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Illustration of a clapping game ("Pease Porridge Hot"), c.1920
Children in Virginia playing hand games at school.
"Miss Mary Mack" About this sound Play 
"Down by the Banks" About this sound Play 
A common style of playing "Pat-a-Cake".

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 a rhythmic 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[edit]

Due to the communication skills and coordination required, simple clapping games are age appropriate for children age 24 months and above.[1] 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 girls.[2]

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.[3] Sara Bernstein describes seventy-nine "basic hand-claps".[4]

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".


The clapping game "roller coaster" is accompanied by "dancing" the "hot dog". Other clapping games include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ L. Acredolo and S. Goodwyn, Baby Minds: Brain-Building Games Your Baby Will Love (Acredolo 2000), p. 52. ISBN 9780553380309.
  2. ^ P. Blatchford and S. Sharp, Breaktime and the School: Understanding and Changing Playground Behaviour (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 40.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Bernstein, Sara (1994). Hand Clap!, p.13-39. ISBN 1-55850-426-5.
  5. ^ a b Gryski, Camilla (1998). Let's Play: Traditional Games of Childhood, p.30-1. Kids Can. ISBN 1550744976.
  6. ^ a b c Bernstein (1994), p.7-8.

External links[edit]

  • [1] videos and sound recordings from the British Library showing clapping games over the last century


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