plaster animal track cast kid project idea

Identify Animal Tracks & Make a Plaster Cast

If your child loves animals, learning to identify animal tracks is an educational and inexpensive hobby! Your kid can make an animal journal, make it a science project to learn how to recognize animals (and learn more about them), and have fun with some animal crafts they can keep and collect.

identify animal tracks of a wolf in the sand

There is a free animal tracks identification guide for download to get them started and step-by-step instructions on how to make a plaster animal print cast.

While camping, we woke up one morning to see these wolf tracks on the beach at our campsite!

Identifying animal tracks is easy and fun and can be done in the winter and summer, in your backyard, in the park, or in a forest!

Identify The Tracks of Animals Near You!

Learning to identify animal tracks can be a fun project. It can be done with Google or a book (which we prefer) and a pair of boots. Head to the backyard or woods!

You can use a field guide, like Peterson Guides, or make your own – see below for a free download.

When you spot some tracks, write the dates and notes in your field guide or a separate journal (purchased or make your own).

Not all animal tracks will be in your area, so it’s a great project to learn what animals live near you.

You can make your own guide and draw the tracks yourself.

Part of learning to identify animal tracks is not just about the shape. It’s about the pattern of the way the animal walks, too.

how to identify animal tracks

For example, dog tracks are very similar to wolf tracks. But dogs usually walk crazy erratic patterns (they’re having fun), while wolves and coyotes usually walk in purposeful straight lines (concentrating on being stealthy for hunting).

Free download

Animal Tracks North America

Animal Track Plaster Cast Supplies

cutting up a plastic flower pot with scissors
  • Plaster of Paris (also available cheaply at local hardware stores)
  • Water
  • Water bottle for misting or hair spray
  • A plastic cup or bowl for mixing the plaster
  • Plastic spoon for mixing
  • Optional: For creating a wall around the tracks, you can use flexible plastic (like an old piece of a window blind or garden edging). We cut the bottom of a plastic planter – see photo – and tape if needed.

Plaster Casting: Dirt and snow

animal print in sand

1. Reinforce the animal print area first

  • Wet dirt or wet snow: Dust it with some powdered plaster and let it set while you mix the plaster
  • Dry, powdery dirt or powdery snow: gently spray with a mist of water (a hard stream will destroy the print)

Tip: Some use hairspray instead of water

a plastic circle around an animal print

2. Build a little wall or dam of dirt around the track to keep the liquid plaster from flowing everywhere, or surround it with a flexible plastic wall (like vinyl blinds, edging, or what we did was cut off the bottom of a plastic planter).

hand mixing plaster for craft

3. Measure out the dry plaster into a bowl

  • Mix the water and plaster: 1 part water to 2 parts plaster (read the instructions on the box)
  • We dumped some plaster in a bowl and slowly added water until it looked like thick pancake batter.
  • Consistency should be thick, like a pancake or cake batter.
  • Stir for about 3-4 minutes, so it’s no longer lumpy (as you can see, we forgot a mixing spoon!)
  • Once done mixing, put the bowl on the ground and tap the bowl a few times to remove bubbles.

pouring plaster into a mold

4. Start pouring from beside the track and not directly on it (to avoid destroying the print), and let it flow into the track

  • Once mixed, you’ll need to work quickly as it will start to harden within 10 minutes (faster in hot weather, slower in cold weather)

5. Leave a little extra on the top. You can smooth out the top if you want for a flat surface, but not necessary

  • Let it sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. If it’s very cold, and the plaster freezes before it sets, wait 30 minutes to an hour and then bring it inside to finish setting.

animal track in plaster

6. Once it’s hardened after an hour or overnight, dig around to get it out and bring it inside

  • You can gently wipe some dirt off, but be gentle (as it can still crack since it’s not fully set), but don’t scrub it.

cleaning a plaster animal track

7. Wrap in paper towels and dry overnight indoors

  • Let it dry for a few days, then wash or gently scrub the rest of the dirt off – but leave some as it provides a contrast, or you can paint it.

Plaster Casting: Keep experimenting!

Try casting your own hand, feet, or anything!

Just follow the same instructions for sand or snow!

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