We’re spending this week talking about animals.  We’ve covered animal classes, sorting, categorizing, observing and journaling. You can click here to see the full Animalia inspired activity packets.  Now we’re going to have some fun and find an animal track to take home! 


Casting animal tracks can be a little tricky, but it’s a fantastic opportunity to get out and explore nature with a mission in mind.  Jon and I had so much fun filming this video, it was probably the most fun we’ve had filming!  Just go out with the mind set that you might not find any tracks or the tracks you find might not be the ideal track to cast.  Even if you cast kind of a funky track, it’s still fun and educational for kids.


Let’s get started!

Supplies:

Supplies for our animal track casting adventure!

Before we head out on our mission, we need to grab our supplies.  Here’s what we’ll need:

  • Strips of flexible cardboard
    • I’m using the paperboard from a cereal box because it’s firm, but still pretty flexible.
  • A stapler
    • We’ll use the stapler to hold the cardboard in a circle to make a fence around our track
  • Perfect Cast
    • You can also use plaster of paris or dental stone
    • This is what we’re going to make our cast with.  It starts out as powder, then we add water and it becomes a liquid.  After it sets up, it will harden.
  • Water
    • To add to our plaster of paris and create the goo
  • Mixing container & Spoon
    • To mix up our plaster.  I’d suggest a disposable container as there was some residue left in my container when I was done.  It was a bit of a bear to get out.

Time to Create!

Step 1: Find a track

This is probably the hardest part of the entire process.  Check out natural areas near you.  You’ll have the best luck just after a rain when the ground is still wet-ish or in the mud near water.  Make sure the ground is pretty firm, if you try to cast a track in sandy soil, the weight of the casting medium will crush the track and you’ll end up with nothing!  

You can also cast a track in snow, although I’ve never done it.  Here’s an article with some pointers.  

Once you’ve found a good track, take a look at the area around the track.  Look for other tracks, possible animal scat, and potential bedding areas. This will help when you’re trying to identify the track.

Step 2: Clean out the track

Clean any large rocks, sticks, or plant life out of the track.  Don’t move anything that’s shoved into the track itself, moving it will damage the track.  Just grab the things that might have fallen on top of the track.

Step 3: Make a mold for your plaster

Use your cardboard strips to make a circular mold.  Make the mold just large enough to circle the cast completely, leaving about a 1 inch border around the track.  Gently press your mold about ¼ inch into the soil around the track.  You want to keep the casting medium from running out.  

Step 4: Mix the casting medium

Follow the directions for your particular casting medium.  In the case of Perfect Cast, it’s 3 parts powder to 1 part water.  The medium should be about the consistency of pancake batter. 

My cast was about the size of my hand and I used 2 cups of powder to ⅔ cup water.  It was the perfect amount to cast that large track.  

Gently tap your container on the ground to bring the air bubbles to the surface. This will help make sure you don’t have bubbles in the cast as it hardens.

Step 5: Pour the cast

Pouring Perfect Cast into our mold

We’re ready to pour our cast.  You don’t want to pour the medium directly into the track itself.  The force of the liquid hitting can damage the track. Instead pour into the border around the cast.  The medium will run into the track without damaging it. 

Step 6: Let it set

Again, follow the directions for your medium.  Most compounds will need to set up for 30 minutes to an hour. You’ll see a change from the glossy wet look to a more matte dry look.  Then you can touch it gently to test.  If it’s holding up, tap it more firmly.  If it still holds up, you’re ready to lift the cast.    

Step 7: Wrap it up for transport

Pulling the cast up from underneath

Once the cast is dry, remove the mold from the outside.  It should pop right off, but you may need to remove your staples to pull it from the edges.  

Reach under the cast to pull it up, don’t lift from the edges.  You might need to dig a little in the soil to get your fingers under the cast.

To get your cast home, wrap it up in newspaper, paper towels, or napkins.  Don’t use plastic as this prevents the cast from drying out.  

Step 8: Let dry completely

It takes a couple days for the cast to dry completely.  I’d give it 2-3 days just to be safe.

Step 9: Clean up the cast

Cleaning up the cast with a soft brush

Using an old toothbrush or nail bush, gently clean the cast. You can hold it under running water to clean, but don’t submerge it.  Submerging the cast will cause it to dissolve and that would stink after all the time you spent making it.

You will probably not get your cast white and pristine.  Some of the dirt likely got mixed in with the mixture as the cast was setting and you’re going to be able to get that out.  You’re just removing the loose dirt.

Step 10: Identify your animal

Take to the internet to see what kind of track you have. Here’s one article from The Farmer’s Almanac . Use the observations you made when you found the track to help in the identification.   Also consider what kind of animals live in your area when narrowing down your options.  As much as your kids want to think it’s possible, you’re probably not going to find a tiger print in North America!  

Step 11: Label and display

When your cast is all tidy and you’ve identified the animal, flip it over and label the date, location, and animal type on the smooth back surface.  Display your find!  Good work!

Other Options:

If the natural look isn’t for you, you can definitely paint the cast.  It’s a cool, unique pallet for kids to leave their mark on!


Hopefully this activity gave you a chance to get outside, explore some nature and learn a thing or two about animals in your area!

Sign up for my email list to be notified when I post new projects.  And, if you’re interested in more animal inspired activities, check out the activity packs here!