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Childrens singing games

05 Jun 10 - 09:30 AM (#2921217)
Subject: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

In these days of paid childrens entertainers do children still play singing games like 'Ring-a-Roses' and 'Oranges and Lemons' at children's parties?

In the late 40s we did, also games like Postman's Knock that involved kissing, but by the time we might have wanted to take someone outside the door and kiss them we were too old for such childish games.

I'd like to build a picture of the playing of singing games in different decades so can you tell me when you played them and how old you were please.

In London in the late 1940s the under 10s (my memory isn't quite clear how young, but there would have been a mixed age bunch of cousins) were organised into playing them at parties

05 Jun 10 - 10:37 AM (#2921237)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Tug the Cox

Big ship sails on the allay allay o
The farmers in his den
In and out the dusty bluebells
London bridge is falling down ( last person is decapitated!!)

all around in London Playgrounds of the 50's.

06 Jun 10 - 08:06 AM (#2921685)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

Thanks Tug.

I've got a gig in a primary school were they are preparing for a "Culture Exchange" evening, with visiting Ukrainian children. They have a team of Ukrainian dancers from Manchester performing, and Morrismen, and an Early Music group, and I'm teaching the older children English dances from 1651, 1908,1957 & 2008, I thought I'd teach (remind) the 4-7 yr olds some singing games to perform.
Which started me wondering if they are played now, and if not, when they stopped.

06 Jun 10 - 06:10 PM (#2922006)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Steve Gardham

Nearly all superceded by clapping games in the 70s. Oh and draconian playground safety rules put the mockers on a lot of it. See Iona Opie's book 'The People in the Playground' and Steve Roud's major update of the Opies' 'Lore and Language' should be out any time now.

07 Jun 10 - 07:40 AM (#2922263)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

Thanks Steve. What age are the experts in clapping games (Infants or Juniors)?

07 Jun 10 - 07:53 AM (#2922273)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: GUEST,Ed

Nearly all superceded by clapping games in the 70s

Personal experience would not bear that out. I was born in '67 and clearly remember playing 'Oranges and Lemons' (with the chopping off head bit) although it was a playground game rather than a party one.

I'm guessing I was 6 or 7, so 1973/4.

I have a vague recollection of playing 'Ring-a-Roses' but can't remember any details. There were various skipping games that had rhymes but I can't recall ever playing any clapping games.


07 Jun 10 - 08:15 AM (#2922291)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

I learnt these games at home (probably supervised by someone's parents), my husband learnt them from a teacher (Yorkshire, 1940s), and you learnt them in the Playground.

07 Jun 10 - 08:35 AM (#2922302)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Tug the Cox

The playground....without any adult influence...was normally the place..passed on virtually unchanged for generations ( compare collections by Gomme and the Opies).
    Adults often suppresed them in the name of safety, and old playground ganes like Ji Jimmy Knacker, British Bulldog,Hoppity bump etc were all 'outlawed' when I was in primary school in the fifties.

29 Jun 11 - 08:48 AM (#3178263)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: GUEST,kasbee

I'm currently teaching traditional playground games at a school in south london... the children are hearing many of these rymes and games for the first time and are a real hit. after a hour sining cats got the messals I often have no voice

30 Jun 11 - 06:00 AM (#3178960)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

Re-reading this thread a year on stirs memories.
Although most of the songs were taught by parents as party games we played 'The big ship sails on the alley-alley-o' at infant school (W. Kensington) in the playground.
At junior school (E.Acton) games went in waves. Sometimes it would be balls against the wall, or skipping (with long or short ropes), or we used a set of steps that went all along the front of a building (10 or more could stand on the same step)to play 'days of the week', then we'd had enough of that and played 'what's the time Mr Wolf'

At Secondary school (Chiswick) there was a tradition of singing in the playground on the last day of term. I remember a big row one year because the Boys side (it was 2 schools at different ends of the building) had gone in for End of Term Service while the Girls were outside singing
She was bathing in the river and she got her *toes* all wet
But she hasn't got her - - wet
*(different each verse), tune similar to John Brown's body.

The headmistress stormed out and said there was to be 'no singing'. There was a lot of muttering and plans not to sing in our end of term service, but I think it was shortened to avoid this.

30 Jun 11 - 07:14 PM (#3179360)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: paula t

I teach singing games as part of music lessons at primary school.My year 3 and 4 children have just composed and recorded some of their own,and written down their lyrics, so that others can learn and play them. They based them on old favourites such as "A sailor went to sea,sea,sea" and "Salt, pepper, vinegar, mustard" etc. Noisy lessons, but fun!

01 Jul 11 - 01:57 PM (#3179830)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games

I was born in 1956 and my sister in 1960. We grew up in the urban northeastern USA. Singing was more of a girls' thing back then. One endlessly-repeating song my sister used to sing was

Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black black black
With silver buttons buttons buttons
All down her back back back
She asked her mother mother mother
For fifteen cents cents cents
To see the elephants elephants elephants
They jump so high high high
They reach the sky sky sky
And she never came back back back
And that was the end end end
Of Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black black black (etc.)

The music for every line of this song was the same:
Tonic, second, third, fourth, fourth, fourth

She was also fond of singing a version of My Little Playmate:

My little playmate
Come out and play with me
Climb up my apple tree
Hee hee hee hee hee hee
Slide down my rainbow
Into my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
Forevermore forevermore

One song I can remember us boys singing at around age 11 or 12 went to the tune of John Brown's Body:

She waded in the water and she got her ankles wet (repeat 3 times)
But she didn't get her wet... yet

In each verse the water would rise another anatomical landmark up her leg until after she had gotten her thighs wet in the previous verse the concluding verse ran:

She waded in the water and she finally got it wet (repeat thrice)
Yes she finally got her bathing suit wet!

Back in the 80's a friend's elementary school aged daughter used to chant this:

Went upstairs to kiss a fellah
Made a mistake and kissed a snake
How many stitches did it take?

02 Jul 11 - 12:35 AM (#3180102)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: GUEST,Richie


I've been putting some collections of children's play-party songs on my web-site, most are from the early 1900's, I think I have about ten published collections- some have music.

One of my favs is the early collection from 1911 by Ames:


02 Jul 11 - 01:08 PM (#3180230)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Crowhugger

From Ottawa, ON in mid 1960s, our version of Mary Mack has one more line:
To see the elephants elephants elephants
Inside the tent tents tents.

We used the same musical phrase for the first four lines, which I would notate as 5 6 7 8_ 8_ 8 (not 1 2 3 4 4 4) because of how it fits with the B musical phrase, two lines long and used for the next four lines:
3 2 1 2_ 2_ 2
4 3 2 1_ 1_ 1

Then back to A tune, down to 5 to start the 9th line. But sometimes we stayed on the pitch of 1 and made a key change by using it as the 5 in the A tune, till after a while we were squeaking ridiculously high and ending in gales of laughter.

I never heard boys sing this. Miss Mary Mack was definitely a girls clapping song in my neighbourhood.

Most of our playground games escaped the safety police, but one serious contact game, Red Rover, was banned for the rest of the school year after someone broke an arm. The following year we played it again after promising we'd no longer launch and and hurl ourselves at the arms through which we intended to break, but keep feet on the ground at all times. Yes, sometimes we forgot those earnest intentions. Red Rover was definitely never played at a birthday party though. Parents in control of parties never scheduled it and we never asked, probably knowing the physicality, especially among girls, would spook them.

Party games were much more civilized: Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Guess When a Minute Has Passed, 3-legged races, egg-races. (Often the first activity was to fold pieces of newsprint into party hats and paint them.)

In my area I don't think anyone older than kindergarten would've been caught playing ring around the rosy unless amusing a younger child.

02 Jul 11 - 04:19 PM (#3180357)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Long gone here in Alberta cities- but as posted here, there are some teachers who try to revive some of them.
And absent where I went to school back in 1930s, but the city was heavily Hispanic (New Mexico). We did Mexican dances, but no games.

Thanks, Richie, for posting Ames in your great website. There are others that are in JAFL and are hard to find unless one is a member of the Society.

20 Jun 18 - 08:09 AM (#3932107)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Jos

To get back to the subject -
This morning on one of the television news programmes, nursery school children were shown playing 'The farmer's in his den' (singing VERY9 slowly) taught by the teachers.
When I was small, 'Ring-a-ring-a-roses' was for toddlers, taught by parents or older sisters or brothers, and perhaps on 'Listen with Mother'.
'The farmer's in his den', 'In and out the windows' (not dusty bluebells in Somerset), 'The big ship sails ...' etc. were taught to the new children when they started school at the age of five, by the slightly older children. Once some people came and recorded us playing and singing, but I've no idea who they were or whether the recording still exists.
The teachers made us play 'Simon says'.
At the high school we played a chasing game with the then topical name of 'Mau-mau terrorists', and a game where a row of children passed, or pretended to pass, a ball between them. Then the person who was 'it' had to guess who had the ball. It was called 'Queenie baw-baw-baw' - presumably corrupted Latin or Old French for 'Who has the ball?'.

21 Jun 18 - 01:34 AM (#3932296)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: GUEST,Susie

"In and out the dainty bluebells" ...

I was born in 1954. All the UK-mentioned games above, we played in the playground; Ashton-on-Mersey, Sale, Cheshire. There were unspoken 'rules' about what you played at what time of year. We learned from each other.
LOADS of playground gales, skipping games ["I'll ask my mum if we can use her washing line "]. Small ball games, some against a wall.

"Queenie old coco, who's got the ball?
See I haven't got it.
See I haven't got it.
Queenie old coco, who's got the ball?"

"The farmer's in his den". "The farmer wants a wife". "The wife wants a child". "The child wants a dog". "We all pat the dog".

A tennis - type ball game, "Bad Eggs". One person 'on' with the ball. They give a category ie. fruit. The other children huddle away from the 'on-sie' and give each other AND the 'on-sie' a fruit each. The on-sie chooses the fruit, shouts it out as they throw the ball straight up in the air. Everyone scatters. The person who IS that fruit has to catch it - if it's the on-sie, they all shout "Bad eggs!". As soon as the fruit has the ball, they yell "Stop!" and everyone has to stand still. The fruit throws the ball, trying to hit the legs of one of the other children. If they DO, that person's 'on'. If they don't the fruit is 'on'.

We used to play that in the road outside my house. The rare times that a vehicle approached, the cry of "car!" went up and we waited till it went past.

And I'd forgotten that existed. Funny what memories such threads can evoke!

21 Jun 18 - 10:19 AM (#3932399)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: FreddyHeadey

There is an interesting film here from the National Library of Scotland. (nearly twenty minutes .... get your pen and paper out)


"Collection of children's street games filmed in the streets of Edinburgh accompanied by traditional children's songs. 

Publicity leaflet:
Their progress is followed along an ideal thoroughfare. In songs where ancient ritual, myth, the mountain and the rose, mingle with taxis, telephones and powder-puffs. Old rhymes rarely dying - something new always appearing.
No-one asks "What does this mean?" The world's accepted, poetry's kept alive. Favourite topic, love and death. Not meant for education or entertainment but belonging to the art of play.
Shot in six Easter days of boisterous weather, the cast, mostly girls, numbering sixty. 

Made by teachers at Norton Park School, Edinburgh.
"Whistling" done by poet Norman MacCaig.
Councillor Pat Murray is the bespectacled man next to the teddy boy (c.11 minutes into film). He was the founder/moving spirit behind establishment of Museum of Childhood.

Film shown at UNICA festival Barcelona, 1952."

21 Jun 18 - 10:48 AM (#3932408)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: FreddyHeadey

A few more videos on a British Library page

22 Jun 18 - 05:30 AM (#3932571)
Subject: RE: Childrens singing games
From: Mo the caller

Interesting Freddy