Our wolf study was done with children ages 3-9 years old and turned out to be a great success. We noticed that through the time we spent on the subject using play, crafts, stories and live interactions with these amazing animals, the children have picked up a great deal of knowledge. And their perception of the wolf has formed based on actual understanding of this animal and its characteristics, rather than ages-old biased folklore, movies and general misconceptions of the ‘big bad wolf’.
We are very proud of the results accomplished, and are planning to return to the wolf study again later in Spring, around the time when pups are born in the wild.
What we did
We started things off with a little story with a little story that we wrote about two little children — Fai and Veter — who live with their family in a beautiful treehouse in the forest. They love and play with all the animals, but their best friends are the wolves, who are the forest’s guardians.
After the story, we gave the children a chance to listen to a wolf howl using a short Youtube video. And of course afterwards we practiced howling together.
Next the children were able to trace their hand and foot on a paper against a actual-size wolf footprint. It was fun watching them compare the size of their fingers and feet to those of a wolf.
On the nature walk we played lots of chase where kids pretended to be wolves chasing a deer. And then we made some wolf-print art on the snow, by shaking some turmeric, spirulina and chocolate powders on the stencils we prepared for this curriculum. This activity was quite a hit with the youngest kids. 🙂
Later that day when we returned to the cabin, we used some of the forest treasures brought from the nature walk to make another wolf print craft, as yet an additional way to learn the shape and size of wolf footprints.
We also played a little game of finding the wolf footprint among a number of other animal prints and I was impressed how the kids chose the correct one EACH AND EVERY TIME! 🙂
It is also fun to watch how every time on our nature walks the kids now look for tracks in the snow, trying to find any wolf prints. There are plenty of large dog track out there, so the kids get a thrill from finding something similar to wolf prints in real life! And even though I tell them we don’t have wild wolves in Colorado and it most likely is a large dog, they respond to me confidently that THAT track is definitely from a wolf! 🙂
Our wolf study culminated with an event where were we spent some time with real wolves from Colorado Wolf Adventures. You can see lots of our photos from that incredible day at this blog post.
And after we hugged, pet and howled with the wolves as much as we desired (although some of us, me included, wished we could just live with the wolves 24/7) we had a little hot cocoa and cookie break.
Following the delicious break we talked about how wolves communicate. Did you know that in addition to body language and howling, wolves also have very distinctive facial expressions? The kids had a blast practicing making various wolf expressions and of course doing lots and lots of howling. 🙂
One of the most important things we wanted children to learn (in addition to having first-hand experience in seeing that wolves aren’t the big and scary meanies portrayed in traditional folklore) was to learn about the vital role of wolves in the ecosystem. So I created a print out for each child showing the ecosystem of Yellowstone park without the wolves (prior to their re-introduction) and the ecosystem since the return of the wolves using this stunning illustration from the Living With Wolves project.
Each child was asked to spot something different between the two pictures, such as the absence of fish, beavers and frogs in the river in the forest without wolves compared to the abundant river life since the return of the wolves. Or the numerous birds and other animals in the forest with the wolves, while the forest with no wolves had mostly deer and coyotes. And then we discussed the reasons for those differences observing how all the life forms are interconnected and having wolves present in Yellowstone has benefited many other species. This little activity was a great success with kids 4 and up.
To wrap things up, we created little memory bottles using some shedded wolf hair. My little 2.5 year old son hung his on our Christmas tree upon returning home that day. 🙂
Resources for Educators
In closing, I wanted to share with you some resources for learning and teaching about wolves. My favorite place to go is The Living With Wolves project by Jim and Jamie Dutcher in conjunction with National Geographic. The biologists Jim and Jamie Dutcher have lived among a pack of wolves for an extensive period of time and through that experience have gained incredible insight into their nature, social structure, relationships and the individual traits of different animals within the pack. Here is their beautiful website full of beautiful photos, videos and lots of information with great illustrations to accompany it.
Living with Wolves website
Every page of this website is both a treasure of knowledge and a work of art at the same time. Here are some of my favorite ones:
- Meet the wolf
- Social Wolf
- Why Wolves Matter
- Wolf Language
- Explore the Wolf interactive page
- Wolves and Eco-System interactive page
- Distinguishing between Coyotes, Wolves and Dogs
- Learning to identify wolf’s tracks, scat and den sights
- Wolf track identification from Department of Fish and Wildlife Oregon
- Another good page on the Department of Fish and Wildlife Oregon website
And here are some book recommendation:
- The Wolf from the First Discovery series by Laura Bour. Usually you can find a used one on Amazon. This appears to be a favorite with the kids — I often see them flipping through this book on their own at the school.
- Never Cry Wolf — the classic. Funny, engaging and highly educational
- The Hidden Life of Wolves — stunning photography, great information
- The Sea Wolves — another breathtaking book. This one specifically focuses on the coast of British Columbia, where wolves are unique in the way that their diet is 80% seafood. You can also take a look at the Sea Wolves feature in the National Geographic.