Footprints in the snow—books to extend learning

bird footprints in fresh snow, under the feeder

Bird footprints in fresh snow

With 18 inches on the ground, and another 2–4 inches of snow due Tuesday, is it any wonder I’m thinking of how to make the most of this unique material in school? When we get back to school we’ll look for signs of animal activity and read to learn how animals live in the snow.

Earlier in the week (before the fourth snow day this year—now we’re up to six) I read a book about animals who live in the snow with groups of 4-10 children:

Who Lives in the Snow? by Jennifer Berry Jones, illustrated by Consie Powell (Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2001).

The detailed ¾ cut-away pictures allow readers to look under the snow and see what animals are doing. The children enjoyed pointing to and counting the animals, asking about the animal names, and talking about what animals they are familiar with. The weasel was a new one for my East coast city kids but they did recognize the fox. Some groups of preschool children will want to hear the entire text on each page but most will be happier with less. Each time you read it the children will want a little more. The information is fascinating and the glossary helps with new terms. Did you know that the vole uses a network of tunnels under the snow and that snow can actually flow like water?

I’m eager to read another book, Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance R. Bergum  (Peachtree Publishers, 2009), which has a similar theme but introduces some different animals. The publisher offers a simple, appealingly silly, Readers’ Theater script at

Children may be more familiar with what traces of animal activity they see on top of the snow. They enjoy finding footprints in snow, mud, or sand and guessing who made them. I made fake dinosaur footprints in the snow and the children noticed them (but nobody was fooled).

Mystery Animal Tracks: A photo riddle book by Kelly Barnhill (Capstone Press, 2010) introduces tracks with a human example and then gives text clues to the owner of each footprint before revealing the animal that made it on the next page. The text clues only work if the children have some familiarity with the animal so you can omit them or skip the misleading ones such as “Backwards Bounder” for a rabbit. It’s unfortunate that the raccoon was labeled a “bandit” with the markings of a “robber’s mask”. But the photos of footprints in place show how the animal moved in addition to the shape of their feet. You can wonder aloud, “I wonder why (this animal) has big/small/padded/hoofed feet?” to begin a conversation about how feet function.

Your children may enjoy making handprints and footprints in playdough indoors after exploring what prints they can find or make outdoors in snow, sand, or mud.


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  1. Posted February 21, 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to imagine all the snow that’s fallen this winter in the Washington D.C. area. The “winter wonderland” effect has probably lost its charm by now. Out here near San Francisco, California, we’ve had some rain, thankfully, but still not enough to fill the reservoirs. I have to admit that I sometimes get nostalgic for snow days (I grew up in Connecticut) until I remember all the snow shoveling and frosty feet.

    One of my favorite snow books is Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. My pre-k class loves hearing the true story of a boy so fascinated by snowflakes he became determined to photograph them. The illustrations are gorgeous and it’s inspiring to learn how Wilson Bentley kept trying year after year to photograph the delicate flakes before they melted. Here’s a scientist children can relate to.

    Since we don’t have snow at my school we focus on cold temperatures and ice. We do experiments to learn where ice cubes will melt most quickly in our classroom or outside and where the ice cubes will melt most slowly. I also give children opportunities to use thermometers to measure different temperature water. They love watching the red line go up and down from ice water to warm water. It’s not the same as making snowballs but it is real.

  2. Peggy Ashbrook
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Marie, a good thing about pairing classrooms across the country is that through exchanging letters and photos, children can begin to understand that what is too much precipitation in some places would be welcome in others. I hope you get more rain, just the right amount.

    What do you think about pairing the book, Snowflake Bentley, with another children’s biography of Wilson Bentley, My Brother Loved Snowflakes to show children that there is more to any story than is told in one book? I especially like the perspective on the Bentley family, how they supported Wilson’s fascination and persistence in recording snowflakes.

    Another question: What type of thermometer do you find most useful for four-year-olds? Are there any thermometers that show the change in temperature by another means, such as color change, that even younger children could use?

  3. Posted February 24, 2010 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Pairing preschoools is a great idea and so is pairing books. I’m not familiar with My Brother Loved Snowflakes. I’ll look for it. I also love to read different versions of the same story –for example, The Three Little Pigs or The Little Red Hen — and ask children what they notice that is the same and what is different. It really gets them thinking.

    As for thermometers, I found that my local hardware store carried sturdy basic thermometers that one would typically hang outdoors. The thermometers are mounted on a plastic backing which makes them easy to handle. The red temperature line moves quickly up and down in the bowls of different temperature water so it’s very satisfying for the children. Even very young children can watch the red line go up and down.

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