Thursday 22 June 2023

Skipping rhymes


Skipping rhymes

It is believed that skipping originated from the rope-making industry when rope-makers had to jump over the strands of hemp as they twisted them together to form rope.

Skipping has been played for centuries. The earliest references to skipping relate to skipping with hoops. In the 16th century explorers recorded seeing Aborigines skipping with vines. European boys began skipping in the 17th century but girls were forbidden from skipping; it was considered indecorous as they might reveal their ankles.

The earliest reports of rope skipping were recorded in the early 18th century and referred to single skipping, when girls began to skip. Children’s skipping ropes were produced from the 18th century.

It seems that when girls began skipping, they took charge of the activity, adding skipping rhymes and controlling who could join in. Some chants were for single skipping, others for long rope skipping, when several people could participate.

In long rope skipping, two children would hold the rope and turn it as others took turns jumping. Sometimes, a child would stand next to the rope and start to jump as it was turned. A more exciting game involved running in to the turning rope, jumping a set number then exiting to allow the next participant to join in.   On occasions, many children would jump in one after the other until there was a line of jumpers.

Playground games had their seasons and my recollection is that skipping was a summer activity. I could be entirely mistaken, of course!

Skipping rhymes made the game more fun. A few examples follow, with appropriate actions being self-explanatory in some cases.


The child either starts at the rope or runs into it

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, show your shoe,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, that will do!

Teddy bear, teddy bear, go upstairs,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, say your prayers,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn out the light,

Teddy bear, teddy bear, say good-night!

The child stops or runs out of the rope. If the child misses or stops the rope before the end of the chant, she takes the place of one of the ‘enders’. If someone is not a very good jumper she becomes an ‘Ever-laster’ and her job is to continue turning the rope.


I like coffee, I like tea,

I like (name) to jump with me

The named child joins the first one so that two are now jumping. More can join in.

Some rhymes related to current events. The following chant came about thorough the trial and acquittal of Lizzie Borden in 1893 and survived long after it:

Lizzie Borden took an axe,

She gave her mother forty whacks,

After she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

Lizzie Borden got away,

For her crime she did not pay.

Another historically inspired chant arose from the influenza pandemic of 1918:

I had a little bird,

Its name was Enza,

I opened the window

And in–flu-enza.

There is another version of long rope skipping which teachers are fond of employing occasionally. The children stand in a circle while an adult holds the rope and sweeps it round in circular fashion. Each child jumps in turn as the rope approaches. Those who stop the rope are out!

Do children still play skipping games or is it one of those pastimes that goes in and out of fashion?


  1. I used to love these games. I just asked my daughter (who is 28 admittedly) and she said she did too. I will have to enquire of my granddaughter:-)

    1. So did I. I haven't enquired within my family - really, I should!

  2. I remember skipping quite a lot as a kid, usually solo though. Growing up in the countryside, we didn't get to see our friends outside of school very often. I had one "best" friend and that wouldn't have been enough to do long rope skipping! I can remember seeing my mother skip (very well) when I was young. She would have been 35 or so at the time. It was impressive. How interesting that girls came to skipping later than males!

    1. It was good to have something to entertain when alone. I didn't see friends out of school either.

  3. There is some smiley stuff here but the thought of skipping a rope nowadays horrifies me. Not skipping but I saw a youngish girl being shown how to play hopscotch recently. There is hope.

  4. Simple pleasures bring joy and last a lifetime.


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