USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘elementary school’
Childhood
Game
Humor
Magic

Childrens Magic Trick: The Disappearing Bracelet Knot

Background: The performance is a magic trick, a form of slight of hand that uses a hair scrunchie or similarly elastic bracelet, the informant (RW) learned it on the playground from one of her friends.
RW: It’s so cool!
MW: What do you like about it?
RW: When you do it right everyone gets really excited!
——————————————————————————————————————–
Context: Informant(RW) is a 12 year old student who’s interests include spending time with family, and riding bicycles. RW shared this particular magic trick with multiple members of her family during their annual Passover Seder, in this case RW, her sister, and I were getting paper from the garage so that RW’s father could teach us to make paper airplanes when she asked to show me a magic trick.

Performance:
RW: Ok, ok, so first you twist the rope like an 8 on your wrist
RW: You do that and you see this part? [RW points to the loop formed by her bracelet]
RW: The under part [she gestures to the under side of the bracelet], and you pull that part into the little circle but not too tight.
RW: If you flick it really fast the knot disappears!

Steps to reproduce:
1)Twist a section of the bracelet into a loop
2)Take the underside of the bracelet a pinky length away from the loop and pull it through to make a knot, loosely
3) Flick the end of the bracelet that sticks out of the knot and it disappears
——————————————————————————————————————–
Analysis:
The trick is a way to “get one over” on one’s peers and even adults. Thus the child demonstrates “magic” that they know to be a reflection of their own knowledge. The informant’s pride is the key marker here, this piece of folklore is a performance passed from person to person for the benefit of the people around them. Likewise this is a display of trickery, the goal is to fool, and thus in harmless deception traverse the social taboo of lying. This gives the performer the space to engage in a behavior that is generally seen as wrong in a way that will actually net them praise.

Childhood
Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Magic

Don’t Get the Cheese Touch

Piece:

Interviewer: “What about games? Any you remember from childhood?

L.F.: “Lemme think…. Oh yeah haha the cheese touch.”

Interviewer: “What is the cheese touch?”

L.F.: “It was kinda like the elementary school bully version of tag. Basically when someone had the “cheese touch” no one would speak to them out of the fear of getting it.”

Interviewer: “What was it though?”

L.F.: “hahahaha… I don’t know… It was just like cooties. No one knew what they were but you definitely didn’t want it.”

Informant:

Informant L.F. is a teenage boy who recently became an adult. He is half Japanese and half Jewish and has spent his entire life in Northern California. During the summers, L.F. likes to attend away summer camp, and had attended the same camp for the past five summers. The camp is ranges from three weeks to 2 months and L.F. will be returning this summer as a counselor.

Context:

I asked informant L.F. to sit down for a formal interview on young adult folklore and if he remembered any weird games from his childhood or now. This is what he thought of.

Interpretation:

To L.F. the cheese touch was a childhood game used to ridicule and scare kids into bullying one another. And, while her has fun memories of playing the game, he admits it was a representation of childhood bullying. L.F. does not remember who he learned the game from, but it was the sort of game that never really ended and all his school friends were apart of it. It reminds him of simpler times and of his youth.

 

Game
general
Kinesthetic

Chicken Games – Proving Personal Vigor in American Childhood

Item:

M: Most of the games I had, like, heard about and observed were all the, like, chicken games where it’s like, “ah yeah, take an eraser over your knuckles. Whoever wimps out first loses.”

R: Well of course they- did you play quarters**?

M: Yeah, or um, slaps.  This is where people would like, hold the other person’s hand, slap each other as hard as they can

E: Until someone gave up.

M: Until someone gave out.

E: It’s so stupid I hated it.

A: A version I played was when you did the middle finger thing to their forearm until they gave out.  And you’d end up with these giant red spots.

 

Context:

**Quarters was understood by all as a game where each player places his fist knuckles down on the table and shoots quarters at the other until someone gave out.

I collected this piece about chicken games while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods.  One of the participants in the conversation, denoted as ‘M’ , brought up chicken games from his elementary and middle school days, prompting others to contribute the variations they knew of and demonstrating on themselves when necessary.  Each interlocutor is denoted by a different letter.  The interlocutors were students of the University of Southern California, but of different class standings and two had already graduated.  The first informant, ‘M’, is a sophomore who went to elementary school on a military base in Japan but middle and high school in Texas; ‘R’ is a Ph.D. student who grew up in Maryland and Michigan; ‘E’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in Lompoc, CA; and ‘A’ graduated in 2018 and grew up in San Diego, CA.  They all brought up these games as something they had either observed or participated in during either middle or elementary school years, saying they viewed it as something either funny (a common opinion amongst the males) or stupid (as said by the only other female in the conversation aside from myself) at the time, but particularly viewing it as stupid nowadays.  There was also a general consensus that most kids would abandon these games by late middle school (8th grade) at the latest.

 

Analysis:

The wide range in age of the interlocutors is very indicative of how long these chicken games perpetuated, particularly with how the oldest interlocuter is ten years older than the youngest interlocuter.  Since you would pick these games up from other kids, it would make sense that as the older kids pass them down to the younger kids, they would continue through the years, particularly through neighborhood interactions where groups were not necessarily divided by age.  Another interesting point was the wide variety of locations in which each of the interlocuters grew up and/or attended elementary and middle school.  There were locations all over the United States, and even abroad in an American community overseas; I also knew of these games while growing up in Virginia.  As such, these chicken games are likely a part of greater American school-age children’s culture, especially amongst younger children because there was a general consensus that these games were abandoned once late middle school years came around.

What is more important, though, is why children would partake in these kinds of games, especially when they sometimes left physical marks on the body as mentioned by ‘A’ in the exchange above.  Particularly in the institutionalized schooling structure of the US, children are all brought up to think in particular ways and learn specific things and as such there can be a large sense of homogeneity among them.  These chicken games can establish another type of identity that is more counterhegemonic, considering these games were often strictly ruled against in schools and looked down upon by parents.  They can also establish a power dynamic amongst children who might otherwise be in an egalitarian environment.  If children can establish themselves as the strongest or the bravest in these games, it gives them something else to identify themselves with, which is why leaving marks may also be apart of why they take part in these games in the first place.  They become victorious signifiers of glory and pride, somewhat like battle scars; this also becomes significant when considering how children become increasingly aware of their bodies and their physical images as they get older.  These games were more popular among boys and with American culture so heavily centered around physical strength in men, these chicken games may be their attempts to embody these ideas from early on.  As for why they typically died out during middle and high school, partaking in certain subcultures becomes increasingly more significant during this time as children becoming adolescents begin to further explore who they want to be; these subculture identities begin to take more precedence moving out of elementary years.  This can correlate with why chicken games die out as students get older and more mature because they would no longer need these trivial markers of identity.

 

Additional Interlocuter Information:

The informant description for ‘M’ is in the section above the item, and the same information for each of the other informants is included below.

‘R’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 29; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles; Primary Language: English

‘E’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 22; Occupation: Non-Profit Arts Administrator; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Italian

‘A’ – Nationality: American-born Taiwanese; Age: 22; Occupation: Digital Marketing/Entrepreneur; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Language(s): Mandarin, Japanese

Game

Lemonade Hand Clapping Game

Main Text:

JM: Lemonade (Up Down Clap)
(Triple Clap)
Iced Tea (Up Down Clap)
(Triple Clap)
Coca-Cola (Up Down Clap)
(Triple Clap)
Pepsi (Up Down Clap)
(Triple Clap)
Lemonade (Up Down Clap)
Crunchy Ice (Up Down Clap)
Sip it once (Up Down Clap)
Sip it twice (Up Down Clap)
Turn around (Turn around)
Touch the ground (Touch the ground)
Kick your boyfriend out of town!
Pick your nose
Strike a pose
and freeze!

Instructions to play this game:

This game is played with two people who have to face each other. In order to play this game you have to know the two main clapping motions that are employed, the “Up Down Clap” and the “Triple Clap”.

The “Up Down Clap” is done while reciting each line of the song. Players raise their left hands, with their palms down, and lowering their right hands, with their palms up. They clap by bringing down their left hands and bringing up their right hands, until each one of the players’ hands meet those of their partner’s moving in the opposite direction. They then continue in to reverse their hands and clap the other way. For this part the players being with their right hands high and left hands low.

The “Triple Clap” is done between each line of the first verse only. In order to do this, all that the players have to do is clap their own hands together three times consecutively.

At the end of the game is when many forms of variations come in, where you would perform whatever action the song tells you to do. For this variation specifically you would turn around, touch the ground, kick the air, pretend to pick your nose, strike whatever model pose you feel like and freeze for a few seconds.

Context:

This game is played with another person while you are facing each other and it is usually played amongst or with children. I collected this piece from my younger sister who said she learned this game and song at school. She said that she remembers it because at recess there is not much to do so her and her friends use it as a way to occupy themselves.

Analysis:

This game is unique in the sense that is has so many  variations that I have encountered over my 21 years of life and this piece that I collected is vastly different from the one I used to play as a kid. I believe that this variation of the game has formed from combinations of multiple variations of the game. Although the gestures, hand movement and mains structure of the song has stayed the same there are many variations to the words of the song. I think these variations occur over time because people from different regions who move and go to different schools share their variation of the game and then this variation gets adopted by some individuals while the ‘original’ variation continues to be told by others. I think at that point, it is the person who decides which variation they like better and whichever one it is will be continued to be sung and played by them with other people who like the same variations.

One of the reasons that children lore is constantly adapted and formed according to Jay Mechling is as the child’s primary strategy for being antitethical in the world. Although adults play sometimes play is an especially legitimate activity for children which is why they have categorized and created folklore around play and games. Since this play is not for real and not taken seriously by adults most of the time, children are able to explore themes and ideas that they usually are not able to. For example, in this version if you analyze the lyrics carefully there is the mention of one “kicking their boyfriend out of town”. I believe this version was created as a way to address the relationships and bonds with the opposite gender forming and that they may not be able to talk about with their parents. I also believe that this adaptation was spread between children and continued to be spread between children of an older age because with the boyfriend line it deals with undertones of puberty, sexuality and sex which are all things that are epic children are usually forbidden to talk or thing about. Variations in these games and songs also play with this idea because usually a variation would be created as a way to address issues that children may be having to deal with at one point in time that children a century ago never had to think about.

The fact that most children want to be at the center of knowledge with adults also affects the sharing, creation and variation fo children’s lore. When performing children’s lore, children violate the rules that were imposed upon them by adults acting as authority figures as a way to learn say rules. They explore the idea and concept of innocence by creating lore that can be analyzed as having some of the most uncomfortable and even disturbing topics that children are faces with in their daily lives.

To summarize, certain variations of children’s lore like this Lemonade Hand game song are created as a way of addressing the oppression that adults put onto kids at such a young age. Children understand that this is all play and know that adults assume the same, so they feel safe when broaching the “no-go zones” and issues that they would not feel comfortable talking about in daily life or are not allowed to talk about. By also creating folklore and breaking the rules that are not supposed to be broken, children show violation of rules as a way to learn and understand them. All of these reasons can be used to explain why  children’s folklore and games continue to be passed along with each other and why variations of the fames continue to be found over the years of them being played.

For another children folk song that has been adapted into a game (jumprope), see “Children’s Folklore” Folk groups and Folklore Genres An Introduction, by Jay Mechling, 1986, pp. 101–102.

Childhood
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Musical

Miss Susie

[Assorted singing] (Wait, start over, I have to transcribe this) [A and B singing over each other]

 

Miss Susie had a steamboat,

the steamboat had a bell,

Miss Susie went to Heaven,

the steamboat went to–

 

–Hello operator,

I’m caller number nine

and if you disconnect me

I’ll chop off your be–

 

’hind the ’’fridgerator,

There was a piece of glass

Miss Susie sat upon it

And broke her little–

 

–ask, me no more questions,

tell me no more lies.

The boys are in the bathroom

zipping up their–

 

–flies are in the meadows,

bees are in the park

Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the

D-A-R-K,

D-A-R-K,

Dark, dark, dark,

 

Darker than the ocean,

darker than the sea

Darker than the underwear my mommy puts on me

 

My mommy is Godzilla

my daddy is King Kong,

my brother is the jerk that made me sing this song

 

A: is that a thing? Miss Susie went to heaven–

B: Camp songs! Camp songs are a thing. Baby shark.

[more overlapping talking] (So do y’all have any other camp songs or is that it?)

A: We went to different camps.

B: …bazooka zooka bubblegum! Bazooka zooka bubblegum!

(So how did y’all learn these?)
A: Camp counselors.

[rousing chorus of Camp Grenada]

B: They sample a classical piece for that song.

 

 

Context & Analysis: This piece was shared by my informants H and N at an informal house gathering. Myself, N, H, and one other were sharing pizza and talking. They started telling stories, and I immediately wanted to record some. It was difficult to get H and N to explain their camp songs to me as I believe they were distracted by how much fun they were having. I did some research into this piece because I remembered learning a slightly different version, and found there are in fact significant regional oikotypal changes, proving that as the song traveled and was passed from camp counselor to camper, the lyrics changed according to whatever the people in the area found the funniest or most clever. 

 

Childhood
Game

Lemonade Handgame

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).

ZM: Did you ever play any “Apples on a stick” kinda thing?

KA: Lemonade!

ZM: I haven’t heard of that one. What’s that?

KA: You haven’t heard of it? Okay it’s like… shoot. It’s like…

Lemonade (3 claps)

Crunchy eyes (3 claps)

Beat uh once (3 claps)

Beat uh twice (2 claps)

Lemonade, crunchy eyes… beat huh once, beat huh twice

Touch the ground, turn around, freeze!

And then you would like freeze… until like the first person who moved got out.

ZM: Is this like a two-player game? Or more?

KA: Its… You can play it with two. But like you can play it with a bunch of people. Oh…yeah. Well, like two. Because you can go in a circle and like do it like that, but it’s usually just two people. Doing it like this (like a hand game). But, yeah… The point of the game is not to move at the end.

 

Context: I was talking to KA about their childhood when this conversation was recorded.

 

Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California. She attended Los Angeles United School District schools from elementary to high school.

 

Analysis:The version recited by KA doesn’t make much sense lyrically. She acknowledged that there were multiple versions and some people said her version was wrong. She learned Lemonade in elementary school. I had never heard of this particular game. I found other versions online that make more sense.

 

For another version see: https://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=1775

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Signs

Gutter School Superstition

My friend was already aware of my folklore project. While getting coffee, we were happened to be telling stories about our experiences in high school. I realized this would be perfect for this assignment. GG is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you have any folklore about your school, like stories everyone would tell, or things everyone would do?

GG: Oh, I think I have one. I don’t know for sure if it’s folklore.

PH: You tell me and then we’ll see.

GG: Okay, at my elementary school there was this gutter by the lunch tables and kids would say… just to freak other kids out… they would say it was built on an old ranch where there was a princess or something or a rich family and where the gutter was used to be a little stream and she fell face first and hit her head and died in the stream so people would never step in the gutter because she would come to haunt you

PH: Yes, that is folklore! Thank you.

Childhood
Game
Gestures
Musical

Lemonade

Main Piece: Lemonade

The following was an interview of a Participant/interviewee about a folk game that is passed around mainly in elementary schools. She is marked as CT. I am marked as DM.

CT: Lemonade(clap, clap, clap), iced tea (clap, clap clap), Coca-Cola(clap, clap, clap), Pepsi(clap, clap, clap), Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, and freeze.

Background/Context:

The participant is ten years old in the fifth grade. She grew up in Los Angeles, California, but she has Mexican parents and family. Christine, who is marked as CT, is my sister. I was at home for my mother’s birthday party on Friday, April 13, 2018, when I overheard my sister playing a hand game with my cousin. I noticed it was the same games I played in elementary, but the lyrics of the game were slightly different. I began to ask her questions about the game. In this particular game, the objective was to see who would be the first one to move after the word “freeze”. One could not even blink.

DM: Who did you learn this game?

CT: I learn this from one of my friends.

DM: Where did you learn this?

CT: At school.

DM: What was your friend’s name?

CT: Melanie

DM: Why do you like this game?

CT: I like this game because there is a lot of hand motions and its like action. Whenever I am bored, I do it.

DM: What is the meaning of this game to you?

CT: It means to me like, like you get to have fun with your friends with a handshake. Well not a handshake, it’s a game.

Analysis/ My Thoughts:

While I was in elementary, this “Lemonade” game was very popular during recess when we had enough time to rest but not to play full games like kickball or handball. My sister told me this game was also very popular in her recess. Although they were both similar, the lyrics are different. Today’s version is shown above while the one I did in elementary nine years ago goes as stated: Lemonade(clap, clap, clap), crunchy ice (clap, clap clap), beat it once(clap, clap, clap), beat it twice(clap, clap, clap), Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice, and freeze.

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.

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