The Handcart Song


Teach The Handcart Song this Pioneer Day in singing time by having the children act out pushing and pulling!  Top it off with a bell chart and you’ll have your primary acting just like the pioneers as they pushed, pulled and sang as they moved west!

Camille's Primary Ideas: The Handcart Song Singing Time Ideas using tug of war

I love how the musical feel of The Handcart Song is all about pushing and pulling!  It sways back and forth mimicking the movement found when the pioneers pushed and pulled their handcarts.

So to play on that movement, have your children push and pull as they learn this beloved pioneer primary song!  Here’s how …

Handcart Actions

For starters, teach the simple actions found HERE shared by Emily on the Primary Music Leaders FB group.  Or I recreated them here for easy viewing: 

You can also find it on my YouTube channel HERE. I’d love it if you’d like and subscribe which helps me create more content!

  • When pioneers moved to the west: create a large rainbow as you point with fingers ending at one side of the body (heading west)
  • With courage strong they met the test: show muscles
  • They pushed their handcarts all day long: mimic pushing off to the side of the body
  • And as they pushed the sang this song: pretend to lead music
  • For some must push: push off to the side of the body
  • And some must pull: pull back to the side of the body
  • As we go marching up the hill: march in place
  • So merrily on our way we go: skip in place and smile
  • Until we reach: put hand to forehead as if “searching”
  • The valley-o: arms extend to create large rainbows

Make sure to post the words as needed like I do HERE.

Camille's Primary Ideas: posting words for singing time, singing time flip charts

Push and Pull

Once the actions are learned, bring a long rope to create a “tug of war” activity.  Divide the primary into 2 and have half on one side of the rope and the other on the other side.  Have the children “tug” back and forth to the beat of the song.


Have the children find a partner.  Have them stand, face each other and hold hands.  As they sing, have them push and pull their partner’s arms back and forth.  Push and pull to the rhythm, beat and/or whenever “push” and “pull” are sung.  Change partners and repeat.

Add a Challenge

A fun challenge is to have partners “push” and “pull” as indicated above.  When the song ends, whoever’s arms are bent, are out.  Those who are out, sit down.  Those remaining find new partners and repeat, eventually having a winner.

Chimes on Descant

The Handcart Song’s descant also portrays the fun back and forth movement of this song!  Play it using chimes or once the song is learned!

Camille's Primary Ideas: The Handcart Song Singing Time Ideas using tug of war

Access my printables at my Resource Library.  Instructions for accessing my Resource Library are found at the bottom of this post.

Use Chimes

I LOVE pulling in chimes during the summer months to celebrate Pioneer Day!  Kind of old-fashioned, homemade instruments that pioneers may have used to create music!
Find more details on obtaining chimes for your. primary HERE.
Camille's Primary Ideas: Chimes for Singing Time

If you’ve never used chimes in singing time, check out my post HERE for using handbells in primary – which applies to chimes as well!

Pioneer Day Singing Time Ideas

Make sure to scroll through all of my Pioneer Day singing time ideas HERE.

Pioneer Day Singing Time Wagon Wheel of Fortune

The cover photo illustration of the handcart children is the work of Susan Fitch.  Find her artwork HERE.


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