Clowns, trained animals, the man on the flying trapeze – what kind of circus memories do you hold? Going to the circus has always been a favorite form of summer entertainment. Your group will enjoy some old-fashioned circus fun, as they reminisce about seeing a performance under the big top. Here are a few activities to stir some memories of the event.

  • Reminisce about going to see the traveling circus with family. Ask: Did you enjoy the circus? What were your favorite acts? Was going to the circus a family tradition? Did you ever see the Cole Brothers, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, or Clyde Beatty Circus? Tell us about the event.
  • Throw a “Circus” theme party, complete with a big top tent and colorful costumes.
  • Play a recording of circus or calliope music. Enjoy favorites such as “Thunder and Blazes,” “Entry of the Gladiators,” “Man on the Flying Trapeze,” “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite,” and “Be a Clown.”
  • Learn the history of Barnum’s Animal Crackers (1902), also called “circus crackers.” Ask participants if they remember hanging the cookie box with a string attached to it on the Christmas tree. Sample this favorite childhood snack.
  • Intergenerational fun: Hold a circus animal walk (children can dress up in animal costumes such as lion, elephant, pony, dog, horse). Play animal charades or make balloon animals.
  • Ask a performer to demonstrate some simple juggling skills for your group – with two or three balls.
  • Organize a pet show with dog tricks. A favorite with the crowd: dogs jumping through hoops.
  • Look at vintage circus posters and postcards. Make your own colorful posters advertising the circus – “The circus is coming to town.” Name your circus and include information about circus acts and animals.
  • Enjoy a circus snack: animal crackers, popcorn, cotton candy, roasting peanuts, corn dogs, and ice cream.
  • Ask if anyone in the group ever dreamed of running away to join the circus when they were kids. Discuss the appeal of circus life.
  • Watch the award-winning 1952 movie The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, and James Stewart. The film was directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
  • Try a simple circus act: walk the tightrope (if participants are able). Put masking tape in a straight line on the floor and encourage group members to go forward and backward.
  • Dress up as a ringmaster – coat with tails and a large top hat. Hold a contest to see who can imitate the circus ringmaster the best – “Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages!”
  • Read about the early circus with showman P.T. Barnum. Share some of his quotations with the group.
  • Paint clown faces on volunteers. Add a bright wig. Name the clowns and vote on silliest design.


  1. The person who directs the performances in a circus ring is called what? The ringmaster
  2. What is the large main tent of a traveling circus called? The Big Top
  3. Emmett Kelly was a famous circus clown. What was the name of his tramp clown figure?Weary Willie
  4. Name some common acts in the circus. Clowns, animal acts, trapeze artists, jugglers, stilt walkers, tightrope walkers, tumblers, unicyclists. (Other answers are possible.)
  5. What circus show was promoted as “The Greatest Show on Earth”? Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – three ring
  6. What was the name of Barnum & Bailey’s famous circus elephant act? Jumbo
  7. Who was Clyde Beatty? Famous animal trainer and circus owner
  8. What is a three-ring circus? Three acts taking place simultaneously in three different circus rings
  9. According to the song lyrics, what type of young man flies through the air with the greatest of ease on his trapeze? Daring (“The Man on the Flying Trapeze”)
  10. Why do tightrope walkers use a long pole? To help maintain balance

“CIRCUS MEMORIES” written by Sue Hansen. © 2010 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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