Tag Archives: children’s rhymes

Elementary School Rhyme 

M is a 19 year old college student. She grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and shares a rhyme she learned in elementary school when she was in the cafeteria at lunch.

“Like elementary school on the playground you and your friends would draw a little teddy bear on one hand and scribble on the other and you’d say “This is Teddy. Teddy says hi” then you’d SMACK the other hand and say “this is Teddy when a car goes by.””

I’ve heard the same rhyme, except in California we drew a stick figure and would say “This is Steve.” This and other childhood games actually reveals a morbid fascination kids seemed to have. A lot of childhood rhymes are actually very violent in nature and play on really dark humor. I think this may be a way for kids to feel like they’re rebelling, to feel more mature. They joke about taboo things that their parents and teachers might not like them talking about because it makes them feel more adult. Maybe it also helps them make light of real topics that are actually quite frightening for children. They know death is a real thing, but they don’t want to think about it, so they make light of it.

Que te pasa calabaza? Nada nada limonada

  1. Original Text: “Que te pasa calabaza? Nada nada limonada” (Spanish)
  2. Transliteration: “What is happening to you pumpkin? Nothing nothing lemonade”
  3. English translation: What’s up pumpkin? Nothing nothing lemonade”

Context: The informant is 18 and grew up in Barrington, Illinois. They are a freshman at USC, studying Theater and Anthropology. They learned this saying on the playground from friends in elementary school while involved in a dual language program in Spanish and English. “It’s ‘sort of like a greeting’”, the informant says, “similar to the popular English saying ‘see you later alligator, in a while crocodile’”. The informant describes that one person says “Que te pasa calabaza”, while another responds to the greeting by saying “Nada nada limonada”. 

Analysis: The informant is white, not Hispanic/Latino, but learned this saying from native Spanish-speaking children on the playground. There is a large percentage of Hispanic/Latino identifying individuals in the Chicago area (which includes Barrington), specifically those of Mexican descent. Therefore, the saying may be common in Mexican culture specifically, as well as in other Spanish-speaking countries. This saying reflects the playful nature of elementary-age children, taking delight in fun rhymes and games with their friends. Greetings are a way to indicate your relationship with another individual. Having a special saying in a shared language to exchange with your friends indicates closeness and shared culture. 

Avocado Rhyme Game (with Hand Motions)

Original Text: “Avocado is the name of the game, if you mess up, you must have a word to say”

Hand Motions/Gestures:

  1. Both people clap their own hands together 
  2. Both people clap each other’s right hands together 
  3. Both people clap each other’s left hands together 
  4. Both people clap their own hands together 
  5. Both people intertwine their fingers and press their palms out into the other’s palms 

Context: The informant is an 18-year-old white American from Barrington, Illinois. They are a freshman at USC, studying Theater and Anthropology. They learned this rhyme game from their older sisters, who learned it on the elementary school playground. The informant describes it as : “a rhyme with motions to go along with it”. If you mess up the motions or the rhyme, you pick another word to replace “avocado”, and repeat the rhyme as usual. The informant would regularly play this game with friends at their public elementary school with friends to pass the time.

Analysis: Hand games with rhymes are common in American elementary schools. This particular hand game calls for the players to be able to think of a random word quickly to keep the game going if they mess up. A typical way that young American children learn to speak, read, and write properly in school is with long lists of vocabulary words and vocab tests. Everyday words, like different types of food (ex: avocado), are the most useful and common in these vocab activities. A game like this one that involves simple word recall might be especially appealing and familiar to children because of all the vocab words they are learning in their classes. Young children are also working on their motor skills, and visual/audio queues like clapping and rhyming are particularly stimulating and accessible. Rhymes are easier for people to remember, which explains why young children have an easy time remembering this game and executing it. 

Playground Diss


Q:Ok so what was the saying.

R: Its, there’s like a saying and you do a couple movements but its:

Brick Wall Water Fall


You don’t, I do 

So boom with that attitude

Reeses pieces, Butter Cup

You mess with me I mess you up

Elbow elbow wrist wrist

Hush up girl you just got dissed

Context: This was a saying from middle school that was common among kids at the time (2015-16), and was in this case not used for any purpose than to have a cool rhyme. 

Analysis: To me, this seems like a variation on many childhood “playground” dites I have heard before. Of course, this one has more of an aggressive tone so I would assume that it was used in a more confrontational manner as a sort of playground mic drop, so to speak. Another form I could see this taking is a jump rope rhyme as it has a good rhythm to it when told orally.

Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!

Informant Background:

My informant, KL, is my mother. Her father was born in Finland and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. She described this nursery rhyme that she remembers from growing up and then passed down to my sister and myself when we were very young.

Piece of Folklore:

Original Wording: “Lintu lentää, liitää laataa, kiitää kaataa, hocus pocus pocus!”

Translation: bird flying, soaring high, diving down, hocus pocus pocus!

This short lullaby would be accompanied with hand movements mimicking a bird flying overhead for the first half (the part spoken in Finnish), followed by the hand “diving down” to snatch the child as a meal, i.e. tickle the child’s stomach or chin during “hocus pocus pocus.”


            I remember giggling to this often as a child. In addition to the tickling itself, as the lullaby was repeated over the duration of my early childhood, there was an aspect of anticipation – I knew the tickling was coming, and so I would burst into laughter before I was even touched. From a larger cultural standpoint, the lyrics of the lullaby reflect a naturalistic element of Finnish culture. There is a concept of the Sielulintu, or soul-bird, which was thought to deliver souls to children when they were born and carry them away when they died, which may be related to this tradition.