In our family, changing the lyrics to “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands” is essential to the song. We substitute words like silly, grumpy, snotty, and even verklempt for “happy.” Making up appropriate accompanying motions, well, that’s the fun part.
Apparently hand-clapping rhymes and songs are actually linked to cognitive skills. Research by Dr. Idit Sulkin, of the Ben-Gurion University Music Science Lab, found that young children who naturally play hand-clapping games are better spellers, have neater handwriting, and better overall writing skills.
Intrigued, she conducted further research. For ten weeks she engaged groups of children, ages 6 to 10, in a program of either music appreciation or hand-clapping. Very quickly the children’s cognitive abilities improved, but only those taking part in hand-clapping songs.
She also interviewed teachers and joined in when children sang in their classrooms. She was trying to understand why they tend to enjoy hand-clapping songs until a certain age, when other activities such as sports become dominant. Dr. Sulkin observed, “These activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological, and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”
Interestingly, Dr. Sulkin also found that hand-clapping songs benefit adults. When adults engage in these games from childhood they report feeling less tense and their mood improves. They also become more focused and alert.
Clapping and singing, clapping and chanting. There’s a reason these activities are found across all cultures in storytelling, religious ceremonies, solemn rituals, and joyous celebrations. The experience of calling and clapping may speak to something deeper in us. Maybe we all should play a round of Miss Suzy or See See My Playmate at the start of every political debate, business meeting, or extended family get-together.