Tag Archives: elementary school

“Four-Square” Rules and Children’s Social Space

Main Piece:

B: So basically, there’s four squares. So each square has a name. So the first square is “baby,” the second one is, “jack,” the third is, “queen,” and the last one is “king.” So basically, the king, serves the ball to the other square, and the ball can only hit your square once. If it hits your square two times then you’re out. And then if it bounces in your square and you hit it to the other square, and if you get that person out, then you move up a square until you’re King. and then all the lines are out, and if the ball hits the line then you’re out. 


My informant is my cousin’s 10-year-old son, who is in the fourth grade. He lives in a suburban neighborhood near Des Moines, which is the capital of Iowa. He goes to a public elementary school in his district, where he learned how to play this game from his friend in the third grade. He tells me that he likes this game mostly because of its social aspect; he plays with his friends and converses with them, telling each other stories while they wait for their turns.


This is a transcript of our conversation over the phone. Lately, he has been telling me stories about what goes on during school, though this conversation was prompted specifically for this collection project. I was curious about what kind of games he plays during school with other kids, and four-square was unsurprisingly brought up.


Growing up also going to a public elementary school, four-square was a popular recess activity. I was curious about what kind of different rules his school might have for their version of the game and was surprised about how simple and similar it was to my school’s version ten years before him. The main difference was how his school named the squares, which seem to go along with the suits in a deck of cards, aside from “baby.” Our version simply numbered them from 1 to 4, with 1 being the top position (which would be their “king.”) The most fascinating aspect of his story is how four-square was not just a physical activity for kids to burn off the calories of lunch and antsy-ness built up from sitting in class all day, but how it was also a highly social activity. Within our larger conversation, he revealed to me that it was through playing four-square and waiting in line to play four-square that he learned about many other folk stories such as “bloody mary” and the phenomenon of killer clowns from 2016. Thus, children’s games such as this game of four-square can be much more than physical activities to burn off energy. They can represent social spaces where children test each other’s fears and courage.

Maypole Dance at Waldorf School

This friend told me this story late at night in the kitchen on May 1, 2021. We were surrounded by four other friends who moved in and out of the room, and he spoke about his experience attending annual Maypole celebrations at a New York (Ghent) Waldorf School.


“I went to a very alternative school called a Waldorf School… and they have a lot of different celebrations and practices and things, and one that is very timely is their May Day celebration… one of the main components of May Day is a maypole. I’m not sure which kids are assigned different parts but each has a ribbon and they dance around the pole creating a pattern, this interesting woven pattern on the pole. The ribbons all weave to form a lattice.”

The speaker said that he thought the celebration might be a way to welcome summer, and that different grades performed different tasks in the May Day celebration. The school included grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and students in the third grade often performed the Maypole dance. Students in the sixth and seventh grades played instruments (flute, cello, violin, clarinet, viola) in the orchestra.

I asked the speaker to explain, in his own words, what it meant to attend a Waldorf school. “Waldorf school is a pedagogical movement that began in Germany as an education system started by these same people wo run the Waldorf Hotels or Waldorf cigarette companies, and they started this school for the kids of the factory workers,” the speaker said. “And the goal is like to offer holistic creativity-focused education. So there’s a lot of visual arts and performing arts and a lot of things that wouldn’t really fall under the generally accepted scope of academics.”

The speaker said that grounds crew set up the 20- or 30-foot Maypole in late April and that the structure stayed up for a few weeks after May. He said that every student had to take part in this celebration. Younger students would get excited about the celebration. He said that older students did not want to stand in the hot sun playing a violin wearing a dress shirt.

The speaker said that he does not do anything special for May Day, and that he did not appreciate this celebration until after he left the Waldorf school. “That school never really communicated why we were doing what we were doing,” he said, noting that he appreciates this experience in retrospect


I did not know that this friend attended a Waldorf school, and I was able to tell him later that the Maypole dance is a fertility dance. It seems odd that third graders would take part in this dance, but they are also young and full of life. The Maypole represents a phallus. I asked questions about how the students received this tradition, and it struck me odd that a school designed to promote the arts would not explain the history or meaning of this celebration.

It is also relevant that this speaker told this tale on May 1. He later explained that he remembered this tradition because he had received a school email describing online May Day celebrations. This shows that some newsletters can be very important for the communities in which they share information. He continues to be loosely part of this Waldorf school community long after he graduated and moved away from this location.

Birthday Traditions in Elementary School

Main Piece:

At the informant’s elementary school, there were very intricate birthday traditions. When there was a birthday in the class they would go outside and stand in a large circle. The birthday child would stand in the middle holding a globe. Then all the kids would sing “The earth goes around the sun, tra-la-la. The earth goes around the sun. Around and around and around and the earth goes around the sun” 

Then the teacher would say “and then [birthday child’s name] turned 2!” and a friend of the birthday child would hold a picture of the birthday child when they were two and walk around the entire circle showing all the classmates. The song would then start over and the pattern would continue with 3, 4, 5 and so on until the class reached the age of the birthday child.


This tradition happened at a private, Montessori school where the informant attended. The school was located in the southern United States so the weather was almost always nice enough to do this tradition outside.


This tradition was explained to me when the informant was discussing the importance of traditions at their schools throughout their childhood.


This tradition captures a lot of elements that are important to birth, growing up, and continuing on with one’s life. There is the emphasis on the globe and the sun, to explain to the children that the years pass with each orbit of the sun. Then the photos of the child at each age allow for the children to get to realize what their classmates looked like before they knew each other. This shows the physical changes each child has gone through as they grow up. All these elements mesh into a creative demonstration to show the importance of being one year older that will make an impact on these children.


Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant and the interviewer.

Interviewer: So tell me a bit about what McNuggetting is?

Informant: McNuggetting is more or less a fun way of bullying in middle school haha, i mean no one thought of it as bullying, but looking back, it totally was. So basically any time someone left their backpack behind, we’d take all their shit outta their backpack, flip it inside out, put all their shit back inside and then duct tape the whole thing. It’s pretty mean honestly but god damn it was funny haha


Haha no way, kids actually used to do that at my school to, just without the McNugget name.


My informant was born and raised in the Midwest, more specifically, Wisconsin. He went to elementary through high school there before traveling to California for college. 


I talked to my informant over dinner while we were quarantined together during the coronavirus 2020 epidemic. We were initially talking about fond elementary school stories when McNuggeting came up and I realized it would be great to document.


I think it’s interesting how a “fad” even though it’s technically bullying, was popular all across the country. My school (in California) and my informant’s school were worlds apart in terms of social views, however, kids seem to just do whatever the kids are doing around them without really thinking of the consequences.

Circle House Riddle

O: There are 4 people in a circle house: A mother, a father, a maid, and a baby. One day the baby goes missing. During the interrogation, the mom said she was cooking, the dad said he was on the way to work, and the maid said she was dusting the corners. Who kidnapped the baby?

A: The Dad?

O: Nope.

A: Ah, I get it! The wife was probably lying, so the mom?

O: No. It was the maid because a circle house doesn’t have any corners, girl.

This is a bit of a puzzle but the answer is laid in plain sight. The setup of the riddle gives you the answer. It’s only a matter of listening carefully and knowing your math. Anyone unfamiliar with geometry would be quickly pointed out. The informant communicated that all the riddles she knows now were ones she learned in elementary school which is why it’s so important for them to keep telling it. Riddles can be regional. O’s experience with these in elementary school allows them to tell who experienced a similar community during their formative years.