Trapping Leprechauns: so much to do, so little time

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A spontaneous group project grew into a lesson in creativity, design, engineering, and psychology.

I had a plan going into school today. We’ve been exploring innovative artists. Jackson Pollock was on the agenda, and I was planning  an activity where the children could stand in the middle of a huge canvas and explore art as a process- using lots of different tools and textures and paints. I stopped by the grocery store on my way to work, to grab some whisks to use as tools for applying paint. At the front of the store there was a big St. Patrick’s Day display. Green food, Guinness, and plastic pots of gold.

On a whim, I decided I would share St. Patrick’s Day with the class. Half of my heritage is Irish, and  I’ve always enjoyed the day myself. We have a diverse group of students, so I knew many of them wouldn’t have heard about it. We also have an Irish student enrolled, and I was looking forward to talking about the holiday with him. I thought it would be fun to touch on some of the cultural traditions associated with the day, and with Ireland. I bought some shamrock stickers, and little brownies with green sprinkles.  Before the students arrived my co-teacher and I pulled out some traditional Irish folk stories and leprechaun tales, and added them to the bookshelf. This was still intended to be a side note to our other plans for the day.

Sometimes, things grow beyond our control and take on a life of their own. This was one of those times. We read one of the folk tales at morning circle time. Only a few of the children had heard of leprechauns before. They loved the idea. From the shamrocks and the Irish dancing, to the idea of tiny people who love gold and play tricks. They loved the magic, clever shenanigans, and riddles. Their eyes were bright with excitement and they couldn’t stop asking questions. They talked enthusiastically about what they would do with gold, and whether any of them had ever seen a fairy or a leprechaun before. In the midst of all of the excitement I turned to my co-teacher and whispered- “Let’s make leprechaun traps!” She loved the idea. When you are a somewhat impulsive and creative person it’s a real gift to have flexible co-workers. “Keep them busy!” I called, and ran into the storage room. I pulled out a bunch of tissue boxes, felt, Popsicle sticks, paper, sequins, glitter, bottle caps, and other treasures that seemed fit for the project. When I returned I invited the children “if anyone is interested in building a leprechaun trap, join me at the tables.” There was a stampede. Every single child madly dashed to the art tables in a creative fervor, and began gathering supplies.

Once they were settled I told them “Guess what? This is a surprise leprechaun party. It even surprised me, because I just now decided it was a party. SURPRISE!” and I passed out the brownies and stickers. Their excitement and happiness was tangible.  What could be better than a surprise party that even surprised the teachers? As they ate their brownies, we thought about what a leprechaun trap would need. This is what the children came up with as a group:

It would need to be hidden or camouflaged in some way, because leprechauns are clever.
It would need to be small, because leprechauns are small.
It would need some type of door or opening.
The leprechaun would either need to walk inside voluntarily, or the trap would need to surprise him- either with a trap door, or by falling on him.
If a leprechaun is going to check out the trap, we would need to add things that leprechauns would find interesting.

As the children began to build, they came up with a variety of innovative designs for their traps. Some of them made little houses or hotels or restaurants. These became tiny buildings with furniture and doors and signs, that looked like they were part of a leprechaun village. Some of them covered their boxes in sparkles or gold, because leprechauns like gold. One student filled her box entirely with cotton balls “because eventually the leprechaun will get tired and then it will look for someplace cozy.” One student had the idea to create a beautiful pretend leprechaun girl (like a mannequin) to lure any leprechauns looking for romance. As they worked out how to construct these traps, and used glue and sticks and tape, they became architects, and designers. Seeing things from the point of view of the leprechaun was an exercise in psychology and empathy. We discussed whether any of us might actually catch one, and if so, would we be willing to split the treasure? This was math. Probability and statistics and predictions. They remembered our story and used to to guess what might happen. They used signs and arrows and drew shamrocks and wrote notes to show the leprechauns where to go. This was a literacy exercise- reading, and writing, and storytelling. The entire time they worked, they talked through what they were doing. Explaining how the traps worked, and offering ideas to the students sitting around them. One child would throw out an idea, “What if we put a pot of gold inside?” and another child would build on it “Oh yes, these gold sequins could look like coins, or maybe we can cover a stone in glitter…” The room was abuzz with creative energy for a full hour. We delayed snack time and our second circle time so that they would have more time to work. When it was finally time to clean up, about a third of the children vowed that they would continue perfecting their traps at home.

We brought our traps outside, and then had a picnic in the grass. During our picnic, at the request of the children, we read another leprechaun tale. In the story, the leprechaun uses his wits to get out of trouble. When the book was over, and everyone was done eating, the children began to play. I watched them act out the stories, search for four leaf clovers, and hunt under bushes and trees with the hopes of glimpsing a little person.

At the end of the day, the children headed home covered in glitter, and glue, and paint. They were wide-eyed with excitement and stories to tell. Each set of little hands proudly and carefully carried a one-of-a-kind leprechaun trap. I can’t wait to hear what they catch.

As I stayed after class for a few extra minutes to clean up the aftermath of our project, I reflected on the day. I was so proud of their creativity and ingenuity, and the way every child had been included and worked together. Yes, we went off course from the plan. Very far off course actually. But at the end of the day they  had discovered many new things about art as a process, and so much more. My book about Jackson Pollock, and my Pollock art activity will still be there tomorrow. And tomorrow I will show up with my intentions and plans and supplies, and I will set my course. And the little explorers might steer us in a totally different direction. I will go willingly, seeking adventure, and following their excitement and interests like the North Star.

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