For two hours on a sunny Wednesday morning in October eleven second-graders from The Children’s School in Berwyn, Illinois whetted their appetites for animal tracking.
They learned that first steps in becoming a tracker required the perfection of two different skills: Awareness, in order to first find the tracks; then Clear Print Identification, in order to know who made the track.
The Awareness portion included instruction in splatter vision, a technique that enhances one’s ability to see more in a natural setting. This newly learned seeing skill was tested with viewings first of the artwork of Bev Doolittle and then of photos of camouflaged critters in the Natural World. Fox-walking was next on the agenda, and under Ron’s guidance the students (and teachers) explored the technique of walking more quietly.
The Clear Print Identification portion of the class made use of a coincidental relation between the name of their school and the identifying traits of a footprint. Referencing the initials of the school–TCS–the children were urged to remember Toes, Claws, and Shape as important identifying features of a clear footprint. With that foundation they then learned to identify members of the deer, cat, dog, weasel, and rodent families. Bear, raccoon, and opossum were placed in a separate “brother” category because they each bore some human-like characteristics.
The morning ended with the class fox-walking to the location of a subtle game trail in the forest preserve. Though there was a covering of leaves, the students, using splatter vision, were eventually able to recognize the outline of the hidden trail.
As a final test students were asked to carefully remove the overlying plant material from the trail and to look for footprints beneath. If something were found, the student would mark it with a stake flag for Ron’s review. It was a measure of the success of the class that Ron was able to confirm that most of these apprentice trackers had indeed found and correctly identified tracks underneath the leaves.
After a full morning of instruction, the children were happy to sit down to lunch and then have a chance to run and play.