The song has become a popular children's song and is best known for its arithmetical chorus:
Towards the end of the song, the verses are sung in counterpoint with this chorus. Loesser loved the intellectual challenge of such contrapuntal composition which he also did in other works such as Tallahassee.
The composer received a letter of appreciation, signed pseudonymously, "Your respectfully, a Kansas inchworm",
He was so touched by this that he placed a large advertisement in the largest newspaper in Lawrence, Kansas — the Daily Journal World — in thanks. His correspondent wrote again, revealing herself to be teacher Emily Preyer.
In the film, a children's chorus sings the "arithmetic" section over and over inside a small classroom, dolefully and by rote, while Andersen, listening just outside, gazes at an inchworm crawling on the flowers and sings the main section of the song.
It has been recorded by many singers, including Paul McCartney, Rachelle Ferrell, The Brothers Creeggan, Anne Murray, Kenny Loggins, We Five, John Lithgow, Mary Hopkin, Doris Day, Dan Zanes, Kurt Wagner and Patricia Barber, and has been performed in skits on Jim Henson's Sesame Street and The Muppet Show; the song was done once by Charles Aznavour in a regular sketch, and once again with Danny Kaye and the Muppets when he was on the show. In the Quantum Leap episode Another Mother, Al (Dean Stockwell) sang it as a lullaby. It was used in a 1995 episode of the UK television programme BBC Horizons, entitled "Nanotopia", during a segment explaining the "assemblers" of Eric Drexler. Performed instrumentally, it was a regular feature of the John Coltrane Quartet's repertoire. The song also briefly featured in the popular British schools drama Grange Hill, being sung by the school choir during rehearsals. It was featured at the end of a fourth season episode of the show Northern Exposure. There was also a Hebrew version of the song, sung by children and a male singer. In 2010, twice Ivor Novello Awards-nominated band The Leisure Society performed the song for the American Laundromat Records kindie compilation, "Sing Me to Sleep - Indie Lullabies." A recording of Danny Kaye singing it was used as the underscoring for a shadow puppet segment on Captain Kangaroo.
The song is also sung as a children's lullaby during episode 17 of the first season on the popular TV sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond".