that helps solve a puzzle, problem or mystery
  • Examine: Look closely and carefully at something
  • Footprint: A mark pressed by a foot onto a surface
  • Gait: A pattern of motion or the size of the paces of a person or animal

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Try matching boot prints to their owner
Child care providers may:
  • Ask young learners to listen for birds or squirrels and find their footprints
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Make animal footprints in clay or playdough with plastic animals for indoor play
  • Use a measuring tape to measure prints and gaits
Child care providers may:
  • Explain that common animal gaits fall into categories such as walkers, bounders, hoppers and waddlers and encourage older children to examine the gait of a footprint and use it as a clue to identify the animal tracks
  • Encourage children to get down on all fours and replicate the animal gaits

Suggested Books

  • Animals in Winter by Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder (authors) and Helen K. Davie (illustrator)
  • Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints in the Snow by Millicent E. Selsam (author) and Marlene Hill Donnelly (illustrator)
  • Let’s Go! Animal Tracks in the Snow! by Diane Polley (author) and Marion Hall (illustrator)
  • Life-Sized Animal Tracks by John Townsend 
  • Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper (author) and Kenard Pak (illustrator)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • On a day with freshly fallen snow, instruct one child to make tracks in the snow to a hiding spot. Then send the other children out to follow the footprints the hiding spot!

Web Resources

  • Visit the Old Naturalist website for information, a video and a downloadable worksheet to help children identify animal tracks in the snow.

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