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Outsmart a Leprechaun

Age: 3 to 8+ Time: Under 1 hour
Materials: box, tin foil, gold paint or pipe cleaners (optional)
Skills: Creativity, Problem Solving, Empathy

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 not only garner children's interest, but they 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. Try it, and it may well become an annual tradition.

The Guide

  1. Learn about leprechauns: Although we're partial to Eve Bunting’s That’s What Leprechauns Do, there is no shortage of great picture books about leprechauns. Even without a book, leprechauns have been made known to kids for ages simply by telling their story. A quick google search will lead you to gold in this regard.
  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 be ready to engage, but will benefit from the team project to follow, if older children are leading the way. Note: 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.
  3. 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—make a leprechaun want to come into the trap, then close and keep him in there. Kids may have ideas about how to do this right away. If not, do a search together for leprechaun traps, and talk through the designs, looking for one that kids understand and find exciting. If your kids like to draw, encourage them to sketch their plans or work together on a family diagram.
  4. Emphasize empathy: No matter which trap design you go with, you can use this as an opportunity to teach empathy. What we really like to ask kids is, “How will we lure the leprechaun into your trap?" or, "What can we put in the trap to make the leprechaun want to come in?” These simple questions are challenging for young children, because they require them 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?”
  5. 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. sprinkle or even glue on clovers, grass, fallen leaves, etc.).
  6. 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.

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, you give them a foundation for building both problem solving skills and creativity. The more you ask questions and get them talking about their ideas, you help them build communication skills as well. Further, the chance to wrap 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, this exercise of thinking about what the leprechaun would want is great practice at thinking about others, which forms a foundation for empathy down the road.

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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