Nursery Rhyme Games

Nursery Rhyme Games – The Best Old Time Games, Kid Games and
Nursery Rhyme Activities for Kids

"Och hey! gin I were young again,
Ochone! gin I were young again;
For chasin' bumbees owre the plain
Is just an auld sang sung again."

Before starting your nursery rhyme games, be sure to see our Counting Rhymes to learn how to select who is “it” or to choose teams.

By the standards of today, the names of the old time games of years past might sound quite odd.

There are names such as "Single Tig," "Cross Tig," "Burly Bracks Round the Stacks," "Pussie in the Corner," "Bonnety," "The Tod and the Hounds," "I Spy," "Smuggle the Keg," "Booly Horn," "Dock," "Loup the Frog," "Foot and a Half," "Bools," "Pitch and Toss." "Peever," "Tig," "Skipping Rope," "A Dis, a Dis, a Green Grass," "The Merry-Ma-Tanzie," "The Mulberry Bush," "Carry My Lady to London," "I Dree I Droppit It,"and "Looby-Looby."

Just to mention a few. Whew!

The Nursery Rhyme Games


"Merry-ma-Tanzie" which plays the same tune as “The Mulberry Bush” was considered a girls' nursery rhyme game, of which boys, however, might be interested spectators. The counting rhyme having put one in the center, the rest join hands in a ring about her, and moving slowly round, they sing:

Here we go round the jingo-ring, The jingo-ring, the jingo-ring, Here we go round the jingo-ring, About the merry-ma-tanzie.

Twice about and then we fa', Then we fa', then we fa', Twice about and then we fa', About the merry-ma-tanzie.

Choose your maidens all around, All around, all around, Choose your maidens all around, About the merry-ma-tanzie.

Replying to this invitation, the one in the centre chooses two from the circle, and retires with them a short distance away. During their absence the ring-band proceeds as before, and sing with imitating gesture:

Sweep the house ere the bride comes in, The bride comes in, the bride comes in, Sweep the house ere the bride comes in, About the merry-ma-tanzie.

When those who left return, the one who was in the centre takes up her original position, as also do the others, and the ring moves on again with:

Here's a bride new come hame, New come hame, new come hame;
Here's a bride new come hame, About the merry-ma-tanzie.

Then follows "Mary Anderson is her name," with the usual repeats, and "Guess ye wha is her true love," "A bottle o' wine to tell his name," "Andrew Wilson is his name," "Honey is sweet and so is he," (or "Apples are sour and so is he,") "He's married her wi' a gay gold ring," "A gay gold ring's a cank'rous thing," "But now they're married we wish them joy," "Father and mother they must obey," "Loving each other like sister and brother," "We pray this couple may kiss together," all, of course, sung with their repeats as above; and the game may be played until every little girl has revealed her little sweetheart's name, which, to be sure, is the aim of the play.

A Dis, a Dis, a Green Grass

"A Dis, a Dis, a Green Grass," is so simple it is a favorite nursery rhyme game with very little ladies. The children stand all in a row, and, when the counting rhyme has been applied once and again, the two who have been "hit out" face up together hand-in-hand in front, and, advancing and retiring, sing:

A dis, a dis, a green grass, A dis, a dis, a dis; Come all ye pretty fair maids, And dance along with us.

For we are going a-roving, A-roving o'er the land; We'll take this pretty fair maid, We'll take her by the hand.

This sung, they select a girl from the group, who joins on either side, as she is directed, and the song continues, bearing now the comforting assurance to the one chosen:

Ye shall have a duck, my dear, And ye shall have a beau; And ye shall have a young prince By chance to marry you.

And if this young prince he should leave, Then ye will get another; And the birds will sing and the bells will ring, And we'll all clap hands together.

Having all joined in the last two verses, all clap hands together. And the same process is repeated again and again until the last of the "pretty fair maids" is taken over from the row, at which time the game is ended.


"Looby-Looby," A ring is formed, when all join hands and dance round singing:

Here we go looby-looby, Here we go looby light; Here we go looby-looby Every Saturday night.

Why only on Saturday nights I don't know, and it would be futile, I suppose, to inquire. Anyway, with the expression of the last word they all instantly disjoin hands, and, standing each in her place, they sing the next verse, suiting the action to the word:

Put your right hand in, Take your right hand out; Shake it, and shake it, and shake it, And turn yourself about.

As the last line is being sung each one wheels rapidly round by herself, then hands are joined again, and they scurry round in a ring as before, singing:

Here we go looby-looby, Here we go looby light; Here we go looby-looby Every Saturday night,

And so on, the "looby-looby" coming in regularly between each of the action verses, which are varied by "left hand in" and "out," and "right foot in" and "out," and "left foot in" and "out," "noses," "ears," etc., etc., the game finishing only when the anatomy of the players has been exhausted.

I Dree I Droppit It

"I Dree I Droppit It" calls for a mixture of the sexes, and when the numbers are even—or as nearly as chance affords—the players are ranged in a ring, a boy and girl alternately facing inwards with a space between each. The one who is "counted out" (say it is a girl) goes tripping round the others' backs, with a handkerchief dangling in her hand, singing the while:

I sent a letter to my love, And by the way I droppit it, I dree, I dree, I droppit it, I dree, I dree, I droppit it; I sent a letter to my love, And by the way I droppit it.

There's a wee, wee doggie in our cot-neuk, He'll no bite you, he'll no bite you; There's a wee, wee doggie in our cot-neuk, He'll no bite you—nor you—nor you—nor you.

And so forth, until at length she drops the handkerchief stealthily at the heel of one of the little boys, saying "but you," and bolts round this chosen player, and in and out through the spaces between players, in a course as she chooses, until the boy picks up the handkerchief, gives chase, pursuing her exactly in the course which she has chosen to take. If he makes a wrong turn, by that fact he is "out," and must take her place; but if he pursues her correctly and overtakes her, he may claim a kiss for his pains, for which heroism he will receive the applause of the crowd; and the girl—suffused with blushes, as it may be—must try and try again—indeed, try until she proves herself more agile than her pursuer, whom, of course, she is always free to choose. When at length—as come it will some time—her effort is successful, she takes her victim's place in the ring, and he takes hers on the outside of it. And thus the play may go on—boy and girl about—as long as time and energy will permit.

The Jolly Miller

"The Jolly Miller"—In this nursery rhyme game, the players take partners—all except the miller, who takes his stand in the middle, while his companions walk round him in couples, singing:

There was a jolly miller, who lived by himself, As the wheel went round he made his wealth; One hand in the hopper, and the other in the bag, As the wheel went round he made his grab.

At the word "grab," every one must change partners. The miller then has the opportunity of seizing one: and if he succeeds in so doing, the one left alone, without a chosen partner, must take his place, and so on.

Willie Wastle

"Willie Wastle" is essentially a boy's nursery rhyme game. One standing on a hillock or large boulder, from which he defies the efforts of his companions to dislodge him, exclaims, by way of challenge:

I, Willie Wastle, Stand on my castle, And a' the dogs o' your toun, Will no ding Willie Wastle doun.

The boy who succeeds in dislodging him takes his place, and so on.

Oats and Beans and Barley

"Oats and Beans and Barley," a simple but pretty nursery rhyme game. The rhymes are:

Oats and beans and barley grows, Oats and beans and barley grows; But you nor I nor nobody knows How oats and beans and barley grows. First the farmer sows his seeds, Then he stands and takes his ease; Stamps his feet, and claps his hands, Then turns around to view his lands. Waiting for a partner, Waiting for a partner; Open the ring and take one in, And kiss her in the centre.

The players form a ring by joining hands. One child (usually a boy) stands in the middle. The ring moving round, sing the first four lines. These completed, the ring stands, and still singing, each player gives suitable action to the succeeding words; showing how the "farmer sows his seeds," and how he "stands and takes his ease," etc. At the tenth line all wheel round. They then re-join hands, still singing, and at the words, "Open the ring and take one in," the child in the middle chooses from the ring a partner (a girl, of course), whom he leads to the centre and kisses as requested. The two stand there together, while the ring, moving again, sing the marriage formula:

Now you're married, you must obey, Must be true to all you say; You must be kind, you must be good, And help your wife to chop the wood.

Hornie Holes

"Hornie Holes" is a boys' nursery rhyme game in which four play, a principal and assistant on either side. A stands with his assistant at one hole, and throws what is called a "cat" (a piece of stick, or a sheep's horn), with the design of making it alight into another hole at some distance, at which B stands, with his assistant, to drive it aside with his rod resembling a walking-stick. The following unintelligible rhyme is repeated by a player on the one side, while they on the other are gathering in the "cats."

Jock, Speak, and Sandy, Wi' a' their lousie train, Round about by Edinbro', Will never meet again. Gae head 'im, gae hang 'im, Gae lay him in the sea; A' the birds o' the air Will bear 'im companie. With a nig-nag, widdy—(or worry) bag, And an e'endown trail, trail, Quo' he.

(Editor’s note) I found this one to make no sense at all, but it was so amusing I decided to include it.


"Neevie-neevie-nick-nack" A lottery nursery rhyme game, and confined to boys, is of simple movement, but convenient in this—that only two players are required. They stand facing each other, the leader whirling his two closed fists, one containing a prize, the other empty, while he cajoles his opponent with the rhyme

Neevie-neevie-nick-nack, Whilk hand will ye tak'— The richt are or the wrang, I'll beguile ye gin I can?

If he guesses correctly, he gains the prize. If he misses, he has to equal the stake. Until success falls to the second, the original player continues the lead.

The Emperor Napoleon

"The Emperor Napoleon" is a nursery rhyme game which affords, invariably, a good deal of fun. Again, as so commonly, the form is in a ring, and all go round, singing:

The Emperor Napoleon has a hundred thousand men, The Emperor Napoleon has a hundred thousand men, The Emperor Napoleon has a hundred thousand men, As he goes marching along.

In each successive singing of the verse, one syllable after another in the main line, beginning at the far end, is left out—or at least is not spoken—the blank, or blanks, as it happens latterly, having to be indicated merely by nods of the head. As each player makes a mistake, by speaking, instead of nodding, or vice versa, she drops out. The play goes on till all have fallen.

A' the Birdies i' the Air

"A' the Birdies i' the Air," purely Scotch, is a simpler form merely of "London Bridge." Two players, facing each other, hold up their hands to form an arch, and call the formula:

A' the birdies i' the air Tick-to to my tail.

The others, who may be running about indifferently, decide in time which side they will favour, and when each and all have chosen which champion they will support, and have taken their places at her back, a tug-of-war ensues. Afterwards the victors chase the vanquished, calling, "Rotten eggs! rotten eggs!" and the game is ended.

King Henry

"King Henry" somewhat resembles "I dree I droppit it;" only, instead of standing, the girls forming the ring sit, or rather crouch in a sort of working-tailor attitude. One girl, occupying the centre, is "it." A second girl is on the outside. Immediately the ring begins singing the rhyme:

King Henry, King Henry, Run, boys, run; You, with the red coat, Follow with the drum,

the one on the outside is pursued by the girl from the centre. The rhyme may be repeated as often as the ring decides; but the object of the one who is "it" is to overtake and "tig" the other before the singing ceases. Otherwise she remains unrelieved, and must try, and try, until she succeeds in getting out, and putting another in her place; and so on.

The Blue Bird

"The Blue Bird," is a nursery rhyme game for very small children, and is a rather pretty game. The rhyme is:

Here comes a blue bird through the window, Here comes a [blue] bird through the door; Here comes a blue bird through the window, Hey, diddle, hi dum, day. Take a little dance and a hop in the corner, Take a little dance and a hop in the floor; Take a little dance and a hop in the corner, Hey, diddle, hi dum, day.

The players dance round in a ring. One previously, by the process of a counting rhyme, being made "it," goes first outside, then into the centre. Her business now is to decide who shall succeed her; and according as the color word in the rhyme—red, blue, green, or yellow, etc.—corresponds with the dress of all the individual players in the successive singing, the ones spotted successively take their place in the centre, and the process goes on, of course, until all have shared alike in the game.


"A B C" is a spirited nursery rhyme game, admirably adapted for indoor practice on a wet day, which is played by children seated round a table, or at the fireside. One sings a solo—a verse of some nursery rhyme. For instance:

Hey, diddle, diddle, The cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed To see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The chorus of voices takes up the tune, and the solo is repeated; after which the alphabet is sung through, and the last letter, Z, is sustained and repeated again and again, to bother the next child, whose turn it now is to sing the next solo. The new solo must be a nursery rhyme not hitherto sung by any of the company. If unable to supply a fresh rhyme within a fixed limit, the player stands out of the game.

My Theerie and my Thorie

"My Theerie and my Thorie," with a political significance, was a nursery rhyme game widely played. In one place it is known as "Cam a teerie arrie ma torry;" in another, "Come a theory, oary mathorie;" in yet another, "Come a theerie, Come a thorie;" or it may be, as in Perthshire, "My theerie and my thorie." And even as the refrain varies, so do the rhymes. But the action is generally the same. The players divide into two sides of about equal number, in lines facing each other. Moving forwards and backwards the sides sing verse about of the following rhyme:

Question.—Have you any bread and wine, Bread and wine, bread and wine; Have you any bread and wine, My theerie and my thorie?

Answer.—Yes, we have some bread and wine, Bread and wine, bread and wine, Yes, we have some bread and wine, My theerie and my thorie.

Question.—We shall have one glass of it, etc.

Answer.—One glass of it you shall not get, etc.

Question.—We are all King George's men, etc.

Answer.—What care we for King George's men, etc.

Question.—How many miles to Glasgow Lee? etc.

Answer.—Sixty, seventy, eighty-three, etc.

Question.—Will I be there gin candle-licht? etc.

Answer.—Just if your feet be clean and slicht, etc.

Question.—Open your gates and let me through, etc.

Answer.—Not without a beck and a boo.

Reply.—There's a beck and there's a boo, Open your gates and let me through.

A struggle ensues to break through each other's lines, and reach a fixed goal on either side—the first to arrive being the victors.

Glasgow Ships

"Glasgow Ships" All join hands, forming a ring, and, moving round, sing:

Glasgow ships come sailing in, Come sailing in, come sailing in; Glasgow ships come sailing in On a fine summer morning.

You daurna set your fit upon, Your fit upon, your fit upon; You daurna set your fit upon, Or Gentle John will kiss you.

Three times will kiss you; Four times will bless you; Five times butter and bread Upon a silver salver.

Who shall we send it to? Send it to, send it to; Who shall we send it to? To Mrs. [Thomson's] daughter.

Take her by the lily-white hand, Lead her o'er the water; Give her kisses, one, two, three, She's the favourite daughter.

Braw news is come to town, Braw news is carried; Braw news is come to town, [Maggie Thomson's] married.

First she got the kail-pot, Syne she got the ladle; Syne she got a dainty wean, And syne she got a cradle.

The girl named turns her back to the centre of the ring, and the game is resumed.

When all in like manner have been named and have turned, the "soo's race" ensues: a hurry-scurry round—which continues until some one falls, and the game ends by all tumbling in a confused heap.

Airlie's Green

"Airlie's Green," is a nursery rhyme game played by boys and girls alike. A space is set apart for the "green," upon which he, or she, who is "Airlie" takes his, or her, stand. The play begins by the crowd encroaching on the "green," when all but "Airlie" sing:

I set my fit on Airlie's green, And Airlie canna tak' me: I canna get time to steer my brose For Airlie trying to catch me.

"Airlie's" object is to "tig" one within the boundary. The player touched takes his, or her, place, and the game may proceed thus as long as desired.

Het Rowes and Butter Cakes

"Het Rowes and Butter Cakes," in some places called "Hickety, Bickety," is a purely boy's game. One stands with his eyes bandaged, and his hands against a wall or post, with his head resting upon them. One after another his fellows come up unnamed behind him, laying hands on his back; and the rhyme is repeated by all in chorus:

Launchman, launchman, lo, Where shall this poor Scotchman go? Will he gang east, or will he gang west, Or will he gang to the hoodiecraw's nest?

The "hoodiecraw's nest" is the space between the blindfolded one's feet and the wall. When all have been sent to different places around, he who is "it" removes the bandage from his eyes; and when all are ready he gives the call—"Het rowes and butter cakes!" when all rush back to the spot whence despatched. The last to arrive is "it;" and the game goes on as before. Where played as "Hickety, Bickety," the rhyme is:

Hickety, bickety, pease scone, Where shall this poor Scotchman gang? Will he gang east, or will he gang west; Or will he gang to the craw's nest?

Queen Mary

"Queen Mary" In this nursery rhyme game the rhyme goes:

Queen Mary, Queen Mary, my age is sixteen, My father's a farmer on yonder green, With plenty of money to dress me fu' braw, But nae bonnie laddie will tak' me awa'. One morning I rose, and I looked in the glass, Says I to myself I'm a handsome young lass; My hands by my side and I gave a ha! ha! Yet there's nae bonnie laddie will tak' me awa'.

It is played by girls only, who stand in a row, with one in front alone to begin with, who sings the verses, and chooses another from the line. The two then join hands and advance and retire, repeating together the verses, with suitable action, as the one had done before alone. At the close they select a third from the line; and the game proceeds thus until all are taken over.


"Hinkumbooby," is an extended version of "Looby-Looby." The party form a circle, taking hold of each other's hands. One sings, and the rest join, to the tune of: Fal de ral la, fal de ral la;

while doing so they move a little sideways and back again, beating the time (which is slow) with their feet. As soon as the line is concluded, each claps his hands and wheels grotesquely round, singing at the same time the second line of the verse:

Hinkumbooby, round about,

Then they sing, with the appropriate gesture—that is, throwing their right hand into the circle and the left out:

Right hands in, and left hands out, still beating the time; then add as before, while wheeling round, with a clap of the hands:

Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, fal de ral la; [Moving sideways as before, hand in hand.] Hinkumbooby, round about, [Wheeling round as before, with a clap of the hands.]

Left hands in and right hands out, Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, fal de ral la, Hinkumbooby, round about.

Right foot in, and left foot out, [Right feet set into the centre.] Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, fal de ral la, Hinkumbooby, round about.

Left foot in, and right foot out, Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, fal de ral la, etc.

Heads in, and backs out, Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, etc.

Backs in, and heads out, Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, etc.

A' feet in, and nae feet out, [On this occasion all sit down, with their feet stretched into the centre of the ring; and it is a great point to rise up promptly enough to be ready for the wheel round.] Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, etc.

Shake hands a', shake hands a', Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, etc.

Good-night a', good-night a', [The boys bowing and the misses curtseying in an affected formal manner.] Hinkumbooby, round about, Fal de ral la, fal de ral la, Hinkumbooby, round about.

Here Comes a Poor Sailor from Botany Bay

"Here Comes a Poor Sailor from Botany Bay" This is played as a preliminary game to decide who shall join, and which side they will take, in a coming tug-of-war. The chief delight derived is in putting and answering questions. Two leaders, standing as rival chiefs, and acting together as questioners, begin the play; and all are warned before replying:

You must never answer thus: "Yes," "No," "Nay," "Black," "White," nor "Grey."

Then, as each child approaches, the formula proceeds:

Here comes a poor sailor from Botany Bay; Pray, what are you going to give him today? A pair of boots [may be the answer].

What colour are they? Brown.

Have you anything else to give him? I think so.

What color is it? Red.

What is it made of? Cloth. And what color? Blue.

Have you anything else to give him? I don't think so.

Would you like a sweet? Yes.

Now he is trapped. He has given one of the fatal replies; and the child who answered "Yes" goes to a den. After all have gone through a similar form, the youngsters are divided into two classes—those who avoided answering in the prohibited terms, and the little culprits in the den, or prison, who had failed in the examination.

The tug-of-war now begins, the one class being pitted against the other. No rope is used; but arms are entwined round waists, or skirts, or coat-tails are taken hold of; and the victors crow over the vanquished.

That's the End of The Nursery Rhyme Games. Have lot's of fun!

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