Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Learn to Skip and Skip to Learn

 

Woitte, Sherry

 

Cinderella dressed in yella

Went upstairs to kiss her fella

How many kisses did she give?

One, two, three, four, five . . .

I walk by a school playground. Groups of girls are skipping rope on the concrete sidewalks next to the school building. They are smiling and laughing and appear to be having fun. And yet, I can see the looks of concentration on their faces as they sing,

I love coffee,

I love tea.

I love the boys.

And the boys love me.

Both skiping rhymes seem to have to do with boys but the boys are nowhere near. They are playing ball and chasing each other in playful romps further into the field. I hear still other songs from the skipping girls. It is a warm, spring day and I enjoy watching these youthful games.

A sailor went to sea sea sea,

To see what he could see see see.

But all that he could see see see,

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea sea sea.

I can see how skillfully the girls negotiate the whipping speed of the ropes. Their bodies seem to move with daring confidence and energetic jumps. As a girl gets ready to enter the space of the swinging rope she stands there for a moment in measured anticipation. I see her upper body imitating the rhythm of the rope. She is taking over the rhythm in a swaying back-and-forth movement with her upper torso. Her eyes seem focused on the centre of the skipping space, the rope in peripheral sight. The rope makes a whipping sound and then a slapping sound. Zip, slap. Zip, slap. Then the girl leaps into the invisible circle, and the rhyme starts.

 

Some girls skip straight and upright like Scottish dancers, others skip slightly crouched with their heads down, as if to avoid being hit by the overhead swing. Still others skip with tight tension etched into their faces. Nearly all seem to show much dexterity and great skill — skipping seems so natural, almost effortless. But how do they experience learning this skill?

 

Skipping as an experience of learning

“Please Dean, please. Just turn the other end of the rope so I can practice!” The one end of the skipping rope was securely tied to the post and I pleaded with my brother to turn the other end. Skipping was very popular at my school. All the girls skipped at recess and lunch hour. The better you were, the more prestige was allotted to you. Those that were really good could do double Dutch (with two long skipping ropes), go really fast “black pepper”, and could go in and out with ease (never tripping on the rope).

Growing up on an acreage isn’t always easy and even more difficult is learning to skip when you have only an uncooperative brother and a power pole to help you. But learning to do it well, is really important. You need to learn to coordinate the rhyme with the skipping, but it is getting that skipping down to a fine science that is really important. You can always learn the chants, but what is needed is the coordination of your feet and your bounces with the “click, click, click” of the skipping of the rope as it hits the ground.

I remember having a difficult time learning to get into the centre of the skipping rope while it was turning. I could never seem to get the timing right. Most often I remember having that rope whack me in the legs as I attempted to begin my skipping session. When I had tripped up several times, then one of my friends would suggest using “Blue Bells, Cockle Shells, Eevy Ivy Over”, to begin the skipping. With this, the rope is swung back and forth at ground level as the skipper begins jumping in that centre space. As “over” was said, the rope would go over my head, which began my skipping session. Although it wasn’t the most desired way to begin skipping, it was the way a beginner, like me, could start.

Learning to skip and doing it right is evident in both of the descriptions. And, not unlike what teachers do when they develop instructional techniques to teach certain concepts, skills and methods for practice, so children seem to devise techniques for developing various motor skills for learning social rules, and for effective practice. Skipping is play, but that play is something which young girls seem to experience in an intense way.

 

When skipping at school, girls often skip together in small groups; circles of friendship that both foster and challenge the skipping game. And part of learning to skip in groups and with friends also involves becoming comfortable skipping in view of others. The skipper is showing onlookers how much has been learned. In the complex games of skipping, children show how good they are.

 

The Experience of Body Learning

Learning songs is an important part of learning to skip — and life-long. Many adults easily remember these rhymes. “Going around the cor-ner” means coming out of the turning rope, going around an ender, and then jumping back into the skipping space. The rhythm and the words seem to help the skippers keep skipping and keep in time with the beat of the turning rope. How do the rhyming songs play a role in the experience of body learning?

 

When adults look at children walking and playing they are easily struck by the playfulness of child movement. Whether the child is walking down the street or involved in some activity there is usually much variation in movement: hopping, running, jumping, bouncing, leaping — the child seldom seems to move in an ordered tempo or speed. Children rarely simply walk from here to there. This is often a source of consternation for the parent who wants the child to just walk by their side when doing some shopping or going for a walk.

 

What is the difference in adult movement and the movement of a child? Perhaps children have not yet learned to walk or move in a steady tempo. The adult has learned the “dignity” of regular movement and steady tempo in walking. When an adult walks somewhere then this is purposeful walking; walking to work or down to the corner store. Even when adults go for a walk or jog around the block, they tend to move in controlled paces. People would frown on an adult who would hop or run or leap on one foot down the street, as children tend to do. And yet, children do not seem ready for the steady regular marching or tempered beat of an adult’s walk. But this is precisely what is at stake in the child’s learning to skip. The playful unpredictability of childlike hopping and moving about is tempered, as it were, by the demands of the skipping game. Not unlike a marching soldier who learns to parade on a strict command of one-two, one-two, so the skipping child learns to fix her movement by means of the rhyming beat of skipping songs, the inventory of children’s culture.

Spanish dancer, do the splits.

Spanish dancer, give a kick.

Spanish dancer, turn around.

Spanish dancer, get out of town.

The rope hits the concrete ground as the girls skip during their school recess. The sound of the rope makes a rhythmic slapping noise as it hits: slap, slap, slap — as if it is keeping time with an imaginary metronome. Then, one of the girls enters into the middle of the turning skipping rope. And now one hears the swish of her shoes as they hit the concrete with each of her jumps. The entire skipping game seems to be centred on the song or rhyme used. Without the rhyming lines, the skipping would be boring and even difficult. When there is no skipping chant then the skipper may accidentally speed up or slow down as the rope loses its resolve to stay in beat. Does the rhyme reinforce the rhythm or does the rhythm energize the rhyme? Perhaps it is the body that needs to provide the answer.

 

Even people who do not feel very musical know the difficulty of keeping a foot or some other part of the body still when surrounded by strongly beated music. It is as if the body has its own will. It picks up the rhythm, and like a snare on a string instrument it resonates with movement.

 

Many skipping songs have particularly strong rhythms which possess the same hypnotic effect as march music. The effect can become compulsive. Without willing it, one inwardly starts to sing along — “A sailor went to sea, sea, sea. To see what he could see, see, see.” That’s an easy and contagious one. Even when reading this song, the beat just seems to jump off the page. One can almost feel its beat in time with one’s own heart. So how does the rhyme slip into the body and into the experience of skipping? The answer matters less than the question. The fact is that is does. The body seems to become the instrument of the rhyming rhythm. Or does the rhyming rhythm become the body? Perhaps experientially both are true.

 

One might ask, how does the body learn to skip? In watching a group of girls skip, one also watches them watching. As they wait their turn to skip, the girls will often “dance a minimal version of the game in place” (Richman Beresin, 1995, p. 80). The body, in this sense, learns to skip through watching the skipping of others. Does the body learn through the eyes? It seems that the images, which the eyes take in, go directly to the body. It is almost, as if, thought is by-passed. The knowledge of the body, gained through the eyes, goes straight to skipping body. How is this possible? But perhaps this question is already too analytical. From a phenomenological point of view, the child who watches others skip is already skipping herself. She has already entered the turning rope.

 

Maybe rather than simply skipping, as an action by itself, the child is learning to skip as a body. As her body bounces up and down with the rhythm of the skipping chant, the young girl actually becomes the ‘skip’. That rhythm is taken into the corporeal being of the child and comes out as a rhythmic object in motion. This is what the child’s body must come to understand if she is to learn to skip. The skipping child must be able to learn to skip her body. If a child is not able to learn through her body, in this way, she won’t likely be able to become a competent skipper.

 

We may think that skipping is the jumping of the legs in response to the swinging rope but it is not just the legs that jump, it’s the whole body. The arms and torso must work with the legs and feet to propell the body off the ground at the regular intervals. The body must learn to move all these parts in coordination so that the rope may be safely negotiated, over and over and over again. Somehow in learning to skip the body is learning the coordination of its parts.

 

As children learn to skip they are learning their bodies — something which they continue to do as they grow and develop. With the skipping there is a growing consciousness of the body self. “One can talk of a growing consciousness of one’s own ‘I’ body (Merleau-Ponty’s ‘corpse sujet’) in active relationship to another and at the same time the self-as-body object visible in the interest shown by the other; one can talk of an active dual relationship in the game, a full fledged dialogue takes place with the bodies” (Barritt et al., 1983, p. 151). Between the bodies of the skipper and the enders, there is a dialogue which is occurring and keeps the skipping game going.

 

A growing child may become more in touch with her body because her body cannot reach every goal which she attempts. Langeveld believes that the child sees and senses her body in a different way than how adults do.

But this body which I ordinarily pass over has also been given to me so that I can help it to meet its aims, and so that I can reach a goal. And then I may experience it as slow, tired, too hot, aroused, or stirred up, etc. In this manner the child is put emphatically in touch with his body. (1983b, p. 188)

The child, then, is simply more aware of her body. The “human child does not live inside the body like a snail in its shell. A human being lives in the world with his or her body” (Langeveld, 1984, p. 215). And the skipper does indeed live her body as it jump, jump, jumps in time with the skipping rope.

 

And yet, the awareness of the body that the learning skipper must have needs to be balanced with a sort of losing yourself in the rhythmic activity. An activity like skipping which is repeated over and over with the bounce, bounce, bounce of the body often becomes an activity on which we don’t really need to concentrate. Sort of a “non-thinking”, or should one say a “thinking-of-other-things”, while doing that activity. In some ways, skipping is a lot like running on the spot. And so the child who learns to skip must learn to put her body in a state of movement, while not actually thinking of doing that movement.

 

If the rhythm of the rope ‘skips the body’ of the child — where the child may actually be able to lose herself in the activity — then what happens when that rhythm is broken by the tripping on the rope? What does the body learn at that moment? Somehow, the body must learn not to trip up and fall onto the concrete. It must also learn to get back into the rhythm that was halted. The body must be able to take that erratic, stopping movement and get back into the smooth, rhythmic motion of skipping.

 

Besides learning that internal rhythm of skipping, the child’s body must learn to be comfortable while others watch the skipping. Skipping is similar and yet unlike other forms of children’s play and games. In playing hide and seek, the child takes himself off to a hiding spot, not to be seen again until discovered by the child who is ‘it’. The body is kept secret until discovered. In skipping, the opposite occurs. Your ‘self’, your body and your skipping ability are out for everyone to see. While in the “space of performance”, there is a change of bodily awareness. The body itself is on display. Being in the centre of the swinging rope puts the young girl in the centre of the activity, with all eyes on her. In a sense, the girl must perform in the same way that a dancer or actor must do. The body must learn to be comfortable with this attention and still be able to continue with the jump, jump, jump of the skipping.

 

This — learning while skipping/ skipping while learning — also seems to bring about a certain tension in the body. That tension seems to keep the skipper going, and it mounts as the skipper advances through more and more revolutions of the turning rope. The tension in the body seems to make the game continue, but also makes the skipping game fun. There is that tension which exists as the child is skipping her heart out and trying not to miss and trip.

 

And so, as children learn to control their childlike, erratic movements they too learn to skip — where skipping means using controlled, specific movements. As children learn to skip, they learn to use the regular beat of the skipping songs to actually skip their bodies.

 

The experience of space learning

In learning to skip at school, the skipping group must initially learn where they can skip within the large expanse of the school playground. In watching a group of skippers, we will usually find them on the concrete sidewalk area, fairly close to the school building. That space, close to the school, accommodates protection from the wind and inclement weather. That is one of the first spaces on the school grounds which is cleared of snow, ice and water in the spring. The reflection of the sun’s rays provides a warm, comfortable place to play for the skippers. This space is also away from the bouncy, erratic field games, which the other children are playing — giving the skippers a smallish, regulated spot which they can occupy.

 

In moving about, we inhabit space. However, something changes in the space that children inhabit when their bodies learn to temper their frolicky and frisky behaviors. The space of the skipping game is an ordered space. The child learns to enter it in a disciplined and cautious manner and then move within its spatial boundaries. Just in that tiny spot where the rope hits the ground, the rhythmic body must mark its point in space. Don’t move too far to the right or the left or the rope will punish the legs like a snappy whip. Not unlike a horse learns to raise its legs to avoid the painful whip of the trainer, so the child must raise her legs to stay within the space drawn by the skipping rope.

 

It is as if the two turners at either end of the rope have woven an imaginary space within which the body expresses its harmony with the skipping chant. It is the inter-working of the three children that makes the space a harmonious one — one in which all parts work together in conjunction with the rhyming song. And in learning to skip, the child must acquire the spatial knowledge with which to attain that harmonious space.

 

Skipping children learn to experience space in an orderly fashion. In skipping, space becomes controlled as opposed to the usual unbounded, almost whimsical type of space to which they are used. If we watch children run and play in the school or neighbourhood playground, we can see them bounce from place to place and space to space. Their movements are loose and easy. Their activity takes them from the monkey bars, to the swings, to the slide and on to chase each other through the open, green space.

 

By comparison, skipping is a more controlled activity. The girls must keep their bodies within the centre space of the turning rope — not to the right, not to the left, not forward or backward — that won’t do. What a contrast this is to the usual childish movement! If we consider Langeveld’s description of a child playing hopscotch, we can understand the child’s ability to condense the space in which he plays.

The skipping child shapes his world differently from the child who is simply walking, or the one who jumps over the fence in one motion. The world of the hopping child structures itself jumpingly; these jumps are guided by the patterns of the ground or the drawings on the streets: it goes from one side to the other, and the directions of movement is determined by the shape of these patterns. The child that moves forward in this way, hops through a space which shrinks to the short distance that one can cover in one leap. By simply lifting one foot and hopping, the small child finds gratification already in the hopscotch play, even if he cannot move from his place as yet; the shape of the space, which he will jumpingly explore, has begun to form itself already. (1983b, pp. 189-90)

In playing hopscotch, children are able to “shrink” their playing space in order to become competent at the game — in much the same way that skippers stay in the skipping space in the middle of the turning rope.

 

But in learning to skip, children not only learn to move in that smallish, elliptical space formed by the turning rope, but as they become more competent skippers they also learn to skip in varying shapes which the enders create. If the skipper is doing particularly well, the enders may call for “high water” — for which the skipping rope will not touch the ground but be turning round and round above ground level. In “high water”, the skipping space becomes flatter with less volume — within which the skipper must learn to skip or be “out”.

 

In learning about the spatial aspects of the skipping space, the skipper must also learn how to get from the open, playground space to that ideal skipping spot in the middle of the swinging rope.

I remember learning to get in to the skipping space. I remember moving back and forth in time with the turning of the rope, in order to enter the skipping without tripping up. (Dianne)

The skipper experiences her small and ordered space within the turning rope. But, the enders — those who are turning the rope — also experience a space which is precise and definite. In order that the rope would not be too taut or slack, the enders must stand a certain distance from each other. To stand out of this spot would cause the long swinging rope to turn in a way that would change and perhaps dissolve the skipping space. The enders must maintain their distance while the skipping rope is being turned. In being a good ender, one cannot move either to the left or right while the rope is busy going round and round — the enders must remain in “their space”. Martin (1992) points out how important the role of the ender is. She says that really good skipping for all girls, is having really good enders. A good and experienced ender is vital to a new ender learning; the new ender quickly gains the rhythm of the rope.

 

Space, the lived-space of the learning skippers exists in various modalities. It exists as in that of the jumping child (in the middle of the turning rope), the space at the end of the long rope where the enders will stand, and the more general space where the group of skippers will be such as on the school playground.

 

The experience of time learning in skipping

Bubble gum, bubble gum, chew and blow.

Bubble gum, bubble gum, scrape your toe.Bubble gum, bubble gum, tastes so sweet.

Get that bubble gum off your feet.

In watching the group of girls skip, one might consider how much learning about time they have done in learning to skip. The rhymes which can be heard, make one think about the beat, beat, beat time of the rope as it hits the ground. In keeping this beat, not too fast, not too slow, the girls are learning a certain temporality . It’s a regular beat, perhaps a 4/4 time — but certainly not waltz time. The beat that can be heard is too regular for that. Somehow these girls have learned this timing in learning to skip.

 

The length of the Bubble Gum rhyme is short. It does not take long to recite. By making the choice of a particular rhyme, the girls determine how long the skipper will have, before the next skipper can have her turn. If the song chosen is a long one or has many actions which the skipper must do, then the turn taking will be significantly longer.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground.

(Repeat with: Show your shoe, That will do, Go upstairs, Say your prayers, turn out the light, & Say goodnight)

When learning and choosing the rhymes, the girls learn to control the length of time which they have to skip. The stopping of skipping time is another aspect which children must work out when learning to skip. One must consider what happens to skipping time when the rope is not hitting the ground and no rhyme is being sung. Does time stop when the rope is not turning? It obviously does, but not in the same way as when the girls are actively skipping. Although there are breaks in the skipping, when someone trips up or when it is someone else’s turn, the girls are usually intent on keeping the recess time allotted for skipping time and so time continues to move along for them.

 

As part of the skipping game, the girls must learn when they can skip. If skipping occurs during the school day, then the skippers must find their skipping time between class times. The girls must not go beyond the boundaries of the recess time or lunch hour. But this is difficult for children because of the intensity with which they play their games, including skipping. In fact, playing any game, skipping or otherwise seems to transform time itself. Langeveld points out that in children’s play, time either stands still or flies. “It really amounts to the same. But if time has stopped, it is not because it has been blocked by the weary recoil or by the nervous density brought about by anxiety or fear. Time simply has disappeared altogether” (1983a, p. 182). Langeveld suggests that when children are playing they “don’t lose sight of the time, but it is the clock itself (they) temporarily forget” (1983a, p. 183). In learning time in skipping, the girls must take into account this aspect of play while they skip during school recesses.

 

The difficulty they have doing this, is often reflected in the transitional time between recess time and class time. In the schoolyard, these transitional times are difficult because the girls don’t want to leave their skipping (Richman Beresin, 1995).

 

The final aspect of time which children must learn is what time of year — what season — is appropriate to skip. If a girl, who hasn’t learned this, brings out her skipping rope at the wrong time of year, then she very likely will find that no one wants to skip with her. In countries where the winters are snowy and cold, skipping seems to occur at particular times of the year. Once there is enough dry ground in school playgrounds or sidewalks, the skipping ropes will be out. Although the ground remains in the ideal condition until autumn, one is likely to only see skipping in the spring. On occasion you might see some skippers in the summertime, but only when there is nothing else to do.

 

In the experience of time learning in skipping, children learn the time which the rope keeps as it hits the ground; the time it takes to say the rhyme (and therefore the time which each girl has to skip); the stopping of time during skipping; the variations in time while skipping; appropriate times (of day) to skip; and the right season (time of year) to skip.

 

The experience of relationship learning

When watching a group of girls skipping, one can see that they are usually all friends, they know each other well. They seem to know when it’s OK to tease and when to encourage each other. It seems that learning to skip grows out of close relations and grows close relations. Sue remembers that

we all skipped together — just our group of friends. I guess there would

have been four or five of us. My younger sister (three years younger)

was never allowed to skip with us because she was too little.

In learning to skip, the girls’ relationships and friendships are reinforced while skipping at school. This playing together and learning to handle relationships seems to strengthen the friendships which existed before the skipping activity, and must exist after — if the girls are to skip together again.

 

The strength of this relationship between the girls, and reinforcement of that friendship is further fortified by some of the rhymes. These rhymes encourage the skippers to jump in one after the other until the whole group is skipping together:

All in together, girls.

How do you like the weather, girls?

January, February, March, April . . .

In a song such as this one, each jumper runs in when she hears the month of her birthday. The months are then repeated, and each girl jumps out on her birthday month. The result is that each girl has the opportunity to participate in skipping, together.

 

Part of the learning about relationships, which girls have with each other, occurs in deciding how the group will work together so that everyone will skip — who gets to skip first, who will be an ender. But how do the girls decide? Often they decide while they are still in the school, or as they are walking to the playground. Sometimes, it is decided during the last skipping game. “You be the skipper . . . Cindy and Kathy, you be the enders.” In making these choices, the girls learn more about getting along with each other and how their relationships with each other work.

 

In learning about relationships, it does not always go smoothly:

I remember skipping being fun, but I also remember the other part. I remember being an ender and the girl who was skipping wasn’t liked. We would flick the rope to make it harder for her to continue skipping. (Diane)

Despite the cooperative nature of the girls skipping, there is also a competitive, conflicting side. When learning to skip, girls must also learn about this other side of the skipping game.. As Diane describes, the enders could and would do things to make it more difficult for the skippers to continue with their skipping. The enders might also turn the rope faster to make the skipper trip up and go ‘out’. There are even skipping rhymes that emphasize putting the skipper ‘out’.

Mother sent me to the store.

This is what she sent me for:

To get some coffee, tea, and pepper.

When “pepper” is said the enders turn the rope faster and faster until the skipper trips and goes ‘out’. Although the skipper understands that this type of rhyme will make her go out, it is still a cooperative way of skipping.

 

way to trip up the skippers is the use of “high water”. This raising of the rope, which changes the skipping space, increases the girls changes of tripping up. Both “pepper” and “high water” show another aspect of relationality which skippers must learn. They must learn that tricky balance between challenging the talented skipper and keeping the friendships and relationships in harmony.

 

Thus, in learning to skip girls reinforce and support their friendships and relationships with each other. These relationships are encouraged by the cooperative and sometimes conflicting nature of the skipping game through which they play together. The learning of relationship through skipping thus reinforces the girls understanding of their relationality with each other.

Skipping Out of Childhood?

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,

To see what he could see, see, see,

But all that he could see, see, see,

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.

The girls are lined up, eagerly waiting their turn to enter that elliptical skipping space. There is anticipation in their eyes. But all wait patiently — no one pushes or tries to get in front of another. The skipping song is heard — the girls all sing it together — they all know the words and the rhythm.

 

In learning to skip, children learn much about the body, space, time, and relationship. Through learning to skip, it is as if the young girls learn to rid themselves of their whimsical, childlike movement. By learning the orderliness of skipping, the girls lose those childlike, erratic movements. In this way, learning to skip (for the young girls), is becoming less childlike in their use of space. But how do these young children take their usually loose and free movements and change them into the controlled movements of skipping? Do they actually make their play less playful by learning to skip? It appears to be so. Certainly, we do not see adult women skipping in small groups together.

 

In learning to skip, do the young girls actually skip out of childhood? Perhaps, they only skip out of part of their childhood. Though we see the change in their use of space and in their movements — their understanding of time and relationship — we are left to ask if these young skippers are skipping out of childhood?

 

 

References

Barritt, L., Beekman, T., Bleeker, H. & Mulderij, K. (1983). The world through children’s eyes: Hide and seek. Phenomenology + Pedagogy, 1 (2), 140-161.

Cole, J. (1989). Anna banana: 101 jump-rope rhymes. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Martin, E. (1992). Kids’ games too! Toronto, ON: Random House.

Langeveld, M. J. (1983a). The stillness of the secret place. Phenomenology + Pedagogy, 1 (1), 11-17.

Langeveld, M. J. (1983b). The secret place in the life of the child. Phenomenology + Pedagogy, 1 (2), 181-191.

Langeveld, M. J. (1984). How does the child experience the world of things? Phenomenology + Pedagogy, 2 (3), 215-223.

Richman Beresin, A. (1995). Double Dutch and double cameras. In B. Sutton-Smith, J. Meechling, T. W. Johnson & F. R. McMahon (Eds.), Children’s folklore: A source book (pp. 75-91). New York: Garland Pub. Inc.

Sutton-Smith, B. (1972). The folkgames of children. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.