Old Timey Children's Games with Sherri Shackelford

I enjoy researching old customs to add authenticity to my stories. In my book, The Cattleman Meets His Match, I had a lot of fun recalling games from my own childhood. The book features four young orphan girls. Children have always been children, even in the harsh western plains. Games like hide-and-go-seek and kick-the-can have been around for ages. Clapping games have always been popular (especially with girls).

(found this video on YouTube – it’s not me!)

While researching these games, I came upon many examples from history. Is anyone old enough to remember, Pease Porridge Hot?

Pease porridge hot,
pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old;
Some like it hot,
some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot, nine days old

Many of the versions I came across either sounded too English or they were a little bit, well, suggestive:

Miss Lucy had a steamboat,
The steamboat had a bell,
Miss Lucy went to heaven
and the steamboat went to–
hello operator, give me number nine

You get the idea! Besides the modern reference, I wanted to avoid any rhymes with suggestive lyrics. For The Cattleman Meets His Match, I went back to my own childhood, and the songs I sang with my friends:

Three sailors went to sea, sea, sea
To see what they could see, see, see
But all that they could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea. 

While I don’t know the exact origin of that song, there’s no reason to believe my 1880’s girls wouldn’t have known it-maybe they even made up the words themselves.

I reference Cat’s Cradle in The Engagement Bargain. This game is played with a string loop and two players who perform increasingly intricate trade-offs from player to player. A painting of two women playing a version of Cat’s Cradle dates back to 1795. While the game was often referred to as ‘Scratch Cradle’, I used the more modern reference for today’s readers.

Cat's Cradle

The girls from The Cattleman Meets His Match also used rhymes to decide who would be next on watch. (Remember deciding who was ‘it’?) In my neighborhood, everyone stuck their foot into the center, toes touching, the songs were sung, and the last one remaining was ‘it’. I’ve had other people tell me that everyone put in a fist. Either way, that was how democracy worked in our neighborhood.

My mother and your mother
Were hanging up clothes.
My mother socked your mother
Right in the nose. 
What color was the blood?
R-E-D spells ‘Red’ and 
You are not it!
you're it

The girls from The Cattleman Meets His Match also enjoy telling scary stories around the campfire. I can picture Pa Ingalls doing the same. Human nature hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past several hundred years, although I fear how children play together has changed. The games we played as children were passed down from generation to generation. While my kids enjoy riding bicycles, with so many other activities vying for their time, they don’t play as much as we used to.

What about you? What games and/or rhymes do you remember from your childhood?


cattleman review The Cattleman Meets His Match




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11 thoughts on “Old Timey Children's Games with Sherri Shackelford”

  1. Tag

    Red Rover, Red Rover

    Simon Says

    Ennie Meanie Minnie Mo
    catch a tiger by his toe
    If he hollers let him go
    My momma told me to pick
    the very best one

    Duck, Duck, Goose

    Red Light, Green Light


  2. I remember a rhyme that involved soda names, so it must have been a modern invention. We sang it on the bars then flipped upside down at the appropriate moment. There were accompanying hand motions, of course. 🙂

    Pepsi cola, Coka Cola, Royal Crown
    You’ve got to hypnotize and paralyze
    And knock them on down.

    Not sure who were supposed to hypnotize or paralyze, but we certainly had fun knocking ourselves down.

    Great sale on your book, Sherri. I posted about the bargain on FB to help get the word out. 🙂

  3. Oh most of those I knew… I remember also playing Blue Bird, London Bridge, Patty Cake…etc… what memories!

  4. Hide and Go Seek was a favorite at our house. Lots of fun outside in the country at night.
    Red Rover, DodgeBall, London Bridges, Pattycake, Simon Says, Tag were all great when we had a house full of cousins added to our 6 children. We never did much with rhymes, but our daughters did lots of them when they were in Girl Scouts.

  5. What memories these games bring back! I loved playing the clapping games with other girls, we’d go faster and faster with two to five participants. The ones who messed up had to quit until there were only one left, but usually before then we’d all dissolve into fits of giggles. Oh–and I loved that your bio says you are a reformed pessimist! Too funny…

  6. My father taught us

    “Ipty nipty jiminy jick
    Eitschy peitschy dominick
    Eitschy peitschy domineitschy om pom pus.
    Alla-balla-boo, out goes you!”

    I have never been able to figure out if he made it up.

  7. Patricia – I bet you have some fun memories! Sounds like quite a gang 🙂

    Kathryn – My friend, Cheryl, says I might not be as reformed as I think! Ah well…some habits are hard to break.

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