Index of Articles


Posted on: November 1st, 2014 by hauleymusic No Comments


Singing games began to be recorded and studied seriously in the nineteenth century as part of the wider folklore movement. Joseph Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1801), Robert Chambers Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1826), James Orchard Halliwell’s The Nursery Rhymes of England (1842) and his Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849), G. F. Northal’s English Folk Rhymes (1892), all included collected singing games. However, the first studies to focus solely on this area were William Wells Newell’s Games and Songs of American Children (1883) and Alice Gomme’s The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1894-8), both considered landmark works in the serious study of the subject on respective sides of the Atlantic. Naturally, these works tended to have many of the faults associated with the folklore and folk song collecting of their eras, and have been criticised for a focus on rural society at the expense of the urban, and an obsession with recovering what were seen as disappearing ‘authentic’ and original verse, from adults, while disregarding contemporary practice by children. Some of these problems were rectified by a work like that of Norman Douglas, who produced London Street Games in 1916, focusing on the urban working classes.

Perhaps still the most significant work in the field was that of Iona and Peter Opie, which departed from previous practice in Britain; following work by Dorothy Howard in America and Brian Sutton-Smith in New Zealand, they relied on detailed observation of children for their evidence resulting in their work on The Language and Lore of Schoolchildren (1959), Children’s Games in Street and Playground (1969) and The Singing Game (1985). Their extensive studies refuted the idea that the traditions of singing games were disappearing in the face of social and media change. Herbert and Mary Knapp, produced One Potato, Two Potato: the Secret Education of American Children (1976). Wider based studies include Helen Schwartzman’s Transformations: The Anthropology of Children’s Play (1978).

As the emphasis of investigations changed so did the methods of recording. Early folklorists like Lady Gomme, tended to provide written descriptions of games, lyrics and occasionally musical notation of tunes. By the late 1970s there was increasing use of film to record the actual practice of games, providing a record of the relationship between movement and music.

Starting Songs
Many children’s games, that do not themselves involve singing are started by a song. Traditionally there were many calling rhymes, used to assemble players of a game, which is probably the origin of the nursery rhyme “Girls and Boys Come Out To Play.”

“Girls and Boys Come Out to Play” or “Boys and Girls Come Out to Play” is a nursery rhyme that has existed since at least 1708. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5452. (The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of nearly 200,000 references to nearly 25,000 songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world. It is compiled by Steve Roud, a former librarian in the London Borough of Croydon).

The most common versions of the rhyme are very similar to that collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s.

Girls and boys, come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day;
Leave your supper, and leave your sleep,
And come with your playfellows into the street.
Come with a whoop, come with a call,
Come with a good will or not at all.
Up the ladder and down the wall,
A halfpenny roll will serve us all.
You find milk, and I’ll find flour,
And we’ll have a pudding in half an hour.

Other versions often put boys before girls in the opening line.

The verse may date back to the time when children were expected to work during the daylight hours, and play was reserved for late in the evening. The first two lines at least appeared in dance books (1708, 1719, 1728), satires (1709, 1725), and a political broadside (1711). It appeared in the earliest extant collection of nursery rhymes, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book published in London around 1744. The 1744 version included the first six lines.

Courtship and Marriage Games
A number of singing games deal with elements of courtship and marriage, like ‘Skip to My Lou’, which remained also an adult courtship song, and ‘Green Grass’ and ‘Three Dukes’, which was largely retained only by children.

“Skip to My Lou” is a popular children’s song. Skip to My (The) Lou was a popular partner-stealing dance from America’s frontier period. In early America, ‘respectable folks’ in strict Protestant communities regarded the fiddle as one of the devil’s tools (if it led to dancing, which was regarded as sinful). Faced with such a religious obstacle to socializing, young people developed the “play-party,” in which all the objectionable features of dancing were removed or masked so that grave elders would overlook their activity. The dancers sang and the audience clapped to create rhythm for their own music. In time, the play-party acquired a life of its own. It became an ideal amusement for teenagers and young married couples. In many a frontier community, the bear hunters, Indian fighters, the rough keelboat men and the wild cowboys could be seen dancing innocently with their gals, like so many children at a Sunday school picnic. As people moved westward and communities shrugged off the ‘witch-hunt’ mentality which plagued early Protestant New England, square dancing and barn dancing became acceptable, at least to some.

“Skip to My Lou” is a simple game of stealing partners (or swapping partners as in square dancing). It begins with any number of couples hand in hand, skipping around in a ring. A lone boy in the center of the moving circle of couples sings, “Lost my partner what’ll I do?” as the girls whirl past him. The young man in the center hesitates while he decides which girl to choose, singing, “I’ll get another one prettier than you.” When he grasps the hand of his chosen one, her partner then takes his place in the center of the ring and the game continues. It’s an ice-breaker, a good dance to get a group acquainted with one another and to get everyone in the mood for swinging around.

The “loo” in the title is the Scottish word for “love.” The spelling change from “loo” to “lou” probably happened as Anglo-Americans, and the song, became Americanized.

Lyrics (Common version)
Skip, skip, skip to my Lou, (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darlin’.
(Changing verse here). (repeated 3 times)
Skip to my Lou, my darlin’.

The changing verse:
• Fly’s in the buttermilk, Shoo, fly, shoo
• There’s a little red wagon, Paint it blue
• Lost my partner, What’ll I do?
• I’ll get another one, Prettier than you
• Can’t get a red bird, Jay bird’ll do
• Cat’s in the cream jar, Ooh, ooh, ooh
• Off to Texas, Two by two
Skip, skip, skip to the Lou,
Skip, skip, skip to the Lou,
Skip, skip, skip to the Lou,
Skip to the Lou, my darlin’.

Other Version-
Flies in the buttermilk, Shoo fly shoo! (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling.
Lou, Lou skip to my Lou! (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling.
(sound sad) Lost my partner, What will I do? (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling.
(sound sad) Lou, Lou skip to my Lou, (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling.
(magically happy): I’ll get another one just like you! (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling!
Lou, Lou skip to my Lou! (3x)
Skip to my Lou, my darling.


Baring-Gould, William S. and Ceil. The Annotated Mother Goose: Nursery Rhymes Old and New, Arranged and Explained. New York: Bramhall House, 1958.

Brewster, Paul G. Children’s Games and Rhymes. New York: Ayer Co Pub.1976.

Campbell, Andrea. Great Games for Great Parties: How to Throw a Perfect Party.
New York: Sterling, 1991.

Cooper, Mary. Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, London: printed by John Newbery, c. 1744.

Denslow, W.W. Mother Goose, New York: Dodo Press, 1901.

Halliwell, James Orchard. The Nursery Rhymes of England, Oxford: University Press. 1846.

Herman, D. The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007.

James, Arlene. A Family to Share. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike Press, 2006.

Lomax, Alan. Folk Songs of North America. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1960.

Miller, Olive Beaupré. In the Nursery of My Bookhouse. Chicago: The Bookhouse for Children Publishers (1920).

Opie, I. Opie, P. (1951). The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1997 ed.). Oxford: University Press. pp. 349–50.

Rizzo, C. All the Ways Home: Parenting and Children. Norwich VT: New Victoria Publishers. p. 104. 1995.

Roud, S. The Lore of the Playground: One Hundred Years of Children’s Games, Rhymes & Traditions (New York City, NY: Random House, 2010.

Wentworth, George. Smith, David Eugene. Work and Play with Numbers. Boston: Ginn & Company.1912.

Whitmore, William H. The Original Mother Goose’s Melody, as First Issued by John Newbery, of London, About A.D., 1760. Albany: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1889.

Wollaston, Mary A. (compiler). The Song Play Book: Singing Games for Children. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company (1922).