Old Children’s Games: Clapping And Hand Games Part 1

Do you remember those hand clapping games and other hand games that we did when we were kids? How about where they came from? I know I have these questions so I did a little searching. I have to say, it’s difficult to find an actual answer. I assume there isn’t a whole lot of information about them. 


Clapping games is something my generation (70’s & 80’s) and others before my time, that would be done and enjoyed by kids all over the place. Kids would stand facing each other (mostly two at a time but sometimes more and in a circle), sing a song/rhyme and do a coordinated hand clap to it. Mostly girls did this but some boys did it too. If one person messed up, you would have to start over or go to the next person waiting to play. If the song was short, sometimes you would keep going and get faster each time until someone messed up.

There were all kinds of different songs like ‘Miss Mary Black’ and ‘Three Sailors’ which happened to be my favorite. I think the another I used to do was ‘A sailor went to sea sea sea’. There are so many other songs too. There is also the toddler one, ‘Patty Cake’.

I have read that it started in the 19th century and became popular in the 50’s, that it dates back to ancient Rome or even from the 16th century. Personally I would think it came centuries ago, from just about anywhere from bored kids. I wouldn’t mind trying to find out what certain songs from these games came from but since there are so many, it would be too difficult. Although I did read that ‘Patty Cake’ was first a finger game attributed by a 17th century English writer and poet Tom D’Urfrey then turned into a clapping one by writer Lydia Maria Child.

Over the generations, these songs have been changed and more songs have been created also making the clapping game a little more complicated. Here are the lyrics to the three I have posted above.

‘Miss Mary Mack’

Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack

All dressed in black black black

With silver buttons buttons buttons

All down her back back back

She asked her mother mother mother

For fifty cents cents cents

To see the elephants elephants elephants

Jump over the fence fence fence

They jumped so high high high

They touched the sky sky sky

And didn’t come back back back

Til’ fourth of July July July

‘Patty Cake’

Patty patty cake, baker’s man

Bake me a cake as fast as you can

Roll it, pat it, mark it with a B

Put it in the oven for baby and me

‘A Sailor Went To Sea Sea Sea’

A sailor went to sea sea sea

To see what he could see see see

And all he could see see see

Was the deep blue sea sea sea

(Note: another variation of this is just like the song listed below but used sea sea sea, chop chop chop, knee knee knee)

‘Three Sailors’

Three sailors went to eye eye eye

To see what they could eye eye eye

But all they could eye eye eye

Was the bottom of the deep blue eye eye eye

(every time ‘eye’ is mentioned, one would point to their eye)

Three sailors went to love love love

To see what they could love love love

But all they could love love love

Was the bottom of the deep blue love love love

(one would cross their hands over their heart every time they said ‘love’)

Three sailors went to dizz dizz dizz

To see what they could dizz dizz dizz

But all they could dizz dizz dizz

Was the bottom of the deep blue dizz dizz dizz

(One would make the crazy sign during every dizz word)

Three sailors went to knee knee knee

To see what they could knee knee knee

But all they could knee knee knee

Was the bottom of the deep blue knee knee knee

(pointing or touching the knee every time it’s mentioned)

Three sailors went to land land land

To see what they could land land land

But all they could land land land

Was the bottom of the deep blue land land land

(either patting the air in front of you or bending down touching the ground each time)

Three sailors went to I love Disneyland

To see what they could I love Disneyland

But all they could I love Disneyland

Was the bottom of the deep blue I Love Disneyland

(Doing all the movements in order when saying them)

String games was another popular kids game growing up. From what I have found, these kinds of games date back to thousands and thousands of years ago and there is no real set origin of it. It just passed down from generation to generation, changing as time went on.

One gets a string and ties the ends together creating a circle. One can either then make shapes by themselves or make it into a two person game by grabbing certain strings, pulling them through and making designs. If one failed in making one or couldn’t figure it out, they lost. I could never never get very far in this one. Some of the popular ones were/are: ‘witch’s broom’, ‘Jacob’s ladder’ and ‘Cat’s whiskers’.

Counting out games was always a fun way to see who got chosen to go first for a game or to choose between certain things. Famous ones are: rock paper scissors, one potato two potato, bubble gum bubble gum and Eeny meeny manny mo. So many different version of eeny meeny manny mo have been created through generations. Some short versions, some long versions. I’ve used both. Here are a few of the popular counting games:

‘Eeny Meeny Manny Mo’

Eeny meeny manny mo

Catch a tiger by it’s toe

When he hollars let him go

Eeny meeny manny mo

 (the longer version has this added to it – my daddy said to pick the very best one and you will not be it for the rest of your entire life.)

‘Bubble Gum Bubble Gum’

Bubble gum bubble gum in a dish

How many pieces do you wish?

(Everyone puts their foot in a circle. Then someone would go foot by foot saying the song. Whoever got landed on at the end had to choose a number then in a circle the person went again counting to that number and whoever go landed on was out.)

‘One Potato Two Potato’

One potato two potato

Three potato four

Five potato six potato

Seven potato more

(Everyone would put their fist in a circle and whoever got landed on at the end was out) 

Even though most of these games is hard to find the origins of, it’s pretty clear they have been around for a very long time bringing fun for kids for generations. They have changed over the years and will probably continue to do so. Although, I think today these games are played less and less with new gadgets coming out all the time. It’s sad to see them slowly disappear but perhaps one day they will come back. There are some other hand games that I can touch one but will do that at a later time. Thanks for reading 🙂



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