By Wendy Priesnitz
Skipping, or jumping rope, is an activity in which kids have engaged for millennia. Researchers tell us that both the Egyptians and aborigines of Australia combined vines and flexible bamboo with jumping as a form of play. Early Dutch settlers brought the activity to North America and not surprisingly, one of the more popular rope jumping games is called “Double Dutch.”
When I was a child in the 1950s, skipping rope was very a very popular form of play. Unfortunately, it took a back seat to other activities like television in the 1970s, although some kids, like my two daughters, still enjoyed the activity with their friends.
These days, as some parents try to encourage their children to spend less time in front of screens and more time playing outside, it is making a comeback along with other street games. Adults are also involved, since it’s a great cardio fitness activity and fitness centers routinely include it in their classes.
Skipping can be either a solo activity or a group one, and doesn’t need fancy equipment. When a group of kids gets together to play skipping, two of them will each take an end of the long rope and turn it as the others take turns jumping. Sometimes, one will continue jumping while another will “run in” or out while the rope is turning – the main objective being to see how long the skipping can continue without anyone tripping up. If someone isn’t a good jumper, they can become an “everender” and perpetually be stuck turning rather than skipping; sometimes the younger kids get this role. But usually, when a jumper misses the rope, it becomes her turn to turn the rope and the next child in line takes her place as a jumper. It’s a game of skill than become competitive (something the little boys in my neighborhood took gleefully to heart when I was a child.)
Kids enjoy chanting rhymes while they are skipping rope. Examples of English-language rhymes have been found going back to at least the seventeenth century. Some rhymes are intended to count the number of jumps the skipper takes without stumbling. The group counting continues as long as the jumper avoids missing a jump; when someone stumbles, the turning resumes and the counting begins again.
Here are two skipping rope rhymes I recall from my childhood, the first one obviously reflecting my British heritage:
Big Ben strikes one,
Big Ben strikes two,
Big Ben strikes three, etc.
Applesauce, mustard, cider
How many legs has a spider?
One, two, three, etc.
Some rhymes require the skipper to perform actions while jumping, like this one:
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, tie your shoe,
Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do!
Other rhymes involve speeding up the rope turning. The key word to start turning faster is often “pepper,” yelled out loudly, as in this rhyme:
Set the table,
Don’t forget the Salt,
Pepper! (rapid turning follows)
Besides solo skipping, group skipping with one rope, as above, or with two going in opposite directions (Double Dutch), there are other variations.
One is called Jump the Snake. Rope turners crouch or kneel and wiggle the rope from side to side to make a snaking configuration. Jumpers line up and jump the rope one after another. As the jumper approaches the rope, she plants both feet together and broad jumps across the rope, landing on two feet. The goal is to avoid touching the rope.
There are variations on that too, where you either jump with a partner or just by yourself. Both use the rope folded in half. You can hold the shortened rope in your hands and turn round and round on the spot with your friend jumping over the folded rope as it comes around. Or you can swing the rope first to the left and then to the right, jumping over it yourself each time. I also remember tying the rope to one ankle and jumping over it as I twirled around and from side to side; a friend’s daughter recently told me that in the 1980s, she had a toy specially designed for that called Skip-It.
Whatever techniques your kids invent for jumping rope, they're sure to have some fun and get some outdoor exercise, and will maybe even make you feel nostalgic enough to join in!
Miss Mary Mack and Other Children’s Street Rhymes by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson (HarperCollins, 1990)
Anna Banana: 101 Jump Rope Rhymes by Joanna Cole (HarperCollins, 1989)
Wendy Priesnitz is the founder and editor of Child's Play Magazine, the author of thirteen books and contributor to many more, and the mother of two grown daughters.
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