The Top Ten Most Popular Children’s Songs of All Time

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Children’s songs can bring back all kinds of nostalgia from days gone by. New children’s songs are written by the hundreds every year. Despite this, the classics are still as popular as when we were kids. Ten of the most popular children’s songs of all time are:

1) Happy Birthday: You’d be very hard pressed to find a kid who doesn’t know this one. Happy Birthday is popular the world over even though it’s a special-occasion song. Penned by schoolteacher-sisters Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill, its original title and lyrics were “Good Morning to You.” They wrote it specifically for their young students as a simple greeting song in 1893. Several years later their tune appeared in print wedded with the words “Happy Birthday.”

2) Ring Around the Rosies: Rumor has it that this popular children’s song with accompanying circle dance/game had rather macabre beginnings. However, it really can’t be said with full certainty that this song refers to the bubonic plague, or the Great Plague of London. What is certain is that various versions of this song are sung in some form in numerous countries worldwide. The dance seems to be same no matter where the song is sung. Children hold hands and dance in a circle. They all fall down at the end just as the lyrics state.

3) Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes: This ditty for very young children has ambiguous origins. It was likely written by a teacher or someone of the like who worked with children. It was probably meant to help teach small kids basic body anatomy while at the same time encouraging action and dancing. The words are simple but effective. It’s still used by teachers today to help kids “get the wiggles out.”

4) London Bridge: This is another popular children’s song with origins difficult to pinpoint. It’s been around, at least in poem form, since a printing of an early version in 1744. It refers to the famous bridge over the River Thames in London. The accompanying actions call for two partners to hold both hands and raise them high in an arch. Children sing the song as they duck under the “arches” as they gradually lower, until the end when one child gets “caught.”

5) The Itsy Bitsy Spider (or, The Eensy Weensy Spider): Conflicting stories of its origin abound, and the author’s name may be lost from history forever. It is commonly said to have been written in the 1950’s or 60’s. However, references to versions of this poem and finger-play go back even further. Today it’s a favorite song and finger play in preschools and kindergartens around the world.

6) Old MacDonald Had a Farm: This popular children’s song was probably derived from a World War I era songbook tune called “Old MacDougal Had a Farm.” The MacDougal version may have already been around for several years by the time it appeared in print in 1917. It’s a mystery when “MacDougal” became “MacDonald.” Nevertheless, young children love this song about barnyard animals.

7) Mary Had a Little Lamb: Few people are aware that this popular children’s song was inspired by a true story. Sara Josepha Hale wrote her poem in 1830 about a little girl named Mary who brought her pet lamb to school. (Some historians believe that the concept and first four lines actually came from the pen of John Roulstone. This has been difficult to prove or disprove over the years.) It caused a commotion, as one might expect. Today young children still giggle over the idea of a lamb coming to school.

8) Rock-a-Bye Baby: This old lullaby has likely been crooned by many a mother over several centuries. Its exact origin is unknown, and several theories abound. One of the most plausible theories is that the song is based on native American tradition. Mothers placed their babies in birch-bark cradles suspended from branches. Babies were lulled to sleep by the force of the wind. Woe to the baby who gets caught in a big wind that breaks the branch though!

9) Five Little Monkeys: This action song, like many other popular children’s songs, has origins difficult to trace. This doesn’t seem to matter to schoolchildren who have sung it for several decades. The silly poem set to music is an ideal way to get children dancing, moving, and even thinking about the consequences of jumping on the bed.

10) The Hokey Pokey: Children have participated in this song and dance for over one hundred years. No one is certain where the term “Hokey Pokey” comes from, though there are a few theories. It’s highly plausible that it was simply a nonsensical term meant to make the listener laugh. It might be compared to a square dance, in that the “leader” or “caller” gets to call the moves to the dance.


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