Playground Games

The Primary School playground is as important a part of your children's education as the classroom.
It is in the playground that the children learn to find a place in society.
They are temporarily left defenceless, on their own, among their peers, away from the advice and interference of parents, largely free from the direction of teachers, and able to choose for themselves how to use their time.

In the playground they become whole people (let's face it, many of the adults around them do not usually treat them as entirely responsible human beings ) and they prove themselves fully able to organise quite complicated group activities, each with rules and appropriate language.
They are so inventive and productive!
A brief study of the traditional literature and play procedures in any playground will provide ample evidence of the creative ability of young children when they are given the time and opportunity to work (or "play") together.
The playground is not a 'soft' place, and children are much more independent by the end of their first year at school.

Many people have studied and collected the rhymes and rules and variations of playground games, most of which have been passed down through generations of children, adapting to changing social conditions but retaining basic structure.
I was in a Dagenham Primary school a few years ago and the children were asking me about my life.
They asked me what games I had played, and I told them about two-balls, bouncing two balls against a wall and doing actions to a chanted rhyme, and about long-rope skipping.

I began to 'sing' one of the skipping-rhymes which was in fashion in my primary school in Sussex over 70 years before: it was
"I am a girl guide dressed in blue,
These are the things that I can do:
Bow to the King, salute to the queen....."
and to my amazement the whole class joined in with me!
The rhyme had survived a journey in space and time.

With slight local differences, these traditional games seem to survive intact; they are universally known to today's far more multi-cultural primary school intake.
The rules of these games are strictly kept; i should hate to be in court faced with a nine-year old judge.
Children are happy with black-and-white judgements, perhaps because clear decisions add security to their understanding of the world.
Woe betide anyone who attempts to bend the rules!

What follows is a collection of skipping, ball and group games which are still played today, and which I recognise from my own childhood, more than 75 years ago....
For me, the best of this article is evident in the faces of the children; released and happy, living in the moment, they give me a real sense of their joy.
Interestingly, it was always the girls who played skipping, twoballs and clapping games: the boys were involved in conkers, marbles, fivestones and less specific group ball-games or "Release."


This was played everywhere, against every spare wall, when I was a child.
It is sadly no longer part of playground tradition, although there are mothers who try to pass it on to their children.
We had two balls, usually tennis balls, and bounced them up against windowless walls, chanting a rhyme and performing a number of actions while the balls were in the air.


I asked my mother for fifty cents
To see the elephant jump the fence;
He jumped so HIGH
He reached the SKY
And never came down 'till the 4th of July.

One two three and PLAINSY
Four five six and PLAINSY
Seven eight nine and PLAINSY
Ten and PLAINSY, catch the ball.
(Followed by the same, substituting
UPSY, OVER, DROPSY, and WHAMSY) with actions to match.

Over the garden wall
I let my baby sister fall;
My mother came out
And gave me a clout,
I told my mother
Not to boss me about;
She gave me another
To match the other,
Over the garden wall.

Plainsey Mrs Brown,
Plainsey Mrs Brown,
Plainsey, Plainsey, Plainsey, Plainsey,
Plainsey Mrs Brown................
Then..... Dropsey Mrs Brown, Dropsey Mrs Brown etc., followed by Upsey , Overs, Unders etc etc

Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Jews
Bought his wife a pair of shoes;
When the shoes began to wear
Nebuchadnezzar began to swear
When the swearing had to stop
Nebuchadnezzar bought a shop
When the shop began to sell
Nebuchadnezzar bought a bell
When the bell began to ring
Nebuchadnezzar began to sing:"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall (etc.)"

Each, peach, pear, plum
I spy Tom Thumb;
Tom Thumb in the wood
I spy Robin Hood;
Robin Hood in the cell
I spy William Tell;
William Tell at the table
I spy Betty Grable;
Betty Grable is a star
S — T — A — R.
The film star names changed with the times...

This was played by two friends, and the ball was passed from one to the other.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Next door neighbour carry on,
Next door neighbour got the flu
So I pass it on to you.

Please miss, my mother miss,
Came to tell you this miss,
I miss won't miss,
Be at school tomorrow miss.

Please keep off the grass sir,
To let the ladies pass sir,
You know the rules,
You silly fat horse,
Please keep off the grass sir.

When I went to Dover,
Saw a birdie flying over,
Up, up, up and over,
When I went to Dover.

One, two, three O'Lairy,
My ball's down the airy.
Don't forget to give it to Mary,
Not to Charlie Chaplin.


There are very many clapping rhymes, but usually between 'girl best friends.'
They stand facing each other about a foot apart and say the rhyme whilst doing the actions.
Clap = Clap your hands
Right = Clap partner's right hand
Left = Clap partner's left hand
Knees = Slap your knees
Together = Clap your partner's hands

Have you ever, ever, ever, in your long legged life
met a long legged sailor with a long legged wife?
No, I never, never, never, in my long legged life
met a long legged sailor with a long legged wife
(now do it faster)
Have you ever, ever, ever, in your short legged life.... ....knock kneed life... ....pigeon toed life... ....bow legged life... met a long legged sailor with a long legged wife

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea.
To see what he could see, see, see.
But all that he could see, see, see.
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.

My mother said
That I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood,
If I did
She would say
Naughty little girl to disobey.

Because of this rhyme, when I was small, I was very frightened of Gypsies.
I really thought they might take me away.
If my parents were out and a gypsy called, usually selling hand-made clothes -pegs, I would very quickly shut the door, and wait for an hour or so to see if she had put a spell on me!

Many games needed people to do less interesting tasks, such as turning skipping ropes or giving the instructions while everyone else had the fun.
It had to be decided who would be 'it' in tag, hide and seek, and chase-games.
These were selected by means of a dip, which eliminated children in the group one by one.

The most common one was usually started with the cry of "Spuds Up!"
The group gathered in a tight ring, holding out their fists.
The leader would say, touching all right fists first in time to the chant and then left fists( if your fist was touched you put it behind your back ):
"One potato, two potato, Three potato, four:
Five potato, six potato, Seven potato, MORE."

Another one was:
Dip, dip, dip
My blue ship,
Sails on the water
Like a cup and saucer
It must not be YOU.

And another:
Eeny, meeny, mackeracka,
Air, aye, dominacka
Chickapoppa, Lollipoppa
Im, pom, push.
God’s words come true,
It must not be YOU.

Cunning girls (sadly, I was one ) could work out from the number of beats how to eliminate special friends......


Sometimes a girl would skip on their own, but usually another girl joined in and the two skipped together, face to face.
The one with the rope had to be the taller of the two.

The best games were with a long rope, and queues of children would take it in turn to run into the spinning rope.

When I was a little girl there was hardly any traffic, only a 38 bus every half hour and the grocer or baker with a horse and cart, so you could play with the long rope across the road!

The games were full of action instructions.
The aim was not to trip the rope.
All in together girls,
Never mind the weather girls;
when I call your birthday,
please jump in:
January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

Or you could say; Apples, peaches, pears and plums Tell me when your birthday comes...... and then call the months.

Had a little bumper car, number 48,
Went around the corner (skipper jumps out and runs around the twirler and run back in the rope. Keep saying 'corner' until the skipper jumps back in)
And slams on the brakes.
Policeman came and put me in jail.
How many days did he put me in jail? (count until the player trips the rpoe)

Down by the river,
down by the sea,
Johnny broke a bottle and blamed it on me.
I told ma, ma told pa,
Johnny got a spanking so ha ha ha.
How many spankings did Johnny get? 1, 2, 3....

Keep counting until the jumper trips the rope.

Here is a double-dutch jump rope song.
A complicated pattern of actions!


Jack Jumped Over - the jumper jumps up very high with both feet leaving the ground at the same time.
Mumble - by putting both feet together making very small hops;
Kick - repeatedly kicking one foot outward and back again;
Sizzler - crossing and uncrossing feet and legs;
Split - opening and closing legs about 5 feet apart;
Pop - jumping high in the rope with both feet coming off the ground together.

(This rhyme starts with the rope being swung back and forth, not over)
Blue bells, cockle shell Easy ivy over (Swing rope over head and continue in normal rope swing.)

Oh no, here comes Miss Blackwell
With her big black stick
Now its time for arithmetic
One plus one is? (jumper responds) Two
Two plus two is? (jumper responds) Four
Four plus four is? (jumper responds) Eight
Eight plus eight is? (jumper responds) Sixteen
Now its time for spelling
Spell cat. (jumper responds) C-A-T
Spell dog. (jumper responds) D-O-G
Spell hot. (jumper responds) H-O-T
When the jumper finishes spelling HOT, swing the rope as fast as possible till the skippers trip the rope.

Mickey Mouse
Built a house
How many bricks
Did he use?
One , two, three four, five, six...

Sausage in a pan,
Sausage in a pan,
Turn 'em 'over,
turn 'em 'over, (you have to turn to face the other direction, then back again)
Sausage in a pan.


Teddy Bear ( very popular in the 1930s)

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, show your shoe
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do!
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, go upstairs
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say your prayers
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn out the lights
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, say good-night!
The skipper jumps the rope whilst singing this rhyme, he/she acts out the actions as the words come up in the rhyme.

Three Six Nine
Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine,
The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line.
The line broke,
the monkey got choked,
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat,

Susie and Billy sitting in a tree
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then comes the baby in a baby carriage

I had a little puppy
His name was Tiny Tim
I put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim
He drank all the water, he ate a bar of soap
The next thing you know he had a bubble in his throat.
In came the doctor,
In came the nurse,
In came the lady with the alligator purse
Out went the doctor
Out went the nurse
Out went the lady with the alligator purse

Down in the valley where the green grass grows,
There sat (name) pretty as a rose.
Up came (name) and kissed her on the cheek,
How many kisses did she get this week?
Count until she trips the rope.

I went down town, to see Miss Brown
she gave me a nickel,
to buy a pickle
The pickle was sour so she gave me a flower
The flower was black so she gave me a smack
The smack was hard so she gave me a card
And on the card it said:

Little Spanish dancer turn around (turn while jumping)
Little Spanish dancer, touch the ground (touch ground)
Little Spanish dancer tie your shoe (jump on one leg, pretend to tie shoe)
Little Spanish dancer, sixty four skidoo (jump/exit rope area)

The first two sung at the end of summer term....

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire
Put the teachers on the top
Put the schoolbooks in the middle
And burn the blooming lot

Mine eyes have seen the glory Of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher
We have broken every rule
We have marched down to the principal
To tell him he's a fool

This at the end of Christmas Term

We three kings of orient are
One on a motorbike
One in a car
One on a scooter
Tooting his hooter
Following yonder star
Oh, star of wonder
Star of light
Sit on a box of dynamite

We three kings of Leicester Square
Selling ladies underwear
How fantastic
No elastic
Only a penny a pair

(There were hardly any cars then!)

One person would stand with their back to everyone in the middle of the road and throw a tennis type ball over their shoulder.
One of the group would pick the ball up and everyone would put their hands behind their backs.
One of the group would be hiding the ball in their hands behind their back.
The group would chant,
'Queenie eye, Queenie eye, who's got the ball?
Is she fat or is she tall?
Does she wear a safety pin beneath her petticoat?'
The aim of the game was for the person to guess who had the ball.
They would all, or individuals, show their right or left hand, or both, or turn around.
The tennis ball would be hidden in the hand.
Sometimes we would cheat and hide it up our skirts.

Cross the Golden Water
Someone would stand in the road and they were 'It'.
The group would chant 'Please Jack, may we cross the golden water, to see your ugly daughter, just like you?'
Jack would reply, 'Not unless you're wearing [a colour].'
If you had that colour on you could safely run across the road.
If not you had to run across the road and the person who was 'It' would try to catch you.
If you were caught you would be the person to be 'It'.

Each time the 'Jack' would choose something different, say colour hair or birthday month, colour socks or hair ribbon.
If nobody was caught, the game ended when no-one was left but one, and that person became 'Jack.'

Enough for now!
I shall write an article later on other games, conkers, marbles and hopscotch etc.

Unfortunately, today there are schools where even skipping-ropes are considered a health hazard, and some ancient games are being lost for an unreasonable fear of accidents and lawsuits.
When I was teaching, I can remember long ropes being issued at playtime as a special treat!


Discussion as a game is planned......

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