Books · Education · Folklore

Remember Hopscotch? Cooties? Miss Mary Mack? “I’m Rubber; You’re Glue”?

Click on image to read Amazon reviews
Click on image to read Amazon reviews

Years ago, before the personal computer had become part of all of our lives, Herb and I wrote a book about the folklore of children: the rhymes, games, customs, superstitions and jokes that children pass on to each other without the mediation or often even the knowledge of adults.

The thesis of that book is that this body of children’s knowledge, while it may seem trivial, is critically important in helping children in a number of developmental tasks. We interviewed hundreds of ten-year olds who eagerly told us—and showed us—their traditional past times. But whenever we talked to their teachers or parents, often we were told, “Oh kids don’t do that sort of thing anymore.” That’s why we originally subtitled the book The Secret Education of American Children.

Now that was a long time ago, and although the book is still in print, we have moved on to other interests so we don’t really know the state of children’s folklore today. After all, it requires face to face interaction. And today children are spending more and more time in the virtual world playing with their “devices” rather than “going out to play,”.  So maybe children really don’t do this sort of thing much anymore. Still, not long ago we observed two girls on a crosstown bus happily engaged in a rapid rendition of “Miss Mary Mack,” a traditional clapping rhyme with deep roots. Watch to the very end of this 32- second video and you’ll get some idea of why this particular past time has endured.

Seen on the terrace in the park
Seen on the terrace in the park

And then there’s this—observed on the terrace of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Riverside Park. This doesn’t look exactly like the hopscotch of my childhood or that of the children we interviewed for our book. But that’s not surprising. Like any oral tradition, children’s folklore undergoes a sea change as it’s passed along from one generation to another. And new folklore emerges as children make up formulaic solutions to counteract boredom, solve disputes, conquer fear or cement new friendships.

Do you know any ten-year olds? If so, ask them if they “do this sort of thing anymore.” I’d love to know! Click above on “comments” to respond.

oil by HerbKnapp
Oil by HerbKnapp

4 thoughts on “Remember Hopscotch? Cooties? Miss Mary Mack? “I’m Rubber; You’re Glue”?

    1. You should know this is not a children’s book, although we know many children who have read the book and thought it entertaining. It’s a study of the ways children’s folklore meets the developmental needs of the elementary school child in a way nothing else can.

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  1. Somehow I think the kids are still doing all of these games. I had a party and this subject came up and all the 40-50 year old women started doing “Have you ever ever ever in your long legged life seen a long legged sailor and his long legged wife.” It was hysterical. This is a fascinating subject and the book is great! I guess they play these games in China too. It is kind of like the fairy tales that know no borders and cross all cultures and centuries.

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  2. Lots of adults told us they had fun reading the book because it brought back memories of things they did in their childhood that they had completely forgotten about. But, like your party-goers, once reminded it all comes back.

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