Investigating Footprints

Our Preschool class recently began a study on the big cat family. We researched lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, and more. As we continued the study, the children had considerable interest in footprints. Naturally, we wanted to encourage their interest, so we gave them several opportunities to further investigate footprints.

We provided play-doh and toy animals and let their creativity run wild. The children began experimenting with the toy animals and observing how they leave indentions in the play-doh when you press down.

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One day when the children came outside to play, they were shocked to see four different types of footprints on the playground. We engaged in conversation about the prints, investigated where they started and ended, and discussed what animal made them based on the pattern of the prin

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When the children came to a conclusion that one set of footprints belonged to a lion, they went into character and began “walking” on all fours- like a lion. Their reaction highlights one of the “languages” of the Reggio approach. Children communicate in several different ways, called languages, and they include drawing, music, acting, touching, questioning, sculpting, and more. The more children experience what they’re learning (as opposed to being served what they’re learning) the deeper their understanding and appreciation will be. Their reaction to acting out how a lion walks is remarkable because it shows us that they are understanding the subject on a deeper level, comfortable with their environment, and forming connections between the way a footprint looks to the way the animal walks to the way the animal sounds to what the animal eats to where the animal lives, and so on.

Proof of this was observed as we heard their conversations later in class.  As they talked about animals, we heard them discussing whether they crawled or walked, and how many feet they used to walk.

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The next day we had puddles in the playground because it rained in the morning. The children remembered the animal footprint activity we did the day before and they enjoyed putting their rain boots in the water and making tracks on the concrete. The footprints their rain boots created were unique when compared to all the other ones we’ve studied, so we decided to take a look at human footprints.

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In this activity, we used acrylic paint and each child dipped their foot in paint and then pressed their foot down on a piece of paper. During this project, we discussed primary and secondary colors. We hypothesized and tested which primary colors you add together to make a secondary color and discussed the concept of “shades of color.”

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Since we were studying the differences in animal footprints, then comparing animal footprints to human footprints, together we took our study a step further and included our pets’ footprints. We placed paint on the feet of the turtles and bearded dragons to investigate, observe, and compare their footprints to ours and other animals.

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While we didn’t have a set plan for the direction of this study, our goal was to continue to explore the children’s interests in footprints. We were personally surprised to see that so many children were able to identify such a wide range of animal tracks. We want to stress how unique of an opportunity this is for children to be able to guide the topic based on their interests and be able to experience the project in several ways (painting, acting, sculpting, reading). Our goal is to strive to offer them as many opportunities as we can provide so they can get the most out of the experience, even if that means dipping a lizard’s feet in red paint. 😉

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