by Meghan Fitzgerald
A week ago, we shared a tip with our community that designing and setting a leprechaun “trap”—an activity that drove nearly half a million google searches in the past week alone—is not only fun but provides kids with natural lessons in empathy. This is because planning and creating a leprechaun trap boosts kids’ developing cognitive empathy—a fancy name for the ability to think about the needs and feelings of someone else.
When you make a leprechaun trap, you have to think about what a leprechaun would like or what they would be drawn to—thinking about the needs and feelings of someone else requires cognitive empathy. This simple question is a big task for little kids, who tend to think about the world from their own perspective.
A few suggestions were added to help families make the classic project their own. First, for families for whom magical creatures contradict their values, we encouraged them to be clear with kids that leprechauns are in stories and leave the element of fantasy out of it.
We also offered an alternative to support kids who felt like trapping felt mean. Instead of building a trap, build a leprechaun oasis! What would a leprechaun love? How could we make them feel comfortable, welcome and valued?
Much to our delight, hundreds of families took the oasis idea and ran with it. We’ve been flooded by stories of families who have never felt really inspired to “trap” but just loved to provide for a leprechaun. The stories of how kids showed love, care and so much empathy for creatures they have only imagined. Here's just a few of the stories we've heard:
“Leprechaun oasis done, complete with soft space, stickers, books to read if he wants to rest, an apple and a proposition lol. The activity definitely tapped into his empathy and inspired him to create nests for all the robins that flew into town the last couple days #tgmoments”
“My oldest decided she doesn't wish to do a trap. We decorated a box and wrote a thank you note. Left a flashlight on so they could find their way, and some chocolates to enjoy while visiting.”
“Y'all. I confess, I've never done a leprechaun trap before. But the oasis idea felt like a game changer. My kids had different ideas... I mentioned creating a spot for a leprechaun to visit, and they were off! Turns out our Tinkergarten "forest fairies" also love leprechaun play. Who was I to complain when they went straight for their forest fairy materials and played leprechauns for an hour before bringing this little setup inside instead of asking for lucky charms?”
Kids have such deep capacity for empathy, and the more we give them experiences that strengthen that natural tendency, the more they will approach the world with empathy going forward. Once you feel that goodness, it sticks with you for the long haul!
The good news? We don’t need a holiday to spark this kind of cognitive empathy in kids. Here are three more chances to spark empathy this spring!
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