One Potato, Two Potato: Secret Education of American Children

An excerpt from the book One Potato, Two Potato: Secret Education of American Children a look at the influence of games and play on child development.

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO: THE SECRET EDUCATION OF AMERICAN CHILDREN by Mary and Herbert Knapp. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1976.

About the Book: Remember "Cross my heart and hope to die / Stick a needle in my eye"? Remember playing stoop tag, spin the bottle, Red Rover? In this charming book, the Knapps analyze the games and play activities of American children. The study ranges from jump rope and clapping rhymes to bathroom humor and kissing games. The child in every reader will come flooding back as the Knapps recall games long since forgotten.

From the Book:

There are no supervised Cootie leagues, but more people in the United States have played Cooties than have played baseball, basketball, and football combined. It began to be popular sometime after World War I, and today it's our unofficial national game.

Cooties are "imaginary germs" or "contaminated bugs." All a child does to start a game is touch someone and say, "You've got cooties!" Or he may specify the source of the infection: "You've got Larry's cooties!" He may add, "No tag backs." Children mimic immunization shots with ball-point pens, or mark a magic X on their hands with an appropriately named Magic Marker. They write "C P" on their tenn's shoes-for "Cootie Protection."

Cootie games take place in class as well as on the playground. A child goes to sharpen his pencil; he passes on Larry's cooties. A smart aleck will even give the teacher those cooties. The next person she touches gets them. Everyone in the room knows what's going on except her.

Cootie is often a boys-against-girls game. In one Georgia school, the girls had the cooties and chased the boys. A report from New Hampshire was that the boys had them and chased the girls. Even when an individual is singled out as the source of infection, Cooties is not necessarily a scapegoat game. As often as not it's a teasing game among friends, a way of taking a teacher's pet or a popular but conceited kid down a notch.

Sometimes, however, a child is permanently assigned the role of the cootie carrier, and Cooties then does become a scapegoat game. One school we know about had a Cootie Queen for over three years. At the cry "Watch out, here comes the Cootie Queen!" children jumped off the sidewalk, if she was on the sidewalk, or off the grass, if she was on the grass. Anyone standing on the same surface as the Queen caught her cooties.

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