Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Games Children Played

by | February 16, 2012 | 34 comments

Recently I read a blog about the Black Plague. Briefly, the author mentioned the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosy.” I always knew it came from the Black Plague, but for some reason it hit me just then that it had been passed down child to child for over 600 years! A long time for a song to survive.

What about “London Bridge is Falling Down?” which is from when the London Bridge was actually crumbling under Londoner’s feet. According to Walt Disney’s The Truth About Mother Goose (1957) the rhyme refers to the deterioration of the original London Bridge (built in 1176, which had been considered a wonder of the world), due to a combination of age and the Great Fire of London in 1666. (Wikipedia)

Whether Disney had it historically accurate, or you prefer to embrace other theories about the bridge, it still remains that the song we learned as children is very old. My friends and I had a game we played with the song. Two children would join hands and hold them up, while other friends would file under the “bridge”. After the first verse was over, the “bridge” would capture one of the children, and sing, “take a key and lock her up…” while rocking the lucky child back and forth. That child then became a new half of the “bridge.”

This brought back a rash of memories of games I played, that my parents, and their parents played. I remember bouncing a ball and singing “A my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Alan, we come from Alabama, and we bring back Apples.” Then onto the next letter in the alphabet. When you came to a letter and stumbled, you handed the ball over to the next child.

A silly game we also played was holding hands, forming a circle, with one who would weave his or her way in and out under the linked hands of the group. We’d sing “Go in and out the windows, go in and out the windows.” Then he or she would “wash the dirty windows” by pretending to wash each person’s face. Then “stand before your partner.” Now the “washer” would stand in front of one of his friends, and they would both “go in and out the windows” until no one was left to be the windows.  Sound silly?  We loved it.

How about Farmer in the Dell? Another hold hands in a circle and sing the song, picking out the farmer, his wife, the child, the dog, etc. Everyone wanted to be the cheese, because at the end “the cheese stands alone.”

I learned all those songs and games from my parents, who learned them from their parents, as far back as anyone could remember.

Alas, I fear a huge part of our childhood legacy has been lost with the emergence of video games, Wii, organized sports, and numerous enrichment classes for children.

I feel sad to think of songs and the games that went with them, that survived for hundreds of years, being lost. Before I wrote this, I asked my twenty year old daughter is she remembered any of these songs and games. Because she has a crazy mother, who taught them to her and her friends while other kids were playing with their video games, she remembered. Was that tears in her eyes as she recalled her happy childhood? Hmm. I hope so.  But the larger question is will they die with her? 

I hope to look out my window one day and see my grandchild singing “take the key and lock her up, lock her up, lock her up…My fair lady.”

If you’re a Baby Boomer, like I am, you may remember some of these games.  If not, what games do you remember that were handed down from your family?


  1. Ann Montclair

    I think you’re right–those games of long ago are such fun and soon to be a lost unless parents teach them to their kids. Sad that kids don’t play outside like they used to, but I guess that’s the cost of progress. My mom would say, “Out,” and if I came back I was stuck inside. I stayed outdoors until dinner time most days. Good days. Good memories. Thanks for stirring them, Callie.

    • Callie Hutton

      Thanks, Ann. It’s up to us to make sure our children don’t remember childhood as running from activity to activity supervised by adults, but free time to just be kids.

  2. BJ Scott

    Very interesting post. Most people would not be aware of the facts you presented 😉

    • Callie Hutton

      Thanks, B. J. I loved remembering all this.

  3. Meggan Connors

    Great post.

    As a Gen X-ER, I remember playing ring around the rosy, which I played with my own kids and the kids at school. The preschool teacher where I work taught me a second line is never heard before, which cracks me up every time I sing it:

    “Tapping at the window, tapping at the door. Everybody jump up when we count to four!”

    It makes me wonder… Zombies? Or vampires?

    • Callie Hutton

      Hmm. I looked up the entire song online when I wrote this, and didn’t see that line. Spooky.

  4. Ally Broadfield

    We used to play the London Bridge game the same way. I think you’re right that many of those songs and games are disappearing. I’m very happy my daughter has been jump roping with her friends on the playground at school, and they are learning many of the songs we used to sing, like “Miss Susie had a baby, she named him Tiny Tim…”

    • Callie Hutton

      Oh boy, do I remember jumping rope to songs. I loved jumping ‘french’ or ‘double time.’

  5. Sandy Rowland

    I remember playing those games and loved them.
    I think you’re right, and we may lose that heritage with the new generations.
    My granddaughter, age 2, loves her mom’s I-Pad.
    I heave a sad sigh.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • Callie Hutton

      Thanks, Sandy. Technology is good, but some of the old games need to be passed on as well.

  6. Caroline Clemmons

    I remember all of those games! I had no idea of their origin, though, and loved learning about them. I do think they are still played in pre-schools, at least in some pre-schools. I hope they continue, but fear you’re correct and–as with so many other areas–today’s and tomorrow’s children will miss out on some of the best parts of childhood.

    • Callie Hutton

      I know, Caroline. Just time to be kids, and be free of adults supervising them. My kids used to play “manhunt” in the neighborhood at night. They carried flashlights, and had one person hide that they had to find. Even though my kids are generation X and Y, they played outside their entire childhood.

  7. Angelyn

    OH–take the key and lock her up! Who could forget that one? Immortalized in Dark Shadows when the spectre of Barnabas’ little sister in her mob cap and gown sang that song in the Collins crypt. Wonderful post, Callie!

    • Callie Hutton

      Thanks, Angelyn,

      I just loved those games, and would be very sad if they passed away in a generation or two.

  8. Barbara Bettis

    Wow, this brings back such memories. Now I’m trying to recall other games like that I played as a child. I never knew the origin of the London Bridge is Falling Down one, though. Thanks! My grandmother loved doing those things–and telling us riddles. I only wish I’d written some of them down years ago. I’ve forgotten too many.

    Great post.

    • Callie Hutton

      Hey Barbara, Write them down now, so your kids/grandkids can play them.

  9. Calisa Rhose

    I’m feeling nostalgic now. I remember almost all of those. Our fave to play as kids, besides London Bridge, was Red Rover and Simon says. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Callie! 🙂

    • Callie Hutton

      Hey Calisa, I forgot about Red Rover and Simon Says. Good stuff, too.

  10. Paisley Kirkpatrick

    Hide and Seek, hopscotch (loved it), building forts in the grass down by the creek – don’t see these anymore. My parents always sent us outside to play. My hubby was gone all day but knew he had to be home at supper time. I remember all the games you mentioned – I am a war baby. It is a shame they are disappearing. I know I was afraid to let my children be outside unless I was with them to keep watch on their safety. We also roller skated around and around the block and rode our bikes until they fell apart. So sorry those easy days are gone. 🙁 Thanks for the memory awakening.

    • Callie Hutton

      Yes Paisley, the bike riding. They were you ‘wheels’. And just wangle you dad to give you a quarter, and it was candy for you and all your friends. Hopscotch. Another good one.

  11. Casey Wyatt

    I’m a Gen Xer too. I remember playing duck, duck, goose in pre-school and London Bridge. Later when I was older, I remember playing “Star Wars” in the back yard with my brother and our friends. We also skateboarded (I stunk at it!) and roller skated (was good at that!).

    • Callie Hutton

      Ah, roller skating. Another good one. We had the old fashioned skates that clamped to your shoes. There was a ‘key’ to tightened them, that you carried around your neck on a shoe lace.

  12. Diana Layne

    I’m an only child, with a working mother. I stayed with my grandmother after school (no cousins either). So after school, it was pretty much just me and my imagination. Not much of a game player, and even at school, I resented them because they interrupted my imaginary play time, lol.

    • Callie Hutton

      Ah, Diana, But that imaginary play time was most likely the basis for your writing career!

  13. Anna Kathryn Lanier

    Great post. I do remember these games. I think another demise of the games is the new-fangled idea that ‘kids can’t lose or their self esteem is damaged beyond repair’ mentality. I mean, are all us grownups damaged? While I applaud the outlawing of dodge ball, not allowing musical chairs, is stupid. That was always a fun game to play. A game I remember playing with the neighborhood kids was ‘war.’ Basically, it was war….sorta like Cowboys and Indians, one side was the ‘right’ side, the other side the enemy. One place I lived had a big field behind our house and that made a great place to play ‘war.’

    • Callie Hutton

      Agreed. We had more fun when PC wasn’t shoved down our throat. We also played a ball game called “war” where everyone picked a country to be, and one child would bounce the ball and yell “I declare war on….” and name a country. That child had to catch the ball and yell “stop”, and then try to hit the child closest. If he missed he was out. Fun times.

  14. McKenna Darby

    Lots of memories, indeed. I’d forgotten the “take the key and lock her up” line, but the instant I read it, everything came flooding back. And I’d forgotten the “Ring around the rosies” link to the plague; know I’d heard it before, but I think my subconscious blocked it out. Such a horrible thing for children to sing about when you know the connection!

    Of course, my crowd also used to sing “Lizzie Borden took an ax, and gave her mother 40 whacks . . . ” Pretty awful as well!

    • Callie Hutton

      Yes, I remember the Lizzie Borden chant as well. Who knew?

  15. ChristineWarner

    My mom and aunt really got into playing games with us when we were kids. We played a lot of the games you mentioned, but also, Ollie, Ollie Over…Ring Around the Rosie, Red Rover Red Rover and Duck Duck Goose….several others I can think of too, but I don’t want to keep you busy reading too long. LOL

    Thanks for the memories Callie…I think I’ll call my sister and reminisce.

    • Callie Hutton

      Hey Christine. It’s great to reminisce, isn’t it? Glad you stopped by–know your super busy right now.

  16. claudia celestial girl

    Duck Duck Goose! (grins). And also one we used to play in school on rainy days, but I don’t remember what it was called. It was a favorite game though. What is Star Wars? That one is after my time.

    • Callie Hutton

      Hey Claudia: I remember playing 7-up in school on rainy days when there was no outside recess.

  17. Emma

    Tag, hide and seek, jacks, jump rope (double dutch, pepper, high water low water and God knows how many rhymes), bottle caps, Johnny on the Pony, Categories, One Potato, Red light Green Light, Giant Steps, building stuff–scooters, ‘switch blades’ out of popsicle sticks, cardboard houses, clothes pin dolls, octupus dolls made from yarn, planters made from cracked coffee cups, lace trimmed handkerchiefs–stick ball, hand ball, hop scotch (which we also called ‘potsy’), blind man’s bluff–I could keep going but I have to be home before the street lights come on.

    • Callie Hutton

      OMG, Emma, you brought tears to my eyes. I loved all those games, and it’s so sad to think they’re gone, and replaced with video games and organized sports. There wasn’t a obesity problem among kids when we were young. My mom’s mantra: Go outside and play. Thanks for stopping by.



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