Skill Building with Shamrocks- A St. Patrick’s Day Activity for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Since St. Patrick’s day is right around the corner, I figured it would be fun share one of our favorite March activities. Today we are having our yearly shamrock hunt, but this time we are doing things a little differently as the kids are getting older and each have different skills that we are focusing on developing. The nice thing about this activity is that it can be modified to be appropriate for both toddlers and preschoolers (ages about 18 months to 5 years, give or take) so I will share how we have adapted it over the last few years to focus on different ages and on building different skills.

-A computer with the internet and printer (or some mad shamrock drawing skills)
-Green paper (different shades are optional, or white paper with some green markers for shamrock coloring)
-stickers, markers, crayons, glue, glitter (optional)
-basket, bucket, or bowl for shamrock collection
-containers for shamrock sorting (optional)

For toddlers:
One of the first important skills to work on with toddlers is following simple one or two step directions. This skill opens the door to so many fun activities and projects (and eventually to the self cleaned room of a preschooler) so I think it’s a good skill to start with. Here is what we did:

1. Get online and do a google search for a “shamrock template” to print out. There are a ton out there and available to print so it shouldn’t be hard to find. When the kids were toddlers, I chose a template that had shamrocks which were all the same size and shape and I chose to print out about 12-16 shamrocks on some festive kelly green paper. Then cut them all out (this is the most tedious part of the project).

2. Get a bucket, basket, or bowl to place in the middle of whatever room you are using for this activity. Then go hide all of the shamrocks around the room. For younger toddlers, you may want to hide them in plain sight at first so they can warm up to the concept of having to find something, especially if this is their first encounter with this kind of activity.

3. Bring in your toddler and explain to them what you expect them to do: find a green shamrock, then put it in the basket… Then demonstrate this for them and cheer and clap for yourself when you find one and again when you get it into the basket. Then ask them to do the same. They may need some help and guidance at first but you’d be surprised how quickly they will catch on, especially with continuous positive reinforcement from you. They may want you to hide them again and again, or they may get bored and decide they’ve had enough. Either way, this is a great way to introduce some basic direction following, while keeping it a fun and positive experience for your toddler. And remember, sometimes kids need to see and try things numerous times before they understand or have interest in it so if your tot isn’t into this activity at first, it doesn’t mean they never will be.

We first did this with Zoren when he was about 14 months old, and although it was a hot mess of direction following at first, he got the hang of it pretty quickly and we ended up hiding, finding, and basketing shamrocks for about 20 minutes before he got bored.

How to expand on this activity with your toddler:
- give them a chance to do the hiding of the shamrocks for you to run around and find.
- talk to them about the color of the shamrocks, mentioning they are green each time he/she finds one for awhile, then proposing the question, “Yay! You found another one! What color is the shamrock?” after they have heard you repeat the color to them multiple times.
-make it a point to lay the shamrocks out after the hunt, maybe in sets of three or five and count each set with your toddler, then count them all together. This is a great way to introduce counting to your toddler.
-once they have the hang of it and are ready for more of a challenge you can really start to have fun and expand on skill building by introducing a different color or size in the mix, along with containers for sorting. Once all the shamrocks are found you can sit down with your toddler and help him/her sort the two colors or two sizes into separate containers.

For preschoolers:

1. Just as with toddlers, we start by locating a shamrock template online. Google search “shamrock template”, find one or more that you want to use, and print them out. This year I chose two templates with different sized shamrocks on them and used three different shades of green construction paper to print them on. So we have a total of 18 small shamrocks in varying shades of green, and 9 large shamrocks in the same varying shades of green.

2. Hide all of the shamrocks, and make it a little difficult with only tiny parts of green sticking out to alert them, or make it really difficult for older preschoolers and hide them completely out of sight.

3. Call in your preschooler(s), give them a bucket, and let the hunting begin.

4. Once all of the shamrocks have been found, it’s time for a little skill building. Have an open discussion about the similarities and differences between the shamrocks. Provide containers for sorting and ask them to sort out the shamrocks without much instruction. This will allow them to use their own problem solving skills and allow them to choose how they want to sort things. Then ask them to sort again with more direction from you, i.e. sort by shade of green, or sort by size, or sort by both color and size. Also ask them to count how many shamrocks they have sorted into each container, then to count them all together. You can also make simple addition problems using the shamrocks, which I something I plan to do with Zoren today, because he is really interested in math.

5. Turn it into a crafty project. Once everyone is bored with the hunting and sorting, it’s time to decorate the shamrocks to display for the holiday. Be creative and use whatever you have to decorate them. Younger kids will be happy with some stickers and crayons, and older preschoolers may want to take the glue and glitter route. Once they are done, let the kids decorate their rooms with them, or hang some up on the fridge, whatever floats your boat. We keep a long doubled string of yarn hanging up in the kids playroom with tiny clothespins attached so we can hang up all of their seasonal creations.

I hope you get a chance to try some version of this with your little ones, because it really is a lot of fun for everyone! If you have any other fun ideas on how to expand on this activity even more, please let me know! I am always looking for new things to incorporate that encourage learning in an engaging way!