A clapping game (or hand game) is a type of usually cooperative (i.e., non-competitive) game which is generally played by two players and involves clapping as accompaniment to a singing game or reciting of a rhyme, often nursery rhymes. Clapping games are found throughout the world and similar games may be known throughout large areas with regional variation.
Nature of the games
Due to the communication skills and coordination required, simple clapping games are age appropriate for children age 24 months and above. In many cultures clapping games are played by both sexes and all ages, but in many European and European-influenced cultures, they are largely the preserve of young girls.
Claps commonly included in patterns are clapping one's own hands, clapping both hands of a partner, and clapping one hand of a partner, generally across such as the right hand of each player. The clapping may include other activities such as thigh slapping, or a final move such as touching the ground and freezing. Sara Bernstein describes seventy-nine "basic hand-claps".
Clapping patterns may be used with only specific rhymes, generically with most rhymes, or improvised. Children in different areas may be more or less strict about which claps accompany which rhymes but generally different clapping patterns may be used to accompany different rhymes. The rhymes are generally very similar to a jump-rope rhymes. Some games are played without a rhyme, such as 'Slide', and not all require the players to clap each other's hands, such as 'Sevens.'
Clapping games are a part of oral tradition. As such there are a variety of distinct clapping games or families of games. A game may be performed or played in various versions found in different areas and times and often according to ethnicity. For example, 'Hello, Operator' may be called 'Miss Susie' or 'Miss Lucy' and may contain, omit, or vary verses or specific lines. Clapping patterns and actions may also vary. There is no canonical version of any game though children often fight over whose version is "right" or "real".
Hand Clapping takes on a more sinister role in the short story 'My Boy Friend's name is Jello' by Avram Davidson (1954 Mercury Press Inc). A man, lying sick in his bed hears little girls clapping and singing a song about a person called Jello who has a pimple on his nose and swollen toes. It turns out to be a Boarder upstairs suffering from the exact same things. As the weather is very hot he hints to the girls chanting that he wishes it would rain, and lo and behold , later on it rains. Being pestered by the unwanted feminine wiles of a Miss Thurl, he throws the girls some money and they chant a rhyme that has them get Miss Thurl teamed up with the Boarder. The girls have obviously taken a shine to our narrator as the final hand clapping game begins 'my boy friend will soon be healthy'.
- "A Sailor Went to Sea"
- "Down Down Baby"
- "Down by the Banks"
- "Mary Mack"
- "Miss Susie"
- "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man"
- "Pease Porridge Hot"
- "Pretty Little Dutch Girl"
- "Stella Ella Ola"
- "Cup game"
- L. Acredolo and S. Goodwyn, Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love (Acredolo 2000), p. 52. ISBN 9780553380309.
- P. Blatchford and S. Sharp, Breaktime and the School: Understanding and Changing Playground Behaviour (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 40.
- K. D. Gaunt, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop (New York, NU., New York University Press, 2006), p.6. ISBN 9780814731208.
- Bernstein, Sara (1994). Hand Clap!, p.13-39. ISBN 1-55850-426-5.
- Gryski, Camilla (1998). Let's Play: Traditional Games of Childhood, p.30-1. Kids Can. ISBN 1550744976.
- Bernstein (1994), p.7-8.
- British Library Playtimes videos and sound recordings from the British Library showing clapping games over the last century