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Playground song facts for kids

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Children’s playground and street songs

In contrast to nursery rhymes, which are learned in childhood and passed from adults to children only after a gap of 20 to 40 years, children's playground and street songs, like much children's lore, are learned and passed on almost immediately. The Opies noted that this had two important effects: the rapid transmission of new and adjusted versions of songs, which could cover a country like Great Britain in perhaps a month by exclusively oral transmission, and the process of "wear and repair", in which songs were changed, modified and fixed as words and phrases were forgotten, misunderstood or updated.

Origins of songs

Some rhymes collected in the mid-twentieth century can be seen to have origins as early in the eighteenth century. Where sources could be identified, they could often be traced to popular adult songs, including ballads and those in music hall and minstrel shows. They were also studied in 19th century New York. Children also have a tendency to recycle nursery rhymes, children's commercial songs and adult music in satirical versions. A good example is the theme from the mid-1950s Disney film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett", with a tune by George Bruns; its opening lines, "Born on a mountain top in Tennessee / The greenest state in the land of the free", were endlessly satirised to make Crockett a spaceman, a parricide and even a Teddy Boy.

Action songs

Some of the most popular playground songs include actions to be done with the words. Among the most famous of these is "I'm a Little Teapot". A term from the song is now commonly used in cricket to describe a disgruntled bowler's stance when a catch has been dropped. A 'teapot' involves standing with one hand on your hip in disappointment, a 'double teapot' involves both hands on hips and a disapproving glare.

Game songs

Many children's playground and street songs are connected to particular games. These include clapping games, like "Miss Susie', played in America; "A sailor went to sea" from Britain; and "Mpeewa", played in parts of Africa. Many traditional Māori children's games, some of them with educational applications—such as hand movement, stick and string games—were accompanied by particular songs. In the Congo, the traditional game "A Wa Nsabwee" is played by two children synchronising hand and other movements while singing. Skipping games like Double Dutch have been seen as important in the formation of hip hop and rap music.

If a playground song does have a character, it is usually a child present at the time of the song's performance or the child singing the song. The extreme awkwardness of relations between young boys and young girls is a common motif such as in the American song "K-I-S-S-I-N-G". Playground songs also feature contemporary children's characters or child actors such as Popeye or Shirley Temple. "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" or "Kay Eye Ess Ess Eye En Gee" is the name of a playground song, jump-rope rhyme, or taunt. It really only achieves its desired effect—embarrassment—when sung among children to a couple that is in puppy love. The embarrassment is derived from the prospect of romantic contact between a boy and a girl, usually an uncomfortable topic for children.

The song is learned by oral tradition:

[Name] and [Name]
sitting in a tree,
First comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes baby
in a baby carriage!

Pastime songs

Other songs have a variety of patterns and contexts. Many of the verses used by children have an element of transgression, and a number have satirical aims. The parody of adult songs with alternative verses, such as the rewriting of "While shepherds watched their flocks by night" to "While shepherds washed their socks at night" and numerous other versions, was a prominent activity in the British playgrounds investigated by the Opies in the twentieth century. With the growth of media and advertising in some countries, advertising jingles and parodies of those jingles have become a regular feature of children's songs, including the "McDonald's song" in the United States, which played against adult desire for ordered and healthy eating. Humour is a major factor in children's songs. (The nature of the English language, with its many double meanings for words, may mean that it possesses more punning songs than other cultures, although they are found in other cultures—for example, China). Nonsense verses and songs, like those of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, have been a major feature of publications for children, and some of these have been absorbed by children, although many such verses seem to have been invented by children themselves.

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