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.
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Step 1: 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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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 something in a trap they think is well designed.
If you don’t like to focus on magic with kids, you can also be straight with them that leprechauns live in stories and just use their story to inspire this project. Ask, "If creatures like leprechauns were real, how would we design a trap to catch one?" For kids, stories and reality are wonderfully blended, and they will enjoy the playful project either way!
Step 4: 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. This part is a superb exercise in empathy.
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!
Step 5: 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?”
Step 6: 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.
Step 7: 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. Perhaps best of all, thinking about what the leprechaun would want is great practice at thinking about others, which forms a foundation for empathy down the road. Read more about how this simple activity supports empathy on our blog.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What are Problem Solving Skills?
When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
What is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to think and care about the feelings and needs of others. The good news is, the more we study, it appears that children are empathetic by nature. All we need to do is nurture it in them—that of course is now always easy. Even though young children are simply working on gaining control over their emotions and won’t learn to really think about their emotions and the cause and effect of their behavior on others until their school years, they can start to develop the foundation for empathy much earlier. Taking actions (and watching adults take actions) that benefit other people, caring for animals and their environment and even just wondering how other people or creatures are feeling helps build both positive habits and a strong base for the development of empathy.
Why does it matter?
Empathy is at the root of what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior—behavior that people must develop in order to develop a conscience, build close relationships, maintain friendships, and develop strong communities. Empathy also helps kids avoid bullying, one of the most worrisome social challenges young kids face. Being able to think and feel for others can keep kids from becoming either bully or victim and equip them to stand up for others who are bullied. Imagine if all kids had such tools!