Appalachia Games

Counting Taters

This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in May of 2010. Since we’re about to start talking about games-I thought it would be a good time to repost it.

Potato counting game
Did you ever use the counting potatoes method for picking who was ‘it’ in a game? As kids we used it to tell us who was going to be the seeker while the rest of us hid, to tell us who was going to be blindfolded for an always dangerous game of blind mans bluff (some parent would usually scream-“you’re going to put an eye out”)-or even for something as tame as hide the key.

Choosing whos it by counting potatoes
The choosing rhyme consists of everyone who’s playing standing in a circle with their fists out-then one person begins counting by hitting their fists on everyone else’s-1 potato 2 potato 3 potato 4 potato 5 potato 6 potato 7 potato-then instead of going on to 8 the fist they hit after 7 was ‘or’. The person whose fist was ‘or’ would place the ‘or’ fist behind their back-and the counting would start back at 1. Whoever was left with a fist in the circle would be ‘it’ for the game.

Sometimes we used ‘big potatoes’ instead of making 2 fists-each person laced their hands together to make one ‘big potato’ and the counting went the same way. Big potatoes were especially useful if there were lots of kids playing the game or you were in a hurry to get on with the game-as in one more game before Granny called me home.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were talking about counting by potatoes to see who was going to be it, I hadn’t thought about counting potatoes in years. That night I started thinking how kids today have so much to entertain them-how the old games we played are out of style. Just out of curiosity I thought I’d ask the girls if they knew about potato counting.

Counting games
I called Chitter to me and said “If I say 1 potato 2 potato 3 potato 4 do you know what I’m talking about?” She said she thought I was crazy and left me standing in the kitchen.

Later in the evening, I was sitting on the couch when Chatter came and sat down beside me. I ask her the same question. She said “What?” So I explained it again-even giving her the hint-it’s said when a bunch of kids are standing together in a circle. Chatter said “Momma I don’t know what you’re talking about. All I know is I like to dig potatoes and I like to eat them.”

So how about you-remember counting potatoes?


p.s. When the girls posed for the pictures I used above-Chitter said “Seriously, is this all you had to do when you were little?” I told her she didn’t know what she was missing.


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  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    October 11, 2015 at 9:42 am

    My childhood wouldn’t have been complete without counting taters in East Tennessee. I teach my kids at school how and it is a wonderful tool for avoiding conflict!

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    October 9, 2015 at 2:38 am

    In my neck of southern Ohio we grew up counting potatoes to determine who was it or as a jump rope chant.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2015 at 11:30 am

    We did this all the time! Our kids don’t know what they’re missing…the simplicity of the old fun and games! Sigh…I’m sure my parents say the same thing about us.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    I remember a jump rope rhyme about potatoes that went like almost like that; it was – “One potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.” Can’t remember what else was involved though.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Grammy Sal
    April 7, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Thanks for bringing back the memories of tater counting. I had not thought of that since I was a child in the 1940’s.

  • Reply
    Tim Cuthbertson
    April 6, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Yes, I remember counting potatoes, but I never really understood it. And we also didn’t say potato after 4.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 6, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    We counted potatoes to see who would be “it”…with four following the third potato. As each member fell out the last one was “it”. We picked a home place!
    This game was generally played between dusk and 11 o’clock on a summer night while all the adults were sitting around talking.
    We got a big juice can or bean can
    and placed it at the home base, usually a scrap of wood or a tree.
    Then we would count potatoes again to see who would get to “kick the can”. When the can was kicked the “It” had to run and get it and bring it back to home base while we all scattered to hide…”It” would start looking for us and yell out if “it” saw one of us by name, or tagging one of us before we could run in to “kick the can” again. Which would start the game again to the despair of the “IT”. I only remember once or twice slipping in behind the “It” and getting a kick of the can before getting tagged. This game would wear you out…plus hideing in the dark could be creepy at times. Sometimes it was played with a stick and called “hit the can” which was more dangerous!
    We also did the Eenie Meenie one too, to pick the “It” person. Sometimes we would pick teams…I guess we just made up our own rules as we went along.
    The worst part was a lot of us had pet dogs and they would always give away where you were hideing….
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    April 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    I can remember the girl that taught me how to count potatoes! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world because she was a bit older than me. I then taught it to my friends.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    This made me smile 😉
    Wish I lived close enough to attend the jamboree with you all today

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    April 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I remember doing that! I paused after the number 4 and then after “7 potato” I said “or!” The kids today are missing out on the fun stuff we did back in the day.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    I haven’t thought about counting
    taters in years, wonder if my
    grandgirls know about this. Nice
    memories! …Ken

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

    We didn’t say potato after the four either & it ended with “more”, instead of “or”. Hadn’t thought of it in years. Thanks for the memory.

  • Reply
    Janice McCall
    April 6, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Had forgotten all about counting potatoes. Thanks for the good memories and reminder.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    April 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Being born in 1961 here in Knoxville Tennessee, we did the same as others here in East Tennessee, no potato after four and pausing after four.
    We also did the eeny, meeny, miney mo, catch a racial slur by the toe, if he hollers make him pay fifteen dollars everyday. Now kids say tiger. If you want to see what I did as a kid, go to Youtube, type in “Yardape Players” in the search engine and enjoy. Or, “Eleven Hubert” for another movie gig.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Used to count-tators with cousins decide who’s ‘it’. Our Grandma would also have us ‘draw-straws’ to see who’d get to do something first. She’d break off broom-straws of different lengths and hold them in her hand with only the tops showing. We each picked one and whoever got the longest straw won.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Now, that reminds me of another rhyme adults would recite while bouncing a baby or young’un on their knee:
    “Dig ‘tater,dig tater,dig tater, dig tater
    Hoe corn, hoe corn, hoe corn, hoe corn…”
    Anyone else ever hear that one?

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Yes, also haven’t thought about it for years; and in E. TN,(W. Ark, N. AL) you MUST pause after FOUR!

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Oh my goodness! You have such a wonderful knack for bringing the most old-timey things back to our minds that trigger sweet memories from long ago. The potato game goes right along with “eneey, meeny, miney, mo.” Another was…I one it, you two it…remember that one?
    My Dad used to say he was teaching us how to count like an Indian…One-ry, two-ry, zickery, zandery, hollo-bow,crack-a-bo, wheelbar, backstone, jalloway, ten.
    I am sure your girls would be rolling their eyes by now. A few years back we were at a get together with several of our cousins and as we sat around we brought up these old sayings and rhymes. One was, “Chick-a-ma, chick-a-ma criney crow, Went to the well to wash my toe. When I got back the old black-eyed chicken was gone. What time is it old witch? One!” We all laughed and asked one another what in the world did that have to do with the price of eggs in China! So when I got home I ran across this verse in some book that said it was a jump-rope rhyme that kids would say while skipping rope.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    April 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I had forgotten the tater counting that came before ‘it’ games. Now I need to teach it to my grandsons. They love to play rock, paper, scissors, but don’t know many of the games we played. I loved to play Red Rover, Simon Says, Statues, as well as others. Oh, Blind Man’s Bluff was another fun one. Our homemade fun was the best!

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    April 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Love this. I’ve always heard it with potato left off after 4 also. We counted lots of potatoes growing up to figure out who was going to be “it”.:)

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Who hasn’t counted potatoes to determine who was ‘it’? I don’t think the word ‘bored’ was in our vocabulary. When we got tired of counting potatoes, we would move on to ring around the rosey, and many more games that kept us as fit as a fiddle. Our counting potatoes has been replaced by couch potatoes.

  • Reply
    Alica @ Happily Married to the Cows
    April 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

    I remember doing this! I had forgotten some of the things we did as kids! Must be a sign of getting “old”! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 6, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Remember it well. No potato after 4 and on number 8 we would say floor and you would drop your fist like it fell to the floor. A lot of important decisions were made that way not only in games but doing things a little dangerous. We would use it to pick someone to go first to see if they got hurt or not. Drawing straws was another way to do it.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I somewhat remember the rhyme, but not in its entirty. Good memory for me as a young girl.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    April 6, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I’m with lesly and Mike – there’s no “potato” between 4 and 5.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 8:35 am

    One potato, two potato….eeny, meeny,…..great for making choices or just as games.
    But Rock, Paper, Scissors was not allowed for us-girls because it was too violent.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 6, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I have some memory of it but not a lot . I didn’t do a lot of games. I’m with Chatter, much rather eat potatoes.
    Yes, Tipper, times and games have changed a lot. I think most kids today are much more externally focused. Depending on phones, tv, and dvd’s to define their activities.
    They also probably have the capacity to learn much more faster. One potato, two potato is not a mentally challenging game.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    April 6, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Oh yes, I remember the girls doing that when I was a kid growing up, but I can’t say I did it. Like others, I haven’t heard anyone mention that for many years.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    April 6, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I can remember standing in the city pool with several friends doing it. We’d play for hours and hours never tiring. You wouldn’ believe how brown I was at the end of the summer.
    Tipper, what is that plant in the background? We live in my parents house now. My mother brought plants over from my grandmothers’ in 1969. This is one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    Carol Stuart
    April 6, 2013 at 7:39 am

    In my part of WV we counted it out the same way lesly from east Tennessee did. I also hadn’t thought about this in forever!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

    We counted potatoes all the time, it was a great argument settler. I’ll have to ask my grandkids if they ever play it. Thanks for the memories Tipper

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 7:26 am

    My goodness! Haven’t thought of counting tators in years.Such simple games we played but what fun.

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    April 6, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I had forgotten “countin taters”. Will have to show the grandkids. Same rhyme in Kentucky.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    April 6, 2013 at 7:20 am

    I actually have forgotten all about it up until now, but yes as kids we’d do that.. Your girls are funny sometime…

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 6, 2013 at 7:12 am

    I remember it the way lesly does from East Tennessee, without “potato” following the 4, so that it turns into a little rhyme.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2013 at 6:13 am

    We said it slightly differently in my day in East Tennessee, making a little rhyme:
    1 potato, 2 potato, 3 potato, 4,
    5 potato, 6 potato, 7 potato, or.
    And we also counted big or little potatoes, depending on the number of kids. Haven’t thought about counting potatoes for years.

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