The term ‘counting-out’ describes the processes used by children to choose or decide, via selection or elimination, a player to perform a particular role in a game. ‘Counting-out’ procedures are used at the beginning of a game to choose which child will be ‘It’, ‘He’ or ‘In’, the chaser or seeker in games such as ‘Chasey’, ‘Tiggy’, and ‘Hide and Seek’. Various mechanisms of ‘counting-out’ can be employed including rhymes, races, ball games, tossing a coin, allotting players to teams, and drawing sticks.

The Dorothy Howard Collection held at Melbourne Museum features numerous examples and descriptions of different ‘counting-out’ processes, described by children or observed by Dr Howard during her visit to Australia in 1954-55. Of particular interest to Dr Howard were the ‘counting-out’ rhymes, usually accompanied by a counting action, employed by Australian children in the 1950s. Her research features numerous transcriptions of the different ‘counting-out’ rhymes that she encountered at various schools and states during her travels. In many instances recorded by Dr Howard, a player would recite a rhyme, whilst touching the other players in turn. One by one, players were counted out or eliminated, until only one, ‘He’ or ‘It’, remained. In other examples documented by Dr Howard, children explain ‘counting-out’ mechanisms involving a circle of players throwing a ball between them until one child fails to catch it. Alternatively, a ball is dropped into a circle, rolling towards the child who must assume the proclaimed role.

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