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Childlore is the folklore or folk culture of children and young people. It includes, for example, rhymes and games played in the school playground. The best known researchers of the field were Peter and Iona Opie.

The subject matter of childlore includes the traditions of children between the ages of about 6 and 15 such as games, riddles, rhymes, jokes, pranks, superstitions, magical practices, wit, lyrics, guile, epithets, nicknames, torments, parody, oral legislation, seasonal customs, tortures, obscenities, codes, gang lore, etc. [1] as well as individual activities such as solitary play, daydreaming, fantasies, imaginary companions and heroes, collections, scrapbooks, model worlds, comic reading, mass media interests, dramatizations, stories, art, etc. [1]

As a branch of folklore, childlore is concerned with those activities which are learned and passed on by children to other children. The stories and games taught by adults to children are not considered childlore except insofar as the children adapt and make them their own. In western culture most folklorists are concerned with children after they join their peers in elementary school or kindergarten. The traditions of childhood generally stop after the child enters intermediate school, which coincides with puberty and adolescence. [2]

Opie and Opie demonstrate that the culture of children is quite distinctive and is as unnoticed by the sophisticated world, and quite as little affected by it, as is the culture of some dwindling aboriginal tribe living out its helpless existence in the hinterland of a native reserve. [2] Children tend to preserve ancient traditions.

Boys continue to crack jokes that Swift collected from his friends in Queen Anne's time; they play tricks which lads used to play on each other in the heyday of Beau Brummel; they ask riddles which were posed when Henry VIII was a boy.

Young girls continue to perform a magic feat (levitation) according to Pepys. They learn to cure warts (and are successful in curing them) after the manner which Francis Bacon learnt when he was young. [2]

Opie points out that the words of one game had survived from the time of Nero. [3] The conservatism of childlore contrasts with the way adult folklore is rapidly modified to fit changing circumstances.


  1. ^ a b Sutton-Smith 1970:1-8.
  2. ^ a b c Grider 1980:159-160
  3. ^ Opie: 1987.


Further reading