USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘elementary school’
Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“I Believe I Can Fly” Parody

The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.

I believe i can die

I got shot by the FBI

My momma hit me with a chicken wing 

All the way to Burger King

 

Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.

From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.

An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Playground Lingo

Context: The informant is a 23-year-old white female from Florida who grew up with her parents and two older siblings. When the informant was in grade school, a common accusation between kids swinging on adjacent swings, when someone got too close to them, was, “You’re in my shower!”

Analysis: The informant says she remembers the phrase because “I thought it was a weird thing to say, i was like, okay, whatever you say…” This indicates that it was not a widespread saying but perhaps unique to a small area of schools or perhaps even just the one school that the informant attended.

It can be assumed that when someone had possession of a swing, they would be unwilling to give it up or to experience interference from other swingers. The connotation of a shower being a very individual, private space, therefore, transferred onto the swinger’s small area of free movement and they would understandably be indignant of someone invading their “private,” designated area.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Slow and steady wins the race”

“Slow and steady wins the race.”

The informant explains that he remembers first hearing this proverb in his first grade class in elementary school when his teacher was reading the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The informant explains that after learning this at a young age the moral behind the proverb stuck in his head.  The informant explains that he tries to think of this proverb whenever he feels he is acting too quickly or is not giving things enough thought.

It is interesting to note that the informant learned this proverb at an extremely young age within a classroom setting.  The location of learning this can tell one a bit about the morals and ideas that his teacher and school promoted and on a larger scale what education in the United States tries to promote.  It is also interesting to compare this proverb to proverbs with contradicting ideas such as, “the early bird gets the worm.”  It is common to see contradicting proverbs and on the surface it shows that different people hold different ideals and different ideals at different times.

This proverb is widespread throughout the U.S. and is seen in many published works.  Recently, on May 1st, 2013 the Nyngan Observer had the title of an article as “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.”  The article discussed different planting techniques in Southern Australia.  Here is a citation of the article:  “Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” Nyngan Observer. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web. 1 May 2013.

Childhood
Game

Duck, Duck, Gray Duck

Interview Extraction:

Informant: In school, instead of playing just ‘Duck, Duck, Goose,’ we changed up the ducks. So you’d say different types of ducks, like ‘red duck, blue duck,’ whatever, and then when you said ‘gray duck,’ you’d run and ad the person you’d tag would chase you. So you just run at ‘gray duck’ instead of ‘goose.’”

Me: “Where was your school?”

Informant: “In Minnesota. They’re actually very militant about it, and they’ll insist that it’s ‘Duck, Duck, Gray Duck’ and not anything else, but like, I moved there when I was eight, so I knew from before that almost all other places called it ‘Duck, Duck, Goose.’ But they um, yeah, they insisted on the gray duck part and they thought the ‘goose’ portion was weird.”

Analysis:

Schoolchildren can be very adamant about protecting their games and creations. No matter where they are or what they are playing, their way will be the right way. This is evident in the  Minnesota elementary school kids who were “militant” about playing “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck,” as well as my informant, who despite being a college student, still showed signs of being upset at her old classmates. She strongly felt that it should be “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and that the Minnesota version was a singular place for playing the game differently. I admit that upon hearing the story and being introduced to the adaptation, even I felt slightly angry at these students for playing the “wrong” way. Neither I nor my informant still engage in “Duck, Duck, Goose,” but I imagine we expect to still see children playing in preschools and elementary schools years from now, and furthermore, we both expect to see it played the way we did.

Distancing myself personally from this game however, I must acknowledge that it’s interesting how “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” even evolved. Upon researching this, I found out that Minnesota was the only state in the US and even Canada that had this version, though without any sufficient information. Even more intriguing, evidently one can now call someone a “gray duck,” and use the phrase in a derogatory way to refer to that person being born or raised in Minnesota. Clearly, childhood vendettas can run very deep, and changing up a traditional staple of schoolyards is frowned upon by all adolescents. While the Minnesotans don’t retaliate by calling residents of other states “gooses,” are determined to persist playing their own adaptation, either to distinguish themselves or to simply continue a game their own parents or teachers taught them.

 

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Story of Booty Itches

This is the story of Booty Itches. People used to tell it on the playground because it’s hilarious. There once was uh, uh, uh a little boy named Booty Itches. And, uh, on the first day of school he went to class and his mom said, uh, or his teacher said, uh, “What’s your name?” “Booty Itches,” he said. And then the teacher said, “Uuuuuh, okay, funny. What’s your real name?” And he said, “Booty Itches!” “And she said, “Okay, uuuuh, I’m getting mad now, to tell you, I’ll ask you one more time and I’ll send you to the principal’s office. What’s your name?” “Booty Itches!” So he gets sent to the principal’s office. Um, and the principal said, “Okay, son! You’re new here. What’s your name?” He said, “Booty Itches!” Uh, the principal was all like, “Haha, funny! What’s your name?” “Booty Itches!” he said. He said it one more time and the principal got mad, so sent him home. And on the way home, um, he got hit by a car, and his mom saw it. And his mom said, “Oh, my poor Booty Itches!” And the police said, “So why don’t you scratch it?”

This story is a joke told by elementary school children. The joke deals with potty humor (such as the name Booty Itches), and violent death. Both of these subjects are taboo, and potty and body humor is popular among elementary school children. As is the wordplay found in the punch line: “my poor booty itches!” Which in this case refers to a person named “Booty Itches.” Word play is popular among elementary school children, because most children at this age are still developing an understanding of words and grammar.

This maerchen also has an element of blason populaire. This joke could be a way for children to talk about how many unusual, non-English names sound like certain words in English–at times to amusing effect. The name “Booty Itches” is an extreme, and perhaps insulting, example of a non-traditional, non- English name that a character in the joke possesses. The joke also illustrates the lack of integration and acceptance children with unusual, non-English names may experience within the school system. Police, in addition to school authorizes, is unknowledgeable or unwilling to listen to or believe this student who has such an unusual name.

Children would tell this joke to friends and classmates to gain acceptance and form groups based on humor. Although children would probably hear a joke like this many times from classmates (as repeating jokes is more popular with children) each child would try to tell the story better than the others to be thought of as funny, and therefore gain popularity.

Legends
Narrative

Killer Upstairs

So when I was younger all the kids in the elementary school were scared of going upstairs. You know the parents say go upstairs to my room and get x object. And you’re all downstairs, the lights are all off upstairs, so you always run up the stairs to get, to get the stuff and run back down, because there was a story going round that a guy went up to his parent’s room to get a, uh, a remote, a TV remote or something like that, and he got killed by a killer who only goes up there when the kids are told to go up there by their parents. So all the kids were afraid, and um, I was literally terrified, because I knew for a fact . . . there is a guy in there! There wasn’t though.

This story is an urban legend spread by elementary school children. It was told to initiate children, as older children in-the-know could tell younger children this to scare them, without believing it themselves. It was also told by children who might have believed, as many children are afraid of the darker and being alone, even in their own house. Going upstairs to a parent’s room in the dark to retrieve something can be a terrifying experience. This story helps rationalize why one should feel afraid to go upstairs alone as a child.

Childhood
Game

Wallball variant – Butts Up

My informant used to play a variant of Wallball at his Bay Area elementary school called “Butts Up.”  Like with regular Wallball, the game was played against the wall of a building or room, with one ball and many participants.  Players had to throw the ball against the wall without the ball first bouncing off the ground.  If the ball touches a player and then touches the floor, that player must run to the wall before the next time someone performs a successful wall bounce (player -> wall without touching floor).  If a player makes it to the wall in time, he or she is safe and may resume play.  If the ball makes it there first, that player receives a point.  Additionally, a player may attempt to perform a fast catch, whereby the player catchs the ball immediately after it has bounced off the wall, before it touches the floor again.  If the player successfully performs a fast catch, then the player who threw the ball gets a point.

My informant’s version of the game uses letters instead of points.  Each point spells out the word B-U-T-T-S and when a player has gotten all 5 letters, they must stand against the wall with their butt in the air while every other player gets a chance to peg them in the ass with balls.  Additionally, instead of a rubber playground ball, Butts Up was played exclusively with a tennis ball, and players were allowed to catch the ball in between throws, instead of just fast catches.  Also after a player has been ass-pegged for spelling BUTTS, instead of being out, the player simply returns to the game with a clean slate, albeit a sore ass.  Another one of my informants also said that some kids from his elementary school, back in New York, played this version of Wallball, and even called it by the same name of “Butts Up.”  According to him, this version of the game was reserved for the hardest of hardcore children.

Childhood
Game

Wallball

One of the games my informant used to play back in elementary school was a game called Wallball.  According to him, Wallball is played against the wall of a building or structure with a playground ball or tennis ball.  The object of the game was to hit the ball with your hand and have it hit the wall without first touching the ground.  If the ball hits the ground first instead, you must run to the wall before someone else is able to successfully hit the ball at the wall, or else you are “out.”  However, my informant says that usually a player could receive 3 or 5 outs before actually being forced out of the game.  Games were played with a large number of students.  There were a few additional rules in his version of Wallball.  Players were not allowed to bobble the ball, any player bobbling the ball was forced to drop it and run for the wall just as if they had failed to make a proper hit.  If a player was able to catch another player’s ball after it had hit the wall but before touching the ground, the player who hit the ball received an out.  A player was also allowed to peg another player with the ball, thus forcing both players to run for the wall.  This was only to be performed if teachers were not watching because teachers would usually stop the game if they saw this.  Players were also forbidden from having “Tea parties” which is where a player hits the ball back to his or herself 3 or more times in a row.  Also at any time, one player could challenge another player by throwing over his or her shoulder.  Both players then had to run to the wall before someone else hit it there.  Perhaps this challenge rule was instigated to replace pegging in the presence of teachers, but never left the game even when teachers weren’t present.  This version of Wallball is very similar to the version of Wallball that I played in elementary school, except without the challenge rule.

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