Popular Folk Songs for Children

Camping family singing together
Tom Stewart / Getty Images

Folk music comprises traditional songs that have been handed down from generation to generation and represents a country's heritage. It is often sung and played by musicians who may or may not be trained professionally. Instruments commonly used in the genre include accordions, banjos, and harmonicas. Composers such as Percy Grainger, Zoltan Kodaly, and Bela Bartok were avid collectors of folk songs.

Individual songs may not have been written down immediately when first composed, and the author may be lost to time, making for many versions of long-loved tunes. A particular version of a song may become well known when a popular artist records it—or when versions are collected by archivists and historians in the field, such as Alan Lomax in the 1930s and 1940s, and those recordings are released.

Folk Songs From Nursery Rhymes

In many instances, the lyrics to folk songs came from existing nursery rhymes or poems, and some of the nursery rhymes had variations, depending on region or time. Thus, these folk songs may have lyrics that are slightly different from those you are familiar with.

Music education methods such as Orff and Kodaly use folk songs to teach important concepts, foster musicianship, and to respect musical heritage. Here are 19 well-loved children's folk songs, along with their lyrics and sheet music, for learning and singing along.

Camping family singing together
Tom Stewart / Getty Images

"Aiken Drum" is a Scottish folk song and nursery rhyme that probably comes from "Aikendrum," a Jacobite song about the Battle of Sheriffmuir. Alternate versions of the song have different foods for pieces of clothing, such as hat, shoes, pants, and shirt, or instruments he played. 

Lyrics

There was a man lived in the moon, lived in the moon, lived in the moon,
There was a man lived in the moon,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

Chorus

And he played upon a ladle, a ladle, a ladle,
And he played upon a ladle,
and his name was Aiken Drum.

And his hat was made of good cream cheese, of good cream cheese, of good cream cheese,
And his hat was made of good cream cheese,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his coat was made of good roast beef, of good roast beef, of good roast beef,
And his coat was made of good roast beef,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his buttons made of penny loaves, of penny loaves, of penny loaves,
And his buttons made of penny loaves,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his waistcoat was made of crust pies, of crust pies, of crust pies,
And his waistcoat was made of crust pies,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

And his breeches made of haggis bags, of haggis bags, of haggis bags,
And his breeches made of haggis bags,
And his name was Aiken Drum.

"Alouette" is a French-Canadian folk song about plucking the feathers from a lark after being awakened by its song (like we would threaten a rooster or chicken, before cooking and eating the bird). The French lyrics and English translation follow.

Lyrics

Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai
Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai
Je te plumerai la tete
Je te plumerai la tete
Et la tte, et la tete
Alouette, Alouette
O-o-o-o-oh
Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai

Lark, nice (or lovely) Lark
Lark, I am going to pluck you
I am going to pluck your head,
I am going to pluck your head,
And the head, and the head,
O-o-o-o-oh

"A-Tisket A-Tasket" was made in America and used as the foundation for a 1938 Ella Fitzgerald recording. First recorded in the late 19th century, this song has been a children's rhyming game sung while kids danced around in a circle.

Lyrics

A-tisket a-tasket
A-tisket a-tasket
A green and yellow basket
I wrote a letter to my love
And on the way I dropped it,
I dropped it, I dropped it,
And on the way I dropped it.
A little boy he picked it up
And put it in his pocket.

In some variations, the last two lines read "A little girlie picked it up/and took it to the market." 

"Baa Baa Black Sheep" was originally an English nursery rhyme that, in spoken form, may date back as early as 1731. 

Lyrics

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

Famous French nursery rhyme "Frere Jacques" is traditionally played in a round and translates to "Brother John" in English.

Lyrics

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez vous? Dormez vous?
Sonnez les matines, Sonnez les matines
Ding Ding Dong, Ding Ding Dong

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing,
Morning bells are ringing
Ding Ding Dong, Ding Ding Dong.

Similar to "The Wheels on the Bus," the nursery rhyme "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" is also a singing game for children. To play, kids hold hands and move around in a circle to alternating verses.

Lyrics

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
So early in the morning.

This is the way we wash our face,
Wash our face,
Wash our face.
This is the way we wash our face
So early in the morning.

This is the way we comb our hair,
Comb our hair,
Comb our hair.
This is the way we comb our hair
So early in the morning.

This is the way we brush our teeth,
Brush our teeth,
Brush our teeth.
This is the way we brush our teeth
So early in the morning.

This is the way we wash our clothes
Wash our clothes, wash our clothes
This is the way we wash our clothes
So early Monday morning

This is the way we put on our clothes,
Put on our clothes,
Put on our clothes.
This is the way we put on our clothes
So early in the morning.

"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" is a traditional American spiritual that was first published in 1927, though the song is older than that.

Lyrics

He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands

He's got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He's got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He's got the itty bitty baby in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands

He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got my brothers and my sisters in His hands,
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands
He's got the whole world in His hands

The lyrics to "Home on the Range" were first published as a poem in the 1870s. The words are by Brewster Higley, and the music is from Daniel Kelley.

Lyrics

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
and the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Chorus

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free,
The breezes so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home on the range
For all of the cities so bright.

(repeat Chorus)

The red man was pressed from this part of the West
He's likely no more to return,
To the banks of Red River where seldom if ever
Their flickering camp fires burn.

(repeat Chorus)

How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.

(repeat Chorus)

Oh, I love these wild prairies where I roam
The curlew I love to hear scream
And I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks
That graze on the mountain tops green.

(repeat Chorus)

Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Flows leisurely down the stream;
Where the graceful white swan goes gliding along
Like a maid in a heavenly dream.

(repeat Chorus)

The English nursery rhyme lyrics that became "London Bridge Is Falling Down" may date back to the 17th century, but the current tune and lyrics were first published together in 1744.

Lyrics (Excerpt)

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady!

London Bridge is broken down,
Broken down, broken down.
London Bridge is broken down,
My fair lady.

Build it up with wood and clay,
Wood and clay, wood and clay,
Build it up with wood and clay,
My fair lady.

Wood and clay will wash away,
Wash away, wash away,
Wood and clay will wash away,
My fair lady.

Of 19th-century origin, American nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb" was originally a poem called "Mary's Lamb" and was first published in Boston by Sarah Josepha Hale. The nursery rhyme version is here. 

Lyrics

Mary had a little lamb, little lamb,
little lamb, Mary had a little lamb
whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
Mary went, Mary went, everywhere
that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day,
school one day, school one day,
He followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rules,
It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play,
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
turned it out, turned it out,
And so the teacher turned it out,
But still, it lingered near,
He waited patiently about,
ly about, ly about,
He waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear.

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
love Mary so?" love Mary so?"
"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cried.
"Why Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
lamb, you know," lamb, you know,"
"Why Mary loves the lamb, you know,"
The teacher did reply.

One of the most popular nursery rhymes, the song for kids "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" is about a farmer and his animals and uses the sounds of animals in it.

Lyrics

Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on his farm, he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O
With a "moo-moo" here and a "moo-moo" there
Here a "moo" there a "moo"
Everywhere a "moo-moo"
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O

(repeat with other animals and their sounds)

The original version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" was composed in the 1850s, but the published version was done in 1914 in New York City. The meaning of the song translates to "pop away suddenly."

Lyrics (Excerpt)

Round and round the cobbler's bench
(or all around the mulberry bush)
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

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'Ring Around the Rosie'

"Ring Around the Rosie" first appeared in print in 1881, but it is reported it was already being sung in a version close to its current one in the 1790s. It's likely just an urban legend that it's about the plague; it's more likely that the song was for a "ring game" that children played, as the tune is sung while children hold hands and circle around, then fall to the ground on the last line.

Lyrics

Ring around the rosie
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes, Ashes
All stand still.

The King has sent his daughter,
To fetch a pail of water;
Ashes, Ashes
All fall down.

Theorized as a song rising out of American minstrelsy, children's song and nursery rhyme "Row Row Row Your Boat" is often sung as a round and sometimes includes the play action of rowing. The song is from 1852, and the contemporary recording was created in 1881.

Lyrics

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

Carl Sandburg published "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" in 1927. This traditional folk song is also used as a children's song and originally comes from the Christian song, "When the Chariot Comes."

Lyrics (Excerpt)

She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes
She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes
She'll be coming round the mountain, she'll be coming round the mountain,
She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes

She'll be driving six white horses when she comes
She'll be driving six white horses when she comes
She'll be driving six white horses, she'll be driving six white horses,
She'll be driving six white horses when she comes

Children's song "Skip to My Lou" is said to have been a partner-stealing dance game popular in the 1840s, and it's possible that Abraham Lincoln danced to it.

Lyrics (Excerpt)

Lost my partner,
What'll I do?
Lost my partner,
What'll I do?
Lost my partner,
What'll I do?
Skip to my lou, my darlin'.

Skip, skip, skip to my Lou,
Skip, skip, skip to my Lou,
Skip, skip, skip to my Lou,
Skip to my Lou, my darlin'.

"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was a Tin Pan Alley song from 1908 that later became an anthem sung at baseball games as well as a children's folk song. The lyrics that most people sing as the entire song are actually the chorus of a much longer song.

Lyrics

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

Published hundreds of years ago, "Three Blind Mice" has evolved in lyrics and has been adapted by multiple composers. Today it is a nursery rhyme and musical round. The thought that it was written about three men who tried to plot against Queen Mary may just be a myth, because the earliest published lyrics from 1609 don't have the mice being harmed.

Lyrics

Three blind mice,
Three blind mice
See how they run,
See how they run!

They all ran after
The farmer's wife
She cut off their tails
With a carving knife
Did you ever see
Such a sight in your life
As three blind mice?

Popular folk song "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" takes its lyrics from a poem by Jane Taylor, which was published in song form in 1806.

Lyrics

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

Then the traveler in the dark
Thank you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky, you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveler in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.