Finding the stories of the wild

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Photo: Bailey Repp

Boots squelch down the snowy path, a row of brightly-bundled faces scanning the surroundings as they tromp to today’s wonder-filled outdoor classroom. 

Wildsight educator Jill Jennings encourages the Grade 1 students to use their ‘deer ears’ to listen for sounds of wildlife, their ‘coyote noses’ to smell their surroundings, and their sharp ‘eagle eyes’ as they leave the residential neighbourhood and descend into a grove of towering Douglas firs and wispy aspens, spindly larch and sturdy pine trees that border the now-frozen Mark Creek.

The 12 students arrive at a small clearing a short walk from Kimberley Independent School. They are here for Winter Wonder, a Wildsight education program that uses students’ natural curiosity to help them explore winter ecology and grow a love for the natural world. 

Ms. Dippo’s Grade 1 students sit on squishy green sit pads as they eagerly share what they found on their walk: “I saw scratch marks”; “Sap”; “I heard the river”; “I saw footprints”; “I spotted lots and lots and lots of trees”; and, of course, “I saw poo” — “Me too!”

Before students even realized their learning had already begun, Jill seamlessly transitions into how we can look for wildlife signs like these whenever we’re out in nature.

“Today, we are going to turn into nature detectives,” Jill exclaims.

Bailey Repp

She unfurls a large white sheet amidst oohs and ahhhs from curious kids leaning in to get a good look. These students are the lucky first to use Wildsight’s brand new professional nature-based resource: a Stories in the Wild track sheet. Combining science and artistry, the ground sheet includes tracks from some common North American wild critters including padded lynx paws and distinctive hare tracks, tiny squirrel prints and heart-shaped deer tracks, all imprinted on a ‘snowy’ surface. 

Combining cool facts (like how a snowshoe hare will eat its poop to get more nutrients out, or how a mouse might burrow down to escape a hungry owl) with guided questions, Jill patiently directs students to uncover the mysteries in front of them one by one. She gives hints and demonstrates what kinds of clues to look for (‘how many toes does this track have?’ ‘Do we see any claws on that print?’). Soon, the sheet is filled with the story of animals criss-crossing each other’s paths; some are hunting prey while others flee predators; some search out food sources or safe havens. What began as simple tracks on a ground sheet has turned into a colourful story of animals coexisting in the wild. 

“This resource really allows me to teach students about wildlife in our region in a fun and engaging way,” Jill reflects. “The track sheet allows educators to engage students in learning about wildlife through science and storytelling, and I find it’s an easy way to introduce students to the animals we might find in our wild surroundings.”

Wildsight educators have used a resource like this sheet for years, and Jill says they always find it a highlight of the program. Students are naturally curious, and they like to work out what they see happening on the sheet.

Two students show evidence of deer rub they spotted on a tree during a Winter Wonder program in Kimberley, January 2024. Photo: Bailey Repp

In today’s Winter Wonder program, Ms. Dippo’s class uncovered the secrets of the wildlife tracks on the ground sheet before eagerly taking to the forest and finding their own hidden wildlife tracks. Some kids found a bird’s nest, another found what she thought might be a little burrowing animal hole. A pair of boys even found scratch marks high on a tree, likely made by a foraging deer. This discovery turned into a conversation with the whole class about how deer seek out food in the winter, and the evidence they leave behind.

After a snack, story time, and another activity where they hid ‘mice’ (jello-filled bottles to find again the next day and see if they froze or if they were burrowed safely), it was time to head back to the school. 

When asked what they liked best about today’s program, Zenna gushed: “My favourite part was when we did the animal print sheet and we had to guess what animal it was with the footprints!”

Each year, Wildsight brings hundreds of students into nearby nature to learn in, and from, the wild during our winter season. This year, almost 1,000 students will experience a Winter Wonder program in communities across the Columbia Basin. 

This program wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of Consecon Foundation, Copernicus Education Products, Keefer Ecological, the Province of British Columbia, Teck Trail, and all of our individual donors. Thank you.

We led a workshop through the Outdoor Learning Store to showcase this new resource. Watch it here!


You can purchase the track sheet and accompanying resources on the Outdoor Learning Store!