The Opies have devoted enormous effort to extensive collecting of children’s lore—sayings, rhymes, cautionary slogans, games, etc.—much of which is neither created by nor taught by adults. Origin and transmission rest with children, and transmission can occur, sometimes quite rapidly, both within and among countries. The Opies’ concern is not with how this happens—clearly an exceedingly complex, intriguing, but separate concern—but with the surprising fact that it occurs at all.
The material that follows, excerpted from two chapters of the Opies’ book, provides a wide variety of examples of children’s lore. The existence of such material clearly suggests that children are more than receivers of adult culture and of ideas developed by adults; children are in fact active creators of the social worlds in which they live. For this reason the Opies speak of children’s culture, i.e. what anthropologists refer to as a ‘design for living’. All of the Opies’ material suggests the existence of a culture or cultures of childhood independent of adults, created, sustained, and destroyed by children for their own purposes, whatever those purposes might be.
Children’s accomplishments are quite clearly beyond what could be achieved by mere ‘reacting objects’ or ‘empty buckets’ but are within the capacities of those called children. The children who produce the kind of data gathered by the Opies possess knowledge, wit, a sense of the possibilities of language, and detailed ideas about the worlds they inhabit. That children are capable of such productions suggests that in other ways as well their capacities may well transcend adult expectations.
The data presented by the Opies is largely British in origin. Some will nonetheless be familiar to members of other cultures, thus reinforcing the
© Iona and Peter Opie, 1959. Reprinted from Chapter I, Introductory, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona and Peter Opie (1959) by permission of Oxford University Press.
© Iona and Peter Opie, 1959. Reprinted from Chapter II, Half-Belief, The Lore and Language of Schoochildren by Iona and Peter Opie (1959) by permission of Oxford University Press.