Resources for Teaching American Folklore

“Snickerdoodle” is a tall-tale hero from American folklore. Do today’s kids know what that means? Not likely!
So, here are some ways teachers can give kids a fun start on exploring American folklore—our country’s history and legends in stories, music, and art.

Teachers (preK-elementary grades) will find many resources on the Internet for teaching kids about American folklore, American tall tale heroes, and traditional American folk tunes.

Questions to think about and discuss

America is a land of colorful heroes––some are “real,” and others are symbols, or legendary fictional characters.

Uncle Yankee DoodleYankee Doodle

For example, who was “Yankee Doodle?” (Show “historic” artwork images of him.) What period in our history did he come from? (during French & Indian Wars, before and during the American Revolution, with the song sung in America around 1767).

How did the American soldiers react to a song about him that was intended to make fun of them? How did the song about Yankee Doodle become popular? What  instrument is often heard in the “Yankee Doodle” song? (flute or fife). What does it mean to be a symbol of our country? What are some other symbols you know? (Play the Yankee Doodle song, and also the version called “Snickerdoodle Dandy,” from the CD of Snickerdoodle! Stories and Songs for Little Guys Who Think Big!  You can explore other traditional American folk characters and songs (such as “John Henry”). Use this opportunity for children’s artwork, history, and related geography/map work.

Polly Wolly Doodle
Polly Wolly Doodle

Who or what was Polly Wolly Doodle? Does anyone know for sure? What period in our history did she come from—when did her song first appear? (Civil War era, in the South). Why do you think people sang silly funny songs like this, even when times were difficult? What songs make you laugh? (Play/sing the original song, and then the version on the Snickerdoodle CD. ) What instruments do you hear being played in the Polly Wolly Doodle Song?  (banjo, fiddle). Again, a good opportunity for history/geography/map lesson and creative artwork by children.

Here’s a list of  websites for teaching American folklore:

Yankee Doodle

Polly Wolly Doodle

American folk songs

General folklore
Folklore and Mythology Resource Guide

And check out CDs of American folk songs for children by Pete Seeger!


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