How to Play the Farmer in the Dell

By Lesley Barker

Children a little restless? Need a break from video games? The Farmer in the Dell is a children's circle game that is played while the children either chant or sing this traditional song that no one knows who wrote. It is a great game to play with a pre-school or kindergarten class when you are teaching about farms.

Gather all the children who want to play The Farmer in the Dell game. Tell them to form a large circle. The children should hold hands within the circle and step back so that there is room for each child to move freely.

Select a child to be the first "farmer". You can do this randomly or by having a guessing game or challenge question so that the first to answer correctly will be the "farmer". This child steps into the middle of the circle.

Heading counter-clockwise, the circle of children should skip, still holding hands to enclose the "farmer" in the middle. They chant the first verse. Repeat the words, "The farmer in the dell" three times. Then say, "Hey Ho the Derry-o! The farmer in the dell." After finishing these words, the skipping continues. Repeat three times: "The farmer takes a wife." Then chant: "Hey Ho the Derry-O! The farmer takes a wife." The circle stops moving to give the farmer time to choose his "wife." This child enters the center of the circle along with the farmer.

Substitute the word "child" in the next verse. At the end, the circle stops so that the wife can choose the "child". Keep changing the words in the verses until the child has chosen a "dog'; the dog has chosen the "cat"; the cat has chosen the "mouse"; and the mouse has chosen the "cheese". Each selected child joins the group in the middle of the circle.

Change what happens after the cheese is chosen. Now the lyrics shift to first, "The farmer steps out". While the circle skips around the group, the farmer has to try to squeeze out of the circle by ducking under the arms of two of the players. Each new verse directs the next person to "step out...Hey Ho the Derry-o! The "wife" then "child" then "dog" then "cat" then "mouse" all squeeze out of the circle until only the "cheese" is left.

Chant new words: "The cheese stands alone" using the same rhythm and tune. At the end of this verse, the cheese gets to select the next farmer and the game starts over.

Tip

Make sure that every player gets chosen for at least one role.

About the Author

Lesley Barker, director of the Bolduc House Museum, authored the books "St. Louis Gateway Rail—The 1970s," published by Arcadia, and the "Eye Can Too! Read" series of vision-related e-books. Her articles have appeared in print and online since the 1980s. Barker holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Washington University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Webster University.