As I’ve said so often, Grandfather made learning fun especially in my early years. Yet many of the teaching games we played as children I still use today to help hone and maintain my skills. This particular game is one of my favorites and I’ve found that children from the moment they can identify tracks and signthey can easily play this game. Simply its called THE SIGN TRACKING SCAVENGER HUNT and the results and learning curve is always amazing even for the well seasoned tracker. It is especially powerful when you make it into a competition. It is so easy to set up and play and it hardly takes any prep at all. I can also be played on a lawn, fringe areas of woodlands, forests, gardens and even inside your home.
To begin with and especially if your child is not educated in tracking and sign tracking you will have to take them into the bush and teach them the various sign elements they can discover. When you show them something such as a hair from a deer or a chew from a rabbit or even the variety of scat that can be found make sure you attach it to a story about the animal. In your words make that animal come alive at the point of the sign track. For instance lets say that your find the sharp diagonal bite mark of a rabbit on a bush about three feet off of the ground. Point out to them the sharp knife-like cut and explain how the rabbit, being very small, had to reach up and nibble the end bud of the bush. Point out to them that on dry ground the rabbit would not be able to reach the bud and ask them how they were able to reach it so far off of the ground. Well for the child there could be but two answers, (actually more), for either the rabbit pushed the lower part of the bush downward or a heave snow cover had given the rabbit an elevated access to the bud.
Once the child is versed with the sign tracking elements such as trails, runs, push-downs, secondary runs, manifold junctions, bedding areas, lay areas, scat, hair, bone chews and feeding indicators assign each element a number. The higher the number assigned to the sign the more valuable it will be in the games’ point system in the end. For instance a trail would be worth 2 points depending if it is a major trail or a secondary or seasonal trail while the belly hair from a shrew would be worth 10 points or more. Basically the more difficult it is to find and identify the more point value it has. Make sure that the child can tell the story about the sign they found giving the location, the reason the sign was there and what animal made the sign. This way it is not just finding the wisker of a vole but the story behind the wisker that had been bitten off by another vole in a land dispute. Note; it may be a good idea to grab one of my field guides, go to the tracking/sign tracking section and review the various kinds of sign.
As you teach your child explain to them that the “animal takes the easiest rout of travel unless they are excaping from danger” and as Grandfather said, “an animal is an instrument played by the landscape.” Tell them also that the world of the animals, large and small, is very similar to our world. Where we have highways, byways and back roads and streets so to do the animals. Their Trails are like our highways, their runs are like our main streets and their secondary runs are like the streets we live on. Show them the way that the trails have a purpose were they will lead to watering holes, feeding areas, bedding areas and hiding places. What’s fun for the kids is to take a popcycle stick that is sharpened at one end then print on the popcycle stick something like “main street trail leading out of home”. They can also further mark the trails and runs by marking them with a piece of bright colored yarn. Please note that if you mark the trails make sure you pick up the yarn and stick markers when you are done. Also, the reason to mark the trails and runs is that you can’t bring them back to “home base” with you at games end. Most other sign can easily be brought back and the tally added up.
As I said, this game can be played anyplace even in your home. If played at home the sign is slightly different in that their are human trails and runs indicated by the wear pattern on the rugs and floor but there are many other things especially if you have pets. Here in the home environment it would be much like a full blown crime scene investigation. Much like the kids see on TV they will collect hair samples, fibers, animal fur, seed casings, sand, soil and other things that can be dragged into the home from outdoors. Of course the largest assortment of this kind of home sign will be found by the most frequently used doors in the house or where someone has taken off their shoes. As you do with the point system in the natural environment assign points to the things the kids will find in the house. Again, have them tell a story about how a particular sign was made or how it was dragged in from the outside. In the end, whether there is a time limit or not, all sign are brought back to a table and laid out for tally. If it is sign like a trail, run or bedding area the child will have to show you and tell the story from where they found and identified the larger sign.
This game is absolutely so amazing in that it teaches the child to look close, deep and wide. The game element also provides a challenge not only a challenge between kids but a challenge to themselves. By playing the game they will learn to see things that no other kid in the normal world will see and attach the things they find to a story about each find. The fun part is that this game can be played in a group or all alone. If you are going it alone, simply set a time limit and race to see how many sign elements and evidences that you can find in a given amount of time. As I said in the beginning I still use these skills today to hone my skill and push myself harder and further than ever before. Thank you all so much and have fun with THE SIGN TRACKING SCAVENGER HUNT! Blessings to all and All Good Medicine, Tom