Sometimes organizing any family event can seem like a three ring circus. Families that make the effort are no “dumbos”. Reading and playing games with your kids prepare them for doing their best in school. Watch Disney’s classic cartoon “Dumbo” and follow up with these ideas for focusing on the educational value of interacting with your kids. Don’t wait for the circus to come to town: create your own three ring circus at home!
LUNCH TIME Big Top Bonanza
Enjoy a living room or backyard picnic with all your family favorites from the circus such as hot dogs and peanuts in the shell. You can find cotton candy sold in bags at the grocery store or animal crackers for a sweet thematic treat. To get those veggies in, eat your hot dogs Chicago style with tomatoes, grilled onions, pickle wedges, mustard, and a dash of celery salt. Stupendous and amazing!
GAME TIME Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer
In this story, Olivia tells a possibly tall tale to her classmates of how she saved the circus on her vacation. Encouraging your child to create their own story of how they saved the circus promotes social interaction, using their creative imagination, and helps develop their oral language development and expression. Writing and illustrating their story will also help fine motor skills and language development. When a child is being creative, there is no need to correct spelling unless they ask for help. Sounding out to the best of their abilities gives them confidence! Teachers call this strategy “inventive spelling”. If you want to create a “final draft” you can correct spelling with them several days after they enjoy creating and sharing with their proud family.
GAME and CRAFT TIME: The 12 Circus Rings by Seymour Chwast
This is a counting book about the circus set to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Using a familiar tune for singing songs with your toddlers is wonderful for language development and listening skills. Even college students use this trick to remember facts for exams: rewrite the words to any familiar song to help your kids remember safety information such as phone numbers, parents’ full names, and their home address.
Use this story song book as a jumping off point for drawing maps of a three ring circus. What animals would your kids like to see at the circus? Do you have a family pet? Have them draw the pet doing crazy tricks. Any kind of mapping activities builds fine motor skills and a development of the imagination. Develop gross motor skills by using sidewalk chalk to make a large map tof the circus rings that the whole neighborhood can temporarily enjoy!
GAME TIME Tightrope Poppy The High-Wire Pig by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Infants and toddlers can benefit from story time together. Read this story about a tight-rope walker who must practice before becoming perfect. Laying masking tape along the floor of your home (with a curve now and then) is an easy and safe way for your child to practice their eye-foot coordination, balance, and gross motor skills. Remember that walking backwards is a skill that does not come until later, so let them practice if they can. Their diaper and your waiting arms are all the safety net they need.
Toddlers can play a game with their infant siblings called “Copy Cat”. Whatever moves the infant makes; parents and child copy the action. It will take practice and fine motor skills for the toddlers to mimic, but your infant will be part of the action and have a chance to develop their understanding of cause and effect. Copying facial expressions is bonding and amazingly delightful for little siblings.
GAME TIME Circus 1-2-3 by Megan Halsey
Another wonderful story for counting, this delightfully artistic book can also be used for color and animal sound identification. For infants, a fun circus game to play is called “The Magic Scarf Game”. Tie scarves or daddy’s colorful ties together and put them in a hat. Give one end to your child and show them how to pull the rope out. As the scarves are pulled out, parents can call out the color of the scarf or count the scarves for developing those language skills, too. This is a fun game for learning cause and effect and “object permanence”. Separation anxiety in children is a common experience due to young ones’ confusion with concepts of permanence.
For toddlers, here’s a fun memory building game. Each player needs a sheet of paper for each round. Hide your sheet as the leader takes about 30 seconds to draw shapes or animals from the circus randomly on the paper. Keep it simple: Three rings in the right corner and an elephant’s nose in the left corner. Reveal the drawing. Have your child study the picture for 30 seconds and hide the picture. They take a couple of minutes to draw what they remember seeing. Grown-ups conclude by complimenting them on everything they copied successfully. Take turns being the leader. Children through junior high will get a kick out of creating more difficult challenges: The letters of “circus” spelled backwards or out of order with a lion in one ring, an elephant in another, etc.
Support and visit your local library! Your local librarian will be happy to help you find children’s books about the circus, animals, counting, and child development. Other recommendations for kids are If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss. When the Circus Came to Town is an excellent chapter book by Lawrence Yep. Several of these game ideas were modified from the book Baby Play & Learn by Penny Warner. As I researched this movie about Dumbo at the circus, several grown-ups declared that their parents sang them the Jumbo and Dumbo reunion song to them as a child: Baby Mine by Michael Crawford is one of the loveliest lullabies ever written. Enjoy this oldie but goodie together with a warm bedtime snuggle.
Parents and caretakers are the ringmasters of love and family fun! Grab that feather if it helps you believe because teachers know that parents are the best Ringmasters for “training” those clowns and animals into a happy home full of little learners!