Mar 8, 2014

Children's Chanting Games

I love the chanting games kids play. Some of them have been around for years, some are new. They are invented by children and some survive with minimal changes for generations; others get reworked and change rapidly.  Often snippets from one chant work their way into another.

The benefits of chanting games are hand-eye co-ordination and memory training, but most of all friendship bonding. It's interesting to me that they are mostly played among girls.

Skipping rope chants

This one was what we chanted jumping rope when I was a kid, and I heard it all through my primary school years - but my kids had no knowledge of it (until I taught them):

Cinderella dressed in yella
Went upstairs to kiss a fella
Made a mistake, kissed a snake
How many doctors did it take?
One, two, three....

Here's one my kids do know:

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear, teddy bear touch the ground
Teddy bear, teddy bear jump up high
Teddy bear, teddy bear say good night! [jump out]

Hand Clap Chants

Years ago I taught my kids the classic Pat-a-cake chant:
Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker's man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and prick it and mark it with B
And put it in the oven for baby and me
That one appears in every nursery rhyme book and was probably written by an adult.

But more interesting are the chants that are made up by children and passed around between them, from primary school to primary school, between cousins and friends, and morphing with generations.

These come with more complicated hand-clap routines, which I was never good at as a kid. I learned the chants in my head but rarely got to say them as I couldn't do the hand-clap routines.

I remember this one from when I was a kid:

Under the bamboo bushes under the trees, boom-boom-boom
True love for you my darling true love for me
When we get married we'll raise a family
Of fifty children, all in a row-row-row your boat, gently down the stream, 
Throw your teacher overboard, listen to her scream [make loud scream noise]

My kids don't know that one.  They do this one:

Kiss a fella
Naughty boy
Ping pong
Armela, kiss a fella, naughty boy, ping pong
Turn around, touch the ground, push your friend, freeze!

...and this one. I remember my cousin's daughter chanting this with her friends years ago, too:

Apple on a stick
makes me sick
makes my heart beat two-forty-six
not because you're dirty, not because you're clean
just because you kissed the boys behind the magazine
Girls, boys, having fun
here comes the baby with the big fat bum
with a jiggle and a wiggle he can do the splits
but I betcha, I betcha, you can't do this:
Close your eyes and count to ten,
if you don't muck it up you're my best friend
One, two, three..... [continue complicated hand-clap routine with eyes closed]
You didn't muck it up so you're my best friend! [hug]
You mucked it up but you're still my best friend! [hug]

I have a video of my kids playing Apple On A Stick (with cameo from Harry the dog) - I haven't been able to upload it here (too big, and having trouble compressing it) but you can see it here on my Flickr.

Here are some other kids doing it:

Counting games

These are the chants you use to count off among a group of friends to see who will be "it".  They're variations on Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe.

Ibble obble black bubble 
Ibble obble out
Turn your trousers inside out
If they're black, turn them back
Ibble obble black bubble
Ibble obble out

Mickey Mouse had a house
underneath the movies
when the movie started 
Mickey Mouse farted 
What colour was it?
[child landed on chooses a colour, then all spell out the colour to finish counting off]


At our primary school in LA we learned this one:
Great green gobs of green grimy gopher's guts
Marinated monkey's meat
Carbonated birdies' feet
Ten bear eyeballs floating in a pool of blood
Oops, I forgot my spoon
But I have a straw.... [make gross slurping noise] 

The kids have learned a couple of variants on Happy Birthday, the most recent one being:

Happy birthday to you
Put your hands in the loo
If you feel something squishy
It's a present for you: poo!

I love this stuff!

Do you know any more? Remember any from your own childhood?

Edit: here are a couple more.

Here's another hand clap game my kids and their friends play:

Two kids face each other and do hand-claps saying: 
Tick tack toe, give me a high give me a low
Johnny got hit by a UFO!
On the syllables "UFO" they do rock paper scissors.
The loser then turns around and the winner pokes the loser in the back with one or more fingers, then holds their hands out in front of them.
The loser turns back around and has to guess which finger or fingers were used.

This is pretty funny, because it's impossible to work out which finger has poked you in the back.
But they all look over the winner's hands and try hard to guess.

And here's a "new" song for them:

While looking for a YouTube video for Apple on a Stick I came across "Sally was a baby", and I thought my kids would like it.
So I taught it to them and they LOVE it, and they have taught their friends.  Yesterday it was going around the playground and one of their friends performed it for their PE teacher.  It's a hit!



  1. I only know Patta a Cake. Our ages are a bit different. Anything old from my childhood I have tried to inform my six year old niece about, she has known already, except our sing along in the car, There is a hole in the bucket dear Liza.. Today I wondered if she knew the song Gentille Alouette. I had to google for he spelling. Gentille? I am a bit afraid. Oh, it is a song about plucking a lark. I wish I hadn't looked.

    I remember one, from a ball game. Queenie, Queenie, who has the ball. Is he rich or is he tall. (the last sentence may not be correct)

    1. Oh yes! I remember all of those! Gentile alouette you had to sing in an accent like Pepe Le Piew. I can't remember the rest of Queenie Queenie who has the ball, but I remember that much.
      We also used to play Red Rover Red Rover, send (someone's name) right over... Until teachers banned it when a boy broke his arm playing it :)

    2. I remember the name Red Rover, but I can't remember what it was about. Just remembered Hoppo Bumpo and Brandy. Brandy was not nice. Pease porridge hot. Pease porridge cold.

  2. I don't know any of those...the only thing lurking around the edges of my aged mind is a skipping song..."vote vote vote for dear old ................., who's that knocking on the door? If it's ................ let her in ........................... and there my mind goes blank. I didn't skip much lol.

    1. I don't know that one but "who's that knocking on the door?" and "let her in" for jump rope sounds a bit familiar, I don't remember any jump rope rhymes other than the Cinderella one though!

    2. vote, vote vote for little suzie(name of person skipping), who's that knocking at the door?
      For if it's ........(skipper picks a person and says 'Mary" then we all sing) Suzie let her in and she socked her in the chin and we won't vote for Suzie anymore, 2-4 shut the door get out! then it's vote vote vote for little Mary....That's how I remember it...

    3. Ah yes, that's it! But I still can't remember the exact way to chant it. So funny the way we retain snippets of things from so long ago.

  3. We did eenie meeni....but we didn't catch a tiger by the toe...we were very unPC. In our defense when we found out what a nigger was, we dropped that toe and chose the tiger. I remember the girls doing the clap thing, never knew their chants. Kids now on Halloween do a "trick or treat, smell my feet give me something good to eat."

    Oh wait, we used to do "Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk, Mousalinni bit his peenie, now it doesn't work." Also variations of commercials..."Pepsi Cola hits the spot, makes you vomit on the dot, looks like water tastes like wine, oh my gosh it's turpentine!"
    My favorite was a short one on the last day of school, "No more pencils no more books, no more teachers dirty looks!"
    Fun post.

    1. Haha! those are great. Yeah, when I was a kid we didn't do "tiger" either and I remember asking my parents what a "n..." was and they said they didn't know (their same answer when I asked what "gay" meant a few years later). I only found out what it meant when people started swapping "tiger" and explaining why.
      Love that Halloween rhyme :)
      My dad used to chant that "no more pencils..." one whenever it was the last day of school and I remember my sister and I always thought it sounded so old-fashioned :)

  4. I remember the older ones - and like you my uncordinated self could NEVER get the clapping (or the skipping) right. Remember 'Oranges and Lemons, the Bells of St Clemens'?

    1. Oh yes! Can't believe I forgot that one, I loved it as a kid and still do. I taught my kids when they were little and we used to play it:

      Oranges and lemons,
      Say the bells of St. Clement's.

      You owe me five farthings,
      Say the bells of St. Martin's.
      When will you pay me?
      Say the bells of Old Bailey.
      When I grow rich,
      Say the bells of Shoreditch.
      When will that be?
      Say the bells of Stepney.
      I do not know,
      Says the great bell of Bow.
      Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
      And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

      Also do you remember this one: "Wash the dishes, dry the dishes, turn the dishes over"? You face each other and hold hands and swing them back and forth, and at "over" you twirl around so you're back to back, then do it all again.

  5. Great poems I am going to teach my students. Great idea thanks.

    1. Oh, great! Glad to hear! Hope they like them.
      You can find more just by googling hand clap games and skipping rope games. There are a few sites which have quite a collection.

  6. I never learned any of the clapping chants. The girls at my school were all very well practised in them, perhaps they got together and worked on them on weekends while I was jumping in and out of the ocean from sunup to sundown. Anyway they seemed a bit silly to me, probably because I was jealous and no one would teach me...I was in great demand for the skipping ones though, because I could turn the double dutch ropes very well.

    1. Hmm yes - they're good games for bonding but on the flip side equally "good" for excluding others :(
      Double Dutch - now that was fun!



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