When thinking about games you can teach your children, hand clapping games often get overlooked. It’s easy to understand why; they’re not particularly physical and they don’t help kids burn off an awful lot of energy in the playground, but that doesn’t mean they should be ruled out entirely! They’re also excellent for teaching memorisation and teamwork, and improving rhythm and coordination – all important skills for children to have!
If you’re thinking of teaching your kids some hand clapping games (perhaps as part of an outdoor music lesson?), you might want a list of rhymes and game types to make it a little more fun, memorable, and varied. That’s where we can step in and help. Take a look below at our list of fifteen playground hand clapping games and have your pick of all the ones you think your kids will love the most!
15 Playground Hand Clapping Games to Teach Children
Clapping games have been around for decades and are considered a strong part of oral tradition. As a result, there are no “canonical” versions of any clapping games; instead, there are hundreds of different variations that your kids might know and like to play as part of their playground activities. Each of these are likely to vary in some of the words and verses, clapping patterns, and positions or actions as they carry them out, and there may often be disagreements between children as to which is the “right” version.
It’s important to let them know that, technically, everyone is right with their version because these games were only originally spoken and not written down, leading to different interpretations. You can then suggest some of the hand clapping games we’ve listed below to expand their knowledge and help them to practise their skills even more!
Most of these games will involve two players, but some of them can be played with more than this:
Perhaps the most famous hand clapping game in the English-speaking world, Pat-a-Cake, “Pat-a-cake-pat-a-cake-baker’s-man”, or “Pattycake” or “Patty-cake”, is also one of the world’s oldest surviving English nursery rhymes. The most well-known version of it goes like this:
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and prick it, and mark it with B
Put it in the oven for Baby and me
The game is ordinarily played with two players. It involves alternating between individual claps conducted by one person and two-handed claps shared between the two players. Sometimes, players may choose to cross their hands over to make the game more fun, interesting, and complex. The initial and the word “Baby” can also be swapped out for a player’s name and initial.
2. A Sailor Went to Sea
A particularly popular nursery rhyme and clapping game with a myriad of variations, A Sailor Went to Sea has stood the test of time – being played through the 80s, 90s, and up to the present day. Although it’s known that it was originally called “My Father Went to Sea”, no one quite knows when it first appeared (it was definitely being sung and played in playgrounds before the 80s, but could go back even further). The most famous version that you’re likely to have heard goes like this:
A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
To see what he could see, see, see
But all that he could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea
A sailor went to knee, knee, knee
To see what he could knee, knee, knee
But all that he could knee, knee, knee
Was the bottom of the deep blue knee, knee, knee
A sailor went to chop, chop, chop
To see what he could chop, chop, chop,
But all that he could chop, chop, chop
Was the bottom of the deep blue chop, chop, chop
All of these lyrics are accompanied by appropriate and easy to follow hand gestures, such as rippling waves for “sea” and axe or karate-chop motions for “chop”.
3. The Cup Game
Older audiences may know this rhythm game from the movie Pitch Perfect, but long before that it was a competitive game that kids loved to play in playgrounds! Of course, one student can practise their skills and play by themselves as well.
4. Mary Mack
Mary Mack, also written as “Miss Mary Mack”, is one of the widest-played hand clapping games in the English-speaking world. It’s known right across the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and involves two players sitting opposite each other and clapping in time to the rhyming song. Variations of the clap and the song itself exist, though one of the most common versions of the song goes like this:
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back (Alternatively, “Up and down her back, back, back)
She asked her mother, mother, mother
For 50 cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump over the fence, fence, fence
They jumped so high, high, high
They reached the sky, sky, sky
And didn’t come back, back, back (or “down, down, down”)
‘Til the 4th of July, ly, ly
Slide doesn’t have any words for kids to memorise; it’s mostly about keeping count and staying calm under pressure. Players begin by holding flat, pressed hands together and then sliding them apart to begin a very fast clap routine. Claps increase in speed and number the longer you go!
6. Four White Horses
Originally a Caribbean folk song, this hand clapping game is one of the ones where you’re going to need more than two people. These will be two sets of partners who form a square, with partners standing across from each other. The aim is for the kids to clap on the beat, making it good for practising coordination and learning teamwork and cooperation. The song they will be clapping to goes like this:
Four white horses on the river
Hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow
Up tomorrow is a rainy day
Come on and join our shadow play
Shadow play is a ripe banana
Hey, hey, hey, up tomorrow
Up tomorrow is a rainy day
7. Down Down Baby (Roller Coaster)
One of the most popular songs to accompany a group hand clapping game, you’ll even find modified versions of “Down Down Baby” (also called “Roller Coaster”) in other songs! While the lyrics vary between the groups of children that play the game, the most essential words of the rhyme are the ones that were featured in an episode of Sesame Street in the 80s:
Down, down, baby
Down by the roller coaster
Sweet, sweet baby
I’ll never let you go
Shimmy, shimmy Coco Pop
Shimmy shimmy pow
Shimmy, shimmy Coco Pop
Shimmy shimmy pow
8. Stella Ella Ola
Also known as “Stella Stella Ola”, “Quack Dilly Oso”, and “Down by the Banks” when used with different lyrics, this clapping game involves players standing or sitting in a circle and placing one hand over their neighbour’s hand. On every beat, the player claps their higher hand onto the touching player’s palm. This continues until the song ends, and if a person’s hand is slapped at this point they are out of the game.
People who are out will have to stand or sit in the centre of the circle, or leave it entirely and watch from the sides. If a player pulls their hand away fast enough not to be caught, the player who attempted the slap is out instead, making it a fun challenge to try and avoid being caught while getting other people out.
One of the most common versions of the rhyme goes like this:
Stella Ella Ola
Clap, clap, clap
Singing es, chico, chico
Chico, chico, clap, clap
Es chico, chico
Cheese and macaroni
Fire 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!
You might think of Tic-Tac-Toe as another name for Noughts and Crosses, but it’s also a hand clapping game your kids can learn in the playground! It doesn’t always have to be played with lyrics, but one of the common versions you might hear of it when you do goes like this:
Tic-Tac-Toe, give me an X, give me an O
Three times around the world
Rock, paper, scissors, shoot
Rock beats scissors
Scissors beats paper
I win, you lose
Now you get a big fat bruise
And give them a touch
With your pinky
A much shorter version might also go like this:
Give me a high
Give me a low
Give me a three in a row (sometimes accompanied by “1, 2, 3”)
Don’t get hit by a UFO!
10. Say, Say Oh Playmate
Also known as “Playmate”, this American hand clapping game got its tune long before it got the rhyming words that are used today. The tune comes from a song called “Iola” by Charles Leslie Johnson, which was produced somewhere between 1904 and 1906. The lyrics you’re most likely to hear go like this:
Say, say oh playmate
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Slide down my rain barrel
Into my cellar door
And we’ll be jolly friends
Forever more, more, more!
Say, say, oh playmate
I cannot play with you
My dolly has the flu
Boohoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo
Ain’t got no rain barrel
Ain’t got no cellar door
But we’ll be jolly friends
Forever more, more, more, more!
As the name suggests, this game goes in sevens. You’ll need a table to do it, so if your school has some outside tables for a picnic area, you’ll be set. Directions of a typical game could be set out like this:
- Hit the table seven times in a row with both hands; do this twice with a gap about one hit long in between each hit of the table
- Alternate between hitting the table and clapping; it should go hit, clap, hit, clap, hit, clap, hit. Do that twice with a gap about one hit long in between each hit of the table
- Hit, clap, click, hit, clap, click, hit; do this twice
- Hit, cross your hands over and hit, uncross your hands and hit, clap, click, clap, hit; do this twice
- Repeat Step 3
- Repeat Step 2
- Repeat Step 1
Because of how fast the game is, it’s more likely that older students will find it easier than younger ones.
12. Rockin’ Robin
Named after the popular song by Bobby Day from 1958, this game is best played with four people so that you can go over and under each other’s hands, as demonstrated here in the video (you will have to skip ahead to get to the game!).
13. Concentration 64
The key to this game is all in the name: concentration! While clapping with a partner, players must think of a name or a word that relates to a chosen category. To give an example, a player might have to think of different farm animals. The next player then has to say a different farm animal to the one already said without any repetition or hesitation.
The number 64 doesn’t really have any meaning within the game, but some people have suggested seeing if you can get to 64 answers between two players without either one having their concentration broken!
14. Pease Porridge Hot
Also known as “Pease Pudding Hot”, this centuries-old rhyme can be made into an easy clapping game as well. The words go like this:
Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old
Some like it hot, some like it cold
Some like it in the pot, nine days old
15. Pretty Little Dutch Girl
This children’s nursery rhyme was first published in the 1940s, and American versions vary considerably from British ones because many people in the UK wouldn’t have been familiar with the references the original lyrics made at the time. As such, a common version in the US might go something like this:
I am a pretty little Dutch girl
As pretty as can be
And all the boys in the neighbourhood
Are crazy over me
My boyfriend’s name is Mello
He comes from the land of Jello
With pickles for his toes and a cherry for his nose
And that’s the way my story goes
But a common version in the UK might go like this:
My boyfriend gave me an apple
My boyfriend gave me a pear
My boyfriend gave me a kiss on the lips and he threw me down the stairs
I gave him back his apple
I gave him back his pear
I gave him back his kiss on the lips and I threw him down the stairs
I threw him over London
I threw him over France
I threw him over the football pitch and he lost his underpants
His underpants were yellow
His underpants were green
His underpants were black and white and smelled like rotten cheese
Want a Spot for Clapping Games in Your Playground?
Designs & Lines can help, if you do! Whether you just want something simple but fun and colourful like a Copy Me spot where your students can improve their skills at Sevens or have been imagining a whole bespoke nautical theme for your playground based on A Sailor Went to Sea, we can get the markings you need installed for you. Our team will even be waiting to talk about it with you from the moment you get in touch.
We’ll be happy to work weekends and around children’s breaks and lunchtimes to ensure that all your designs are installed on a schedule that suits you best. Making sure every part of the process is as hassle and frustration-free as possible is all part of the job, after all! That’s why we will also offer you all the information that you’ll need before we begin, so that you can concentrate on that all-important job of teaching your students.