Build Leprechaun Traps Using Simple Machines

How to Catch a Leprechaun

Pot of gold on a green field
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St. Patrick's Day’s lore and legends about leprechauns provide a unique opportunity for you to to blend the elements of a holiday, legends, and engineering into a teachable moment--building a leprechaun trap using simple machines.

As most kids can tell you, if you catch a leprechaun he will do just about anything he has to escape, even tell you where you can find his pot of gold. However, catching a leprechaun isn’t nearly as easy as it may seem.

While your child may have made craft-oriented leprechaun traps before, now is your chance to help him learn about the six types of simple machines that might make it easier to build a sturdy and effective leprechaun trap.

Goal of Activity:

Your child will learn about the six types of simple machines and put his new-found knowledge to work to build a leprechaun trap.

Skills Targeted:

  • knowing the six types of simple machines and being able to describe how they work
  • creating a schematic plan and basic engineering
  • combining STEM education with literacy

Recommended Children’s Books:

  • The Leprechaun Trap: A Family Tradition For Saint Patrick's Day by David and Kelly Clinch
  • Clever Tom and the Leprechaun by Linda Shute
  • How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert Wells

Recommended article for parents and older children:

Six Kinds of Simple Machines

Quick Discussion Points About Simple Machines:

  • There are six kinds of simple machines-- lever, wheel, and axle, inclined plane, wedge, screw, pulley. Each machine is for its mechanical advantage. That is the ability of the machine to reduce the amount of force you need to put into something and increase the output of force it creates.
  • Not all simple machines will reduce work in all situations. Each one works well in different circumstances. For instance, a lever can help you reduce the amount of force you need to pry something up, but a screw would not be helpful in the same situation.

Materials Needed:

  • Items that can be used as simple machines. (​There are a number of different construction and building toys that have smaller versions of the simple machines. You can also create pulleys with building wheels and string and inclined planes, wedges and levers from blocks, cardboard, sticks or other materials.)
  • shoeboxes, colanders, bowls or other "trapping" items
  • paper and pencil
  • green glitter
  • a small toy to represent a leprechaun


  1. Read the article, book or other information about simple machines with your child. Ask your child to identify the six and help him provide you with a brief description of how each one works. See if he can find an example of each type of machine in your house and explain how it is reducing the workload of the item it is a part of.
  2. Read or talk about leprechaun legends and stories. Ask: What do you know about leprechauns? Why are they so hard to catch? What are they willing to do to gain their freedom if you do catch them?
  3. Tell your child that most people have been unable to capture leprechauns because the traps they make are too inefficient (wink, wink), but since he has just learned about simple machines, he should be able to to design a better trap.
  4. Have your child sketch out his idea for a leprechaun trap that uses at least one simple machine. Explain that since leprechauns don’t like to be seen, the trap will have to be able to be triggered when he’s not looking. Ask him to think about how to make his machine be triggered by the weight of a "leprechaun" or as a leprechaun trips over a string.
  1. Look over the sketch together, talk about the plan and let your child loose to create his trap. Once he is done, use a small toy to represent a leprechaun and practice triggering the trap.
  2. If the trap doesn't work, help your child see what needs to be reworked and try again. If it works, reset it, bait it with green glitter and other glittery things that leprechauns like and leave it until morning.

Note: To reward your child’s efforts, whether he catches a leprechaun or not, it’s a good idea to leave some coins (either real or chocolate) for him to find the next morning!