Exploring with groups of children you often find more evidence of wildlife than you actually see wildlife. They see us, hear us, smell us – all long before we make much distance into the forest. You might think of our presence as creating outward concentric rings alerting the animals to potential danger. The birds sound the alarm call, the squirrels scatter, the frogs plop down below the surface of the pond. Because of this we often act as wildlife detectives and focus on the tracks animals leave behind. You can capture the individual tracks in detail using Plaster of Paris.
Making Animal Tracks using Plaster of Paris
Step 1. Find Animal Tracks. You may choose to place a plastic collar sleeve around the track or build up a mud perimeter to hold the plaster in place.
Step 2. Add a little water to the plaster and knead it in a bag until wet and mushy (like wet oatmeal). Cut the corners of the bag and squeeze it into the track. It will begin to harden as soon as it is wet so do not hesitate or you will have a bag of hardened plaster. (I like to give each child their own bag once I have clearly demonstrated the process)
Step 3: Return in 15-30 minutes and carefully remove the plaster from the ground. Wash the plaster clean with water to unveil the track.
Plaster Tracking: Predict what animal tracks you might find in our wooded wetland habitat and go search the forest and river edge to identify hoofed, clawed and webbed animal feet. Using our direct observation, we’ll discover what makes them especially adapted to the terrain. All participants make and take plaster animal tracks.
David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula. He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com