Do you have a horde of kids and you’ve run out of ideas on how to entertain them? Or maybe working on education, but in need of easy crafts that combine well with learning?
Having a few kids myself, I know it’s a neverending journey the think of something to do for them. One thing I’ve noticed is that they like all things about nature so this guide on how to make plaster casts of animal tracks is a fun way to combine learning and nature.
Looking for wildlife tracks can be so much fun for kids even if we adults aren’t always that excited and as stated before it is also a great learning experience for kids. It is an excellent way to document and preserve animal tracks by making plaster molds of the wildlife tracks.
The best thing is, kids can easily make plaster molds of animal tracks with the help of an adult. If the child is older, he or she can make the plaster moldings themselves of the animal tracks or help the younger ones.
Here you will find step-by-step instructions on how kids can capture animal tracks by making plaster molds.
The materials needed before begin the process are
- Plaster of Paris
- Some type of old containers to be used for mixing
- Spray shellac
- Cutting utensils such as a knife
- Sandpaper and paint
How to begin
Step 1: Take a walk in a nature preserve area or around where you live. Near water or moist ground is a great place to start as many animals head to rivers, lakes, and streams to get drinks of water.
If a child has never looked for tracks previously, adult guidance on what animal tracks look like would be very beneficial for the child. If you’ve got small children, even house animal footprints could be fun.
Bringing along a book that shows photos or pictures of animal tracks can also be very helpful for identification purposes. It’s also a sneaky way to learn more about different tracks as they are comparing them all the time.
Step 2: When an animal track is finally found, clean the area by removing stones, leaves, or any type of debris that may be on or in the animal track. You want a clean surface to work on and don’t want more dirt on your cast than you have to.
Step 3: Spray the track area with the shellac, make sure to cover the area well with the shellac. It’s a natural primer so it will help with the casting process by sealing the ground and making the ground materials stick together.
Step 4: Make a cardboard ring around the animal track area and gently push it into the ground, the cardboard should be a total of about 5-6 inches tall pushing approximately 2-3 inches in the ground.
This will make it a stable mold around the footprint and you will have easy time casting the plaster into the mold.
Step 5: Mix approximately 2 cups of the plaster of Paris in an old container and slowly add water until it is about the consistency of thick cream. Pour the plaster carefully and gently into the cardboard ring about 2 inches tall. Allow time for the plaster to harden, approximately 20 minutes, although the amount of time depends on weather conditions and ground temperature.
At cold temperatures, all the cement products cure slowly so you might need to take your time in that kind of season. If you’re moving with kids my tip would be to have something fun to do while they wait. Look for more footprints or get a fire going and have some snacks.
Step 6: When plaster hardens, lift the plaster mold up, take off the cardboard ring, scrape excess dirt off with a knife and rinse cast gently with water. This will be the only time that you will be making this plaster mold, you use this mold over and over again to make the animal track plaster cast.
Now you’re done with the first animal track cast. After this, just repeat the process as many times you can handle and have fun doing it before moving on.
Step 7: When you are back at home or in the classroom, have kids apply a thin layer of Vaseline on the animal track mold and the flat area around the animal track mold.
This way the another layer of plaster won’t stick to the old one as vaseline is there inbetween the layers.
Step 8: Lay the plaster mold on a flat surface with the animal track facing up and again surround the plaster mold with a cardboard ring.
Using the same process as earlier for mixing the plaster of Paris, gently pour the plaster into the cardboard ring on top of the plaster mold, approximately 2 inches tall. Allow time for the plaster to dry.
Step 9: Once dry, gently remove the casted plaster from the top of the first cast done in nature and remove the cardboard ring from around it. Separate the two layers, the plaster mold, and plaster cast, wipe Vaseline from both sides.
Use sandpaper to smooth out the new plaster cast and wash with water. Don’t use too much water or the plaster will get all soft.
Step 10: When the new animal track plaster cast is dry, paint the inside of the animal track with black paint. Now you have a nice pressed footprint for the kids to show off with.
Optional: A great follow-up activity is to have kids draw pictures of animal tracks and label them in a journal-type book, kids could even add photos or pictures of the animal that the wildlife track came from.
Teaching children how to make plaster casts of animal tracks is a fun way to spend some extra time with them learning something useful. It’s something that is easy to combine with any nature trip as the materials don’t weigh much and are easy to mix.
Just remember to bring enough snacks with you to keep the smallest ones happy. As an extra thought, it’s good to have the kids achieve something so if you can sneakily let them succeed, do that a lot.