Children learn about the Circus-The Traveling Closet

by Mary Ann on October 31, 2011

grandma and grandkids dressed as  clowns

Four of the finest clowns in our fair city!

The Circus is in town!! Back in the 50’s that news brought a shiver to my spine and a smile to my face. I loved going to the circus. It was held outside in a large tent. There really were elephants and trapeze artists, and lions being tamed. Everything smelled of sawdust and cotton candy. It was an exciting event!

As I grew older the circus changed a bit. Long gone was the tent, replaced by huge arenas in large buildings. They seemed to come around less often. Children didn’t seem to know as much about them and they weren’t a yearly long awaited event that the whole town looked forward to.

I realized that I didn’t think any of my grandchildren had ever even been to a circus. WOW! At the library I found a couple of books on the circus and decided that we would learn all about circus and have one of our own

So what happens at a circus? Who comes, who performs, do you eat anything, what in the world is a clown? These were questions that we were going to answer in our grandma school.

When I arrive with my Traveling Closet Mary, who is 2, is always the first to reach me. She wants to know what is in that orange basket! She delights in pulling everything out. On this day she found old glasses, large glasses, boas, bow ties, and makeup. She was excited about all of it but the boas. Mary is a bit afraid of feathers.

kids putting makeup to be clowns

Keep your materials simple

We began the day by looking at a few pictures of clowns and talking about who they are and what they do. They are funny, do tricks and like to make people laugh. We decided to be clowns for a day. So out came the white face paint and lipstick. The white face paint was some Halloween makeup I bought many years ago. It still worked, sorta. For red we just used what grandma had, lip stick. As I say, keep it simple. Then we tried on all the glasses, boas, ties and other costume items. Jack fell in love with the cat in the hat, hat and the bow tie. He asked me if he could have them. I said he could sure borrow them. “I don’t like borrow” he said, I want to have them!”

little boy dressed as clown

Jack with his bow tie and his perfect clown hat

I didn’t find a really super book about the circus at my small library so I decided to just make one. I found a terrific site for circus pictures, printed them off and then put them into a binder. Now Jack, Mary and Maggie can look at it until it falls apart. It also made a good circus coloring book.

our homemade circus coloring book

Our homemade circus book

I have to be honest. When I found that the selection of circus books was so poor at our library I had some shipped in from other libraries. The truth is that I never got them picked up. That is how it is in real life, sometimes we are on it and sometimes we are not! So we did with what we had and I made my own circus book.

We looked at the pictures and talked about what was happening in each one, and if we would like to do that trick.

our circus dog

Our "not very good" circus dog, Odie Lew

Did you know that in some circus acts they have dogs that dress up and do tricks? Well, Maggie and Jack have a dog. We had some costumes and we thought he might be able to do a trick. He did! He peed on the floor from fright at the whole thing. We let him go and went on with our circus without him.

We decided to be tight rope walkers. We used a rake handle for our tightrope. (The rake head helped the stick not roll) I can tell you that each of the children loved !!!!! walking the tight rope and they did a good job too. They were real performers.

We also decided to learn to juggle; throw one ball up, try to catch it, run after it. Up, try to catch it, run after it. Then we tried two balls. We weren’t very good but it was fun.

We talked about what you eat at the circus and then we ate some popcorn and cotton candy. We all loved the cotton candy, except mom who had the children for the rest of the day! : )

eating cotton candy at circus

Mmmmmmm, eating cotton candy

We ended our day by sitting quietly and reading all about a little bunny who went to the circus and billed his mom as the Meanest Mother on Earth! It was a very fun day.

Oh yes, I left them with the DVD Toby Tyler to watch as a family. I loved it as a kid and so will they!

If you have a mix of age groups including some older children then check out the non-fiction books. Why not make a circus out of paper, or draw a circus, or do some serious face painting. Why not have your own circus.

Short picture books about the Circus for kids:

  • Secret Circus by Johanna Wright
  • Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleishchman
  • Circus 1-2-3  by Megan Halsey
  • Sing a Song of Circus by Ward Schumaker
  • Peter Spier’s Circus  by Peter Spier
  • Chwast, Seymour — The Twelve Circus Rings
  • Collington, Peter — The Midnight Circus

Picture books with a longer story about the circus for kids:

  • Clown of God by Tomie DePaola- This is where we got our idea for our clown makeup. A very touching book my grandchildren loved.
  • The Day the Circus Came to Town by Melody Carlson – A story about making your own decisions and not being influenced by friends.
  • Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth by Kate Klise – Find out what happens when you don’t clean  your own playroom!
  • Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen
  • To The Big Top by Jill Esbaum
  • Dimity Dumpty: The Story of Humpty’s Little sister by Bob Graham
  • Tree Ting Circus  by Adam Rex
  • Last Night I Dreamed a Circus by Maya Gottfried
  • Madeline and the Gypsies  by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • If I Ran the Circus by Dr Seuss

Circus Easy Reader for kids:

  • Circus Fun by Margaret Hillert
  • Hurry Up! by Carol Murray
  • Sawdust and Spangles: the Amazing Life of W.C. Coup by Ralph Covert
  • Worlds Greatest Elephant by Ralph Helfer
  • Sara Joins the Circus  by Thera Callahan
  • Millicent the Magnificent by Alice Bach – “Millicent is a charming story that will help children appreciate the wonders of classical music.”
  • C is for Clown by Stan Berenstain
  • Circus of the Wolves by Jack Bushnell

Circus Non-fiction for kids:

  • Juggler by Caroline Arnold
  • Parades by Eugene Baker
  • Face Painting by Clare Beaton
  • Jumbo by Rhoda Blumberg
  • Let’s Be Circus Animals by Kathy Christensen
  • Let’s Be Circus Stars by Kathy Christensen
  • How to Draw the Circus by Pamela Johnson
  • Circus Time : How to Put On Your Own Show by Connie Klayer
  • Horses in the Circus Ring by Lynn Saville
  • What Happens at the Circus by Arthur Shay
  • Clowning Around: Jokes About the Circus by Rick Walton
  • Paper Circus: How to Create Your Own Circus by Robin West
  • The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming – Perfectly captures the spirit of an era, the spirit of the circus, and the spirit of P. T. Barnum himself. For older children.

Circus Junior Fiction :

  • Travelers By Night by Vivien Alcock
  • Great American Elephant Chase by Gillian Cross
  • The Secret Elephant of Harlan Kooter by Dean Harvey
  • Jelly’s Circus by Dean Hughes
  • The Runaway Clown by Lois Johnson
  • TobyTyler, or, Ten Weeks With a Circus by James Otis
  • Tybee Trimble’s Hard Times by Lila Perl
  • Incredible Jumbo: A Novel by Barbara Smucker
  • Miss Know It All and the Three-Ring Circus by Carol BeachYork









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