Lesson of the Day: ‘Around the World in 5 Kids’ Games’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Around the World in 5 Kids’ Games’

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Featured Article: “Around the World in 5 Kids’ Games

Hand-clapping games are played in schoolyards everywhere, in every language. In this lesson, we invite you to take a closer look at some of the different games played on New York City’s diverse playgrounds, and analyze what these games might reveal about unique communities and the shared imagination of children.

The featured article begins:

On every schoolyard across the world you will find games invented by children. Hand-clapping routines, rhyming stanzas and intricate rules for tiny competitions; games born of the creativity, insight and idiosyncrasy of children’s minds.

Did you ever play any hand-clapping or rhyming games as a child? For example, perhaps you’re familiar with the ones about Miss Mary Mack or Miss Suzie and her steamboat? How did you learn these games? How do you think they got started? How do you think they are passed on from playground to playground, and from generation to generation?

Watch the video at the top of the featured article about such games played in New York City schoolyards. (Make sure you turn on the sound.) What similarities and differences do you observe as you watch each group perform? Do the sounds and hand movements remind you of anything you learned as a child or saw others perform?

Read the article and look closely at all of the images and captions, then answer the following questions:

1. Why do you think that New York’s Endangered Language Alliance decided to study playground games even though they exist “just outside the attention of most adults”? What might looking closely at the way children use language and carry on these games reveal about the 637 languages and dialects spoken in the city?

2. According to the article, how do playground games promote unity among classmates? What examples from your own life of similar games, songs, cheers or dances support these claims, or challenge them?

3. What claims does the article make about how these games can help children deal with stress and process difficult issues? What do you think about those explanations?

4. The author writes, “Unlike nursery rhymes, lullabies or children’s songs these games are conceived of, built upon and passed along by kids, largely by girls.” Do you agree, based on your own experience, that these clapping and rhyming games are more commonly played by girls? Why do you think that might be? Kyra Gaunt, an ethnomusicologist, suggests how, at least within the black community, gender expectations in society play a role:

Boys are socialized to suppress emotions and suppress processing emotions through verbal means, through anything but aggression. Girls don’t have that as an option. We’re not allowed to be angry. And because we are relegated to a kind of silence, embodied communication and non-verbal communication becomes a primary outlet.

Does this explanation apply in any way to your own community as well? Have you noticed different gender expectations for girls and boys on the playground?

5. The article’s introduction states, “Each game reflects the history and unique identity of the community it comes from, while at the same time highlighting the shared imagination of New York’s schoolchildren.” After reading the article, do you think these games manage to do both — reflect the unique identity of a community while spotlighting the similarities between different communities? Explain.

The article mentions how the Endangered Language Alliance recently mapped 637 languages and dialects to the New York metropolitan area. Click on the link and explore the map of where these languages are spoken.

Then, working with your class, see if you can identify how many languages are spoken in your community — your neighborhood, town or city. One speaker of a language is enough to make the list. To make as complete a list as possible, you can begin by brainstorming as a class; then you can ask the teachers and other adults in your school if they can add to the list; and finally, you can ask your family and friends to complete the list.

Based on your knowledge and what you learned, do you think any of these languages are still spoken by children on local playgrounds? Or are these languages mostly spoken by older adults?