USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘elementary school’
Childhood
Customs
general

Bath Time – Japan

My informant was born and raised in Japan, but moved to America to finish her college degree at the University of San Diego. She told me about a childhood custom that is common among Japanese families.

“In Japan a little daughter and dad shower and bath together is normal–with son too. People from other countries say that’s disgusting. (But) it’s because normally dads don’t have time to communicate with their kids cause the work, so bath time is perfect time to have kids time to them. We did until I was 7 or something.”

I knew she had an older brother, so I asked if her dad would shower with both of them simultaneously or one by one. Her response was:

“Both! But that’s only when we’re little like 3 or 4. After that let’s say probably when I’m taking the bath my dad join me after. We just talk and play in the bathtub. Maybe he help me wash my hair, but not the body.”

I thought it was interesting how my informant pointed out how other countries saw this custom as strange, and felt the need to provide an explanation (almost in a defensive manner). I think it is because in Western culture it is more commonly heard of for mothers to take baths with their children since they are the ones to have given birth and are the “caretakers” of the family. A father  taking a bath with his child–especially a daughter– could be interpreted as inappropriate or even as sexual abuse.

However, baths are a huge part of Japanese custom. Japan has numerous public bathhouses located all over the country, varying from rural to urban areas. These bathhouses have large communal baths that are typically segregated by gender. Visitors comfortably bathe and walk around nude in front of complete strangers. With this information in mind, I was not surprised to hear that it is typical for children to bathe with their fathers.

Childhood
Game
Humor
Musical
Riddle

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

This is a skipping rhyme told by a male second grader. As he was singing it some of her peers joined in the song.

“Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around. Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground. Teddy bear, teddy bear, tie your shoes. Teddy bear, teddy bear, get out of school.”

The skipping rhyme was shared by one student within a small group of second graders and myself. The rhyme associates childish themes, such as the teddy bear and tying shoe laces, with more controversial ideas such as ditching school, or perhaps dropping out. This is an oikotype of Teddy Bear skipping song. Upon further research, I found a different rendition of the song that replaced “get out of school” with “say your prayers.” The latter version was a nursery rhyme that may have been passed down my parents and then modified by the children. The children from whom I collected this rhyme couldn’t remember where that had learned the rhyme, therefore it is unclear whether they changed the lyric themselves or had heard it in that form. Either way, the line “get out of school” reflects children’s frustration with the education system. The skipping rhyme was well known by most of the second graders in the classroom, therefore the negative connotation of school was widely spread amongst them and possible others in different grades or classrooms.

For another version of this song, see 201 Nursery Rhymes & Sing-Along Songs for Kids by Jennifer M. Edwards.

Childhood
general

Hamburger/Hotdog Folding

My sister grew up in the United States, where most kids are introduced to arts and crafts at a very young age. As many know, there are two ways to fold a piece of paper: hamburger (narrow edge to narrow edge) or hotdog (wide edge to wide edge).

Allegra: “I was introduced to the folding pattern ‘hot dog versus hamburger style’ in first grade. We were fashioning tri-corner hats out of newspaper. The first step was to fold the newspaper down along a crease to maintain its width, rather than its length. This was referred to as “hamburger style.” If the first step had instead been to fold the newspaper vertically, longer than it was wide, the instruction would have been ‘hot dog style.'”

Me: Did you notice that other teachers referred to hamburger and hotdog folding in class?

Allegra: Oh totally. It was a commonly used instruction in art rooms and day care centers that I went to throughout my childhood. A teacher would say, ‘To make a paper fan, fold the materials hot dog style.’ or ‘To begin your fortune teller, fold the paper hamburger style.’

Analysis: If I could hazard a guess, I think the metaphor works because these sandwich fixings come out of the package with a natural crease. Buns fold along a perforation for easier separation. A hot dog bun opens but does not disintegrate, much like how many paper projects require the traces of former folds to last, so that they may be used later. Two American culinary staples, same dough, two different ways to enjoy them. Hot dogs and hamburgers are also quintessential components to the American child’s diet. Notoriously fussy eaters, the one or two lunch room items every kid likes are hot dogs and hamburgers. Its an easily relatable illustration for a strange new technique, like origami.

Game
general

Gossip Game

“So another game is called Gossip, and you sit in a circle and one person, or I think it has been called Telephone, but it’s also called Gossip, and so one person has a secret to tell the person next to them, so they whisper it into their ear, and then it goes around the circle, the next person has to whisper it and the next and the next and the next, and then when you get to the end, the last person says what they heard from that person and compare it to what the person originally said. And that’s the game.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “probably in elementary school . . . in Houston, Texas. We played it in like a second grade class, in a circle.”
The informant thinks “two reasons [the game is] attractive to people is because it’s interesting to see what comes out at the end, if you compare what originally was said with what was it, so you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s so weird that you never hear the same thing at the end that it started out to be, so it’s interesting to see what it warps into.’ And I guess the other reason it’s called Gossip it what you originally say isn’t what you hear at the end. So, the message is diluted when other people say it.” The informant implied this is also what she thinks it means.

 

This game was interesting to me when the informant explained it because I know it is “Telephone.” This game is an easy game to play with a lot of people who do not necessarily know each other, and it is variable in the amount of time it takes to play. The fact that the informant knows it as “Gossip” and learned to play it when she was in elementary school is somewhat revealing about what this game actually means. While it is fun to see how the original message gets changed as people hear and interpret it, it also seems like there is a deeper message behind its simple actions. This game functions as a way to teach children about the way gossip works in our society, and how what you say can be changed into something unrecognizable by the end. The way the information is transmitted may be boiled down and expedited, but it is still a helpful demonstration of a larger social phenomenon.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

The Author of Ben-Hur

The rumor/myth: “The author of Ben-Hur, whose name is something Lane I think? (The only book ever written in Crawfordsville, Indiana.) His house is in Crawfordsville, and they say that on the grounds of this house is like every tree that’s like native to Indiana. I don’t actually know if it’s true though, I heard it from my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Harris. She was really weird.”

The informant, originally from Crawfordsville, told me this about the author of Ben-Hur, actually named Lew Wallace. He has never actually read the novel, but his teacher told their class about Wallace’s house in Crawfordsville. I think she told 5th graders this story to give them pride about their hometown, as it is a very small rural town that isn’t very famous to people that aren’t from there. Its truth value doesn’t seem to matter, and one could even say that it’s a sacred truth to the inhabitants of Crawfordsville. I imagine Mrs. Harris would be a bit offended if anyone challenged her on the verity of this statement, since it represents the mythology of Crawfordsville.

Game

Cops n’ Robbers School Yard Game

“M” is 21 year old male student at the University of Southern California, where he is a Junior studying Animation and minoring in Philosophy. M is originally from the outskirts of New York state where he describes himself as living in a rural area. He described himself as going to a high school of ~60 students, where cliche formation was rare as students could ‘jump from social group to social group’. He describes his parents as ‘hippies’ that were very relaxed in their parenting style as well as their personal approach towards life. He is of Irish descent on both sides and describes this aspect of his life as very active in his life.

 

Transcript:

“Me: So what game did you play again?

M: Oh! Cops n’ Robbers!

Me: When did you play that game?

M: Elementary school!

Me: How do you play that game?

M: Well you’re basically you got some cops, and you got some robbers, so there’s like people on teams and stuff. So you’ve got the cops chasing the robbers, they could get feisty with it and the robbers could beat up the cops. There were bases too, if the robbers got to the bases they were okay, it was a hideout.

Me: Were you usually a cop or a robber?

M: Man, I don’t remember, that was a long time ago. I don’t think there was one that I was more of, we all sorta did both all the time. It was like, hey! Let’s play Cops n’ Robbers, I’ll be on this team you be on that.

Me: Did the cops always win?

M: No. It’s not like real life, it’s more realistic than that.

(I laugh)”

 

Analysis:

The game seems to be “M”s version of the popular schoolyard game, Cops n’ Robbers, a fairly well known game in North America. In the April 1973 publication of The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, in an article titled Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song, the article suggests the splitting of children’s Folklore in their very large Folklore collection (at the time, the collection was near 150,000 entries) into categories. One of these categories, battle games uses Cops and Robbers as a classic example as to what sorts of entries would fit this sort, assuming knowledge in the reader about the popularity of the game (Emrich, 1973).

The game itself, as a school yard game, likely allowed “M” and his friends to try out ‘adult roles’ while also reinforcing basic moral ideas like ‘good guys’, ‘bad guys’ and ‘the good guys have to stop the bad guys’, while also allowing them to simulate more adult situations (apprehending a criminal). The lack of preference could indicate that the players had no moral or occupational preference and preferred the role playing aspect instead, this could be contrasted to a child who wants to play as the cop because his father is a police officer (or any other reason he/she may admire the profession). ”M”s version of the game also included a base that the criminals could get to to defeat the cops and get away. As the cops did not always win (or the robbers didn’t) the aspect of good triumphing over evil or any other sort of overarching narrative did not appear to be part of “M”s approach to the game.

 

Emrich, D. (1973, April). Children’s Folklore in the Archive of Folk Song. In The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress (pp. 140-151). Library of Congress.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Bloody Mary Bathroom

Bloody Mary Bathroom

Informant: So in my elementary school, in the old building, there is the little kid’s bathroom. So it was really old and gross and the windows are all scratched up and everyone would say, “that’s where Bloody Mary is and if you’re going to do Bloody Mary, you gotta do it in there, she hangs out in there”. So it’s all beat up, and on the last wall, there is a board. Just a board nailed to the wall, this big (hold out hands 1 ft by 1 ft apart). And it’s painted over, okay, just a board painted over, but they would always say, “ You know why there’s a board there? BECAUSE THERE’S A FINGER UNDER IT!” I don’t remember who told me, I assume its is one of the older girls.

interviewer: Who did you tell this story to?

informant: The new kids, or the younger kids and then they redid it . . .

interviewer: So then did it stop being Bloody Mary Bathroom?

Informant: No, it was still Bloody Mary Bathroom to us, but then I think the tradition died.

Interviewer’s notes:

It is interesting to note the evolution of the variation of the legend. Originally, the old, strange, scary bathroom was dubbed “Bloody Mary Bathroom” because it was strange and scary like Bloody Mary herself. The young students assimilated the story of the board in the bathroom into the legend by correlating the two together. The severed-finger board is now part of the Bloody Mary legend due to their unification in the bathroom and the story has a new variation in this community.

Legends

Buried Teacher

Buried Teacher

Informant: I heard this going into 4th grade. So before Mrs. Stern there was a teacher, and she was the best teacher ever. So this was before the school was going to go under construction. You know how it happened? So she went on vacation for one week and had a sub. So on vacation the principal sent a letter to everybody saying that there is no school one day because they are going under construction, but the teacher, the best teacher, didn’t get it because she was on vacation. So one day she went to school and it was quiet. So then she was there and she was like “Okay, let me just do some work”, but then a big wrecking ball comes and it HITS THE SCHOOL! It buries her in it. So in the fourth grade classroom they say that you can her murmmering below the floors

Interviwer: Where did you hear this story?

Informant: from the 8th graders

Interviewer: where and when did you hear the story?

Informant: It was at drama camp, two years ago.

Interviewer: Do you tell this to other kids?

Informant: yes

Interviewer: like who?

Informant: like new kids

Interviewer’s notes:

The fact the that the story was told to the informant during the summer before fourth grade, indicates that this tale can be seen as a type of initiation story for the younger kids in the school. The eighth graders endow the younger kids with “knowledge” as they enter into the later grades of their elementary education. This reaffirms the hierarchy as the younger children enter into the space of the older kids, the eight graders possess knowledge that the younger kids don’t, therefore they should defer to them.

 

Game
Kinesthetic
Legends
Narrative

Chuckie Bathroom

Chuckie Bathroom

Informant: I first heard it from one of my friends, but then it kind of like turned into a game. So there is a bathroom downstairs at my school which weird because there is a toilet where every time you flush it, it makes a burping noise. So it goes like “zzzzzzzzhhhhhhh . . . UGGGH!” So my friends said the toilet is possessed by Chuckie, so that it always tries to swallow you. So now every time I go to bathroom, I like go to the bathroom and then run out of the stall before it like, makes the noise. And then rinse my hands and then run out as quickly as I can. They say the bathroom is possessed because when you put your hand in sometime on the sink for the automatic faucet, the other one, another sink turns on. So they say that he is coming after you, but he always has to wash his hands first.

Interviewer’s notes:

This is an instance were the unknown or “strange” has been demonized. The “Chuckie Bathroom” toilet has deviated from what the children usually expect from a toilet. To cope the children created a story to explain the unusualness which in turn has sparked a legend, and a whole set of corresponding behaviors like running away before the toilet can make “the burping noise”. It is interesting to note, that in creating the legend, they assimilated the bathroom to popular culture through “Chuckie”, which it turn makes it more familiar. Later, what began as a compulsive ritual is reclaimed from the participants as they consciously make a game out of it.

Game
Humor
Kinesthetic

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

[geolocation]