Making leprechaun traps is popular for a reason: Nearly all children are captivated by the lore of the leprechaun. What's not to love about a magical and mischievous creature who loves shiny things and hides his treasure? Even better, leprechauns can inspire real learning. When you set out to trap such a clever creature, you have to be awfully clever yourself, challenging young kids to develop planning and problem-solving skills, creativity and even empathy. In our house, it's become an annual tradition.
- Learn about leprechauns: Although we're partial to Eve Bunting’s That’s What Leprechauns Do, there are many great picture books about leprechauns. Even without a book, a quick google search will lead you to gold.
- Present the problem to solve: Ask kids, “Do you think we can catch a leprechaun?” Few will not believe it’s possible, and most will be game for the challenge. Wee ones may not seem ready to engage, but will benefit from participating in a team project, if older children or you are leading the way.
- Manage expectations: We like to establish that leprechauns, crafty as they are, are extremely hard to catch. However, leprechauns love crafty and clever kids, and are known to leave a little prize in a trap they think is well designed. If you don’t like to talk about magic with kids, you can also be straight with them that leprechauns live in stories and just use their story to inspire this project. For kids, stories and reality are wonderfully blended, and they will enjoy the playful project either way!
- Make a plan: As soon as there is buy-in, ask kids, “How could we trap a leprechaun?” You may need to help kids understand what a “trap” needs to do—entice a leprechaun into it, then keep him in there. You’ll need to think of both a lure or bait AND a mechanism that will trap the leprechaun.
- The lure: It’s really fun to think about how to lure leprechauns. What would they like? What would grab a leprechaun’s attention? Gold? Shiny things? Rainbow colors? Nature treasures? Grab tinfoil, markers, colored paper and whatever you can find outside to decorate your trap and create treasures worthy of luring a leprechaun.
- The trap: Kids may have ideas about how to do this right away. If not, try one of the simple designs below, or do a search together for leprechaun traps, and choose a design you like. If your kids like to draw, encourage them to sketch their plans or work together on a family diagram.
Trap Door: Make a hole in a box or other container. Cover the hole over with something extremely light like grasses or small twigs. Place your shiny bait on top. As soon as the leprechaun steps on the covered hole, they’ll fall right through!
Falling Box: Lean one edge of a box precariously against a stick or other object. Place the bait underneath the box. When the leprechaun goes for the shiny bait, he’ll surely knock the stick out, causing the box to fall and trap him!
- Emphasize empathy: No matter which trap design you go with, use this as an opportunity to teach empathy. Ask kids, “How will we lure the leprechaun into your trap?" or, "What can we put in the leprechaun trap to make him want to come in?” These simple questions challenge young children to take the leprechaun’s point of view—the very basis of empathy. Prompt your young ones to think about this by asking, “What do we know about leprechauns? And what do leprechauns really like?”
- Build the trap: Gather your materials, head outdoors and start making. We like to set up the basic trap first, supporting kids as needed. From there, kids can create the bait (e.g. wrap pebbles or coins in tin foil, coloring with yellow marker), place the bait, then do all that they can to camouflage (e.g. cover with clover, grass, fallen leaves, etc.). We also find that placing the trap outside reduces any potential fears that a leprechaun will come into our home and do mischievous things.
- See if it “worked”: Go back again the next day/morning. Be sure to sneak out ahead of time to remove the bait and plant some kind of “prize” for your clever trap-builders. We have never caught our leprechaun, but the kids are always pleased to receive a shiny treat—a clear sign that the leprechaun was impressed by our clever efforts!
Why is this activity great for kids?
If you can give children a compelling problem to solve, then give them time and space to develop a solution, they’re building problem solving skills and creativity. The more you ask questions and get them talking about their ideas, you’re helping them build communication skills as well. Wrapping pebbles or other objects in aluminum foil or other shiny material is stimulating to even the youngest child's senses of sight and touch. For many children under 3 or 4, it is very challenging to take the perspective of another person or creature. You may find that your 3-year-old will fill the leprechaun trap with her favorite treats. So, thinking about what the leprechaun would want is great practice at thinking about others, which forms a foundation for empathy down the road.