Friday, August 13, 2010

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around...

By Gwen Stewart

We often hear about how childhood has changed. In some ways, that’s certainly true. In my seventeen years of teaching, I’ve experienced some of those changes first-hand. The day I heard a second grader holler to another, “Email me tonight,” I knew we’d entered a whole new era.

But in essentials, childhood remains much the same through the ages. Children love to experience with their senses, preferring active to passive learning. Children love to play, laugh, roll in the grass, and squeal with delight. Children love to sing—and the more active the singing, the better.

This is no more apparent than in hand-clapping games, those catchy singsong rhymes children teach one another. In every culture in the world, children sing and move, as they've done for thousands of years. This is true today, at the school where I teach. Up and down the hallway, I hear the rhythmic swish of tiny hands on hands as they scrap, slap and clap--on the playground, at recess, in the lunch line. I teach clapping rhymes and games in my music classroom, and have students teach me the latest and greatest as well.

As most pastimes that draw children’s attention, hand-clapping games are more than purely fun. They build important skills in young learners. Research proves that chanting or singing while keeping a beat improves the firing of brain synapses. Hand-clapping games build language, improve reading capability, and hone motor skills. Moreover, they help children release tension and become more relaxed.

And of course, hand-clapping rhymes are purely fun! From the simple “patty cake” to the most complex rhymes of the older children, children usually collapse in giggles as they perfect the claps, slaps and complex motions. But they rarely become discouraged, no matter how many times they start over. Nor do they cast aspersions on themselves or others. I’ve never heard a child say, “Why can’t I get this! I’m just not good at these games!” Perhaps there’s a lesson for adults in there somewhere.

Do you remember any hand-clapping games from your childhood? Do your kids play them with their friends? Share your favorites below!


  1. Fun post, Gwen! Oh, those hand clapping games are alive and well with the girl in my house. I used to love those games, too. I can still remember the entire routine to "I had a little sister, her name was Sally Sue..." Nice and simple, just perfect for my limited coordination, LOL.

    Thanks for the memories, Gwen!

  2. Hey Gwen, you bring up a good point... you can't lose the pieces when you're playing a game of Patty Cake. LOL

    They're all future drummers, too.

    It's like when you give your child a gift and they have more fun playing with the box. The simpler, the better, the more imaginative, I believe.

    I remember one where we may have started out with words, but the game grew faster and faster until someone missed a hand and yes, we broke down laughing. We may have accused each other of 'You lose!' but it didn't mean anything because no one ever kept score. The fun was in having fun. I wonder if I remember it now? Let's see... claps hands together... my right to your right... hands together ... my left to your left... hands together ... both my hands clap your hands ... and back. Increase speed. Yes, that was it!

    Great post, Gwen.

    Anita Mae.

  3. Hi ladies, thanks for chiming in! I too played those games, though other girls were faster and more proficient at them. I sure had fun though!

  4. Hi Gwen,
    For many years during my youth, my family hosted a girl from NYC to come up to 'the country' and visit us. "The Fresh Air Fund" it was called. She was Puerto Rican and taught me some clapping games but mostly jump-rope rhymes. Many years later I started hearing more about double-dutch competitions which I'm sure was born out of that activity. I learned a little Spanish that way too, but remembered very little of it.

    One thing I remember from my daughter's years in Girl Scouts was " Hi, My name is Joe, and I work in a button factory..." That was a sing song game with hand and eventually foot movements. Has anyone heard of that one?

  5. Major deficit for only children: No one to play these games with.
    I remember feeling horribly left out at school because everyone knew how to do the complicated hand-clapping rhymes, and the jump rope songs, and how to make things with a loop of string!
    Oh well. We onlies make up for it in other ways... : )

  6. Oh wow, we used to do those all the time in grade school. The one I remember the best started like this:

    Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
    All dressed in black, black, black,
    With silver buttons, buttons, buttons,
    All down her back, back, back

    And then there were elephants, fence jumping, and the forth of July. Fun stuff!


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