Tag Archives: children’s games

Beetle on a String – Mayate Verde en Hilo

Informant: My informant is my Mexican mother, who grew up in Puebla, Mexico. While she stayed with her mom for about 16 years before coming to the U.S, she grew up very poor. Therefore, throughout her childhood, she never really had any toys to play with. It was up to her and her siblings to create ingenious ways to create games. My mom explained that one of these games included the following. 

Main Piece: “Creciendo pobre siempre nos inventábamos juegos que no necesariamente involucra tener un juguete. Por ejemplo unos de esos juegos no tiene nombre pero básicamente es encontrar un mayate verde. O, en otras palabras, es un escarabajo que esta casi igual que el size de la pulagade de tu dedo o mas grande.  Después atrapar uno agarras un hilito y lo amarras alrededor del cuerpo del mayate. Y listo!! Tienes un mayate que te guíe. Si usabamos la imaginacion Nosotros usabamos nuestra imaginación y pensábamos aveces que eran hadas o cometas!

Translation: “Growing up poor, we always made-up games that didn’t necessarily involve having a toy. For example, one of those games, which has no name but basically, it is to find a green mayate (beetle). A beetle that was about the same size as the inch of your finger or larger. After catching one, you would grab a little thread and tie it around the mayate’s body or leg. And ready!! You have a beetle to guide you and that you could fly.  If we used our imagination, we would see these beetles as fairies or kites! 

Context: My mom explained that she usually performed this game in the 1980’s whenever she was by herself between the ages of 5-10 years old because it was the best way to entertain herself. It was easy to just let oneself engage in their imagination when being so young. Just as her mom taught her how to tie a beetle on a string for entertainment purposes, she also taught her siblings how to engage in this game. 

Analysis: I think this game really portrays the innocence of children. As an adult some might see this as practice as wrong because they are hurting the beetle. However, if one puts themselves in the shoes of a poor child, I don’t think these children would have any bad thought/bad intention when it comes to trapping a beetle for a little fun. It’s not like they are torturing the beetle. In fact, I think it’s very ingenious of them to have come up with this game. This practice/game itself demonstrates just how intelligent children are, and how our imaginations can become so powerful. I think it’s a beautiful practice that siblings pass on these customs/games in order for their siblings to have the best childhood despite the challenges that they and their parents might face.

Bubble Gum Bubble Gum in the Dish

Informant: The informant is my sibling, a Mexican American boy who is 14 years old and currently an 8th grader at a charter school in Los Angeles California. 

Context: My informant explains that this verse is usually present when there has to be an “it.” For example, when playing hide and seek or tag. In addition, he also stated that this rhyme is more common with the girls.


J: “When you are going to play a game of hide and seek or freeze tag and you need to choose a person, everyone has to put their shoe in the middle (puts foot in middle) then you say …” Bubblegum bubblegum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish?” Each syllable goes around someone shoes. Whoever it lands on has to pick a number and then it continues until that number is reached. Whoever it lands on gets out until the last person is left. and that last person is choose as the “it””

Analysis: I’m surprise that this verse is still used up to this day. I would have thought that this would have died a long time ago, but it hasn’t. This is due to the fact that children teach other children how to go along with these rhymes. In this rhyme it is evident that it is performed in order to be fair and has this element of destiny to it. It prevents children or even teenagers from fighting because there is no way that there could have been cheating.

Down by the banks

The informant explained that this is a hand game or clapping game she used to play at summer camp in between activities with the other girls who were in her cabin. Her estimate for when people play it is ages 6-12. You learn it by playing and other children explain it to you. She also said that this game” slaps” and would totally play it today.

SD: The song is:

Down by the banks of the hanky panky

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky 

With an eeps opps soda pops

Hey mister lilypad went kerplops

So, you sit in a circle with a group of three or more typically and each person has their right hand on top of the person to their right’s left hang. So your left hand is under someone’s right hand and your right is on top of someone’s left. Then while you’re singing the song, every word, there’s a beat on every word, where you slap your right hand onto the person to your left’s left hand and you go in a circle until the song runs out and on the last beat kerplop, the person who is hitting is trying to slap the person to their left’s right hand and that person is trying to avoid getting slapped. If you get your hand slapped, you’re out, or if you try to hit the person’s hand but you miss because they’ve moved their hand out of the way, you’re out. And that keeps going until there are two people left. Then the last two people lock right hands and pull back and forth on the beat of the lyrics and at the end whoever pulls the other person toward them wins.

Context: This piece was collected during an in person conversation.

Thoughts: I was surprised when hearing the informant’s version of this clapping game because I played the same game with different lyrics. This is a common game I played in PE and at recess, taught by other children. So it is passed on from child to child through their community. It’s also clear that it exists in multiplicity and variation given that I grew up on the other side of the country and played it the same way, albeit with different lyrics. There also seems to be an oppositional issue that comes to play in children’s folklore as there is a male vs. female aspect of this game that changes; she said she played it with only girls, while I played with both genders.

You shouldn’t walk across a grave

Background: The informant was a boy scout and eventually became an Eagle scout. He remembers a game he used to play with his fellow scouts that involved a superstition about graves and respect for the dead.

TR: The superstition that you shouldn’t walk across a grave. It is bad luck to walk across a grave. The scout troup would meet at a Methodist church and the meetings would be at night. We would play capture the flag a lot and across the property and graveyard in the dark and it would be spooky. I was hesitant to play, because you’re just not supposed to, disturb the dead, particularly at night. It’s all tied to respect for the dead. Back then when you are just trying to scare one another, it added another element, and it’s a long standing superstition that you don’t walk across graveyards, or play capture the flag and run. That seems even worse.

Me: If this is widely held, did you know of the superstition when you were doing it?

TR: Well yeah, it was well known that you aren’t supposed to do it and you’re walking across a body, a dead body.

TR: We thought about it, and had various levels of investment in the superstition, but I was not particularly invested. Some might have been more worried about incurring the wrath of a ghost or receive bad luck, but I didn’t think much of it. The idea of displeased ghosts became more believable playing at night than it would be playing during the day.

Me: Was it more believable at night?

TR: Definitely.

Me: If it was more believable, why did you do it?

TR: The fun of the game weighed in heavily, but the hesitation came from it being disrespectful. It is widely known that it is disrespectful.

Context of the performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: The informant considers this superstition just widely known–it’s not officially codified. It takes a sentiment, being respectful of the dead, and turns it into a superstition using an object–the gravestone representing the person it’s placed for. It also reveals children’s thought processes surrounding death, where the fun of the game outweighed any feeling of disrespect. The superstition and “spooky” nature added an element of fun to the game as the informant and his friends tried to scare each other, perhaps signifying young children’s non-confrontation of the taboo; they use the superstition to make the fun scary, but don’t think about the taboo of death that is incongruous with childhood.

Pen Fight – School Game


My informant, AS, is a 19-year-old Indian male who grew up in Mumbai, though he has lived in Southern California for the past three years. He went to a private school in Mumbai, and this game was played at his school, as well as other schools. This piece was collected during a facetime call, when I asked him to share some traditions from home. I refer to myself as SW in the text.


Main Piece:

AS: “I was gonna tell you about a game we used to play in class… it’s called pen fight – where we would take pens that we use to write with and put them on the desk, and you’re supposed to flick your pen so that it hits the other person’s pen, and you’re supposed to like, get them off the desk, just from flicking your pen towards the other one. 

SW: “That sounds nearly impossible.”

AS: “No! It was, it was so much fun. Not in one go you get like multiple goes. You go once, then the other person goes, and so on and so forth.”

SW: “That still sounds nearly impossible.”

AS: “How? I think you’re imagining it wrong. Like, take a pen, flick one end of it so that it like, flings towards the other pen and it hits it.”

SW: “Right. You’re forgetting that I have absolutely zero hand eye coordination.”

AS: “Hahaha yeah. But, it basically came down to who had a heavier pen. But sometimes you’d just play like, with random pens. That was a big part of like, seventh, eighth grade. Everyone played that.”


Informant Analysis:

SW: “Why?”

AS: “Cause we had nothing better to do. And then eventually it got so bad that like, while we were playing that pens would leak, get onto our shirts, and… teachers had to step and be like ‘yeah this is not allowed anymore. You can’t play this.’”

SW: “But did you keep playing it even after it was technically banned?”

AS: “Of course. It was addicting. It was so addicting that we would like, beg our teachers for free periods just so we could play that. Cause breaks weren’t enough… And then people would buy like, expensive pens just so they could play pen fight with them. They wouldn’t even care like, about whether they damaged the pen or not. They just cared about the win.”

SW: “So was there like, this whole hierarchy of who was better at and stuff?”

AS: “Yes there was. It was actually one of the… it was actually a thing like, even though there was like a hierarchy of ya know, cool people and uncool people, it was actually the one thing that actually brought us together, in a way. Just, nobody cared about class, in that context.”


Pen fight is a good example of Children’s folklore and folk games. The rules are very easy and anyone can play, as the only materials required are a pen and a table of some sort. The game served to bring the students together as everyone played and enjoyed it. Since Indian culture can often be sharply divided by class, it’s important to have practices that bring people together that may not otherwise interact, and games are a good way to accomplish this. The fact that my informant would buy pens specifically for use in pen fight shows how invested the students were in this game. Additionally, the game seems to have served as a way to test boundaries by doing something that was “banned” but ultimately not dangerous, which can be an important part of children developing identity and learning to think for themselves away from authority figures.