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Circus Lesson Plan

Courtesy of Tami L. Maldonado-Mancebo
Early Childhood Curriculum Consultant, Omaha Public Schools

This themed unit allows students to develop a variety of academic skills as they explore life under the big top.  Individual student goals will vary according to the ability and ages of the children and can be easily adapted for children with special needs.

Download a printable version of this lesson plan.

Learning Objectives:  Communication skills, spatial concepts, problem solving, grouping, sequencing, identification, labeling, fine and gross motor development.

Literacy Center
Chalkboard Story
Draw this story on a large piece of paper as you share it with students:

Tommy and his father went to the circus. When they entered the big top, the first thing they saw was the big arena (draw a large circle). 
Tommy and his dad sat on one side of the arena. They could look across the arena and see the people on the other side (draw clown hair on both sides of the circle). 
The band began to play (draw a triangle clown hat on top of the circle).  They could see the conductor leading the band.  (Draw a circle at the top of the triangle). 
The lights went out and a spotlight shown on the ringmaster (draw a circle in the middle of the large circle to make a nose). "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the greatest show on earth. For your entertainment we have the dancing, prancing horses. Watch them dance. (Draw a star for an eye).  Over here we have the lions. Watch them jump through hoops. Here them roar (Draw the other eye).  High over head we have the daring young men on the flying trapeze.” (Draw a smiling mouth). 
Tommy and his dad had a great time at the circus. When Tommy got home he could hardly wait to tell his mom everything he had seen. “Mom, Dad and I sat in the audience and looked across the arena at the other side. We heard the band and saw the conductor. The ringmaster was great. We watched the horses and lions. The flying people on the trapeze were fun. But, do you know what I liked the best? THE CLOWNS!”

Arts and Crafts Center
Balloon Animals
Instruct students to make animal balloons just like the real clowns do. These balloons are really hard to blow up so get a balloon blowing device to save yourself a lot of work. Be sensitive to latex allergies within your classroom before attempting this activity. 

Scarf Juggling
Collect a box of colorful scarves.  Give 2 scarves to each child. Instruct the child to throw and catch the two scarves with another student.  Now they are juggling. This idea will spark tons of other juggling ideas.

Circus Cup Puppets
With scissors (adult job) cut a slit in bottom of a paper cup the width of a craft stick. Place the craft stick in the slit and glue 1 circle of construction paper on each side of stick to form a head. Decorate as desired. Some creative ideas would be to use pipe cleaners for arms and cotton balls for hair.
Circus Train
Use standard size construction paper (all colors) and space black strips of paper going across to resemble bars.  Add a piece of bulletin board border across the top, then two circles for wheels. Use animal crackers as animals to put inside the cars. String all cars together to make a train. This project makes a great bulletin board decoration.

Elephant Art
Use pre-cut circles from the middle of a large paper plate. Have the students paint the plate gray and glue on ears (either pre-cut, or let the kids cut them out) and large wiggle eyes. When the paint is dry, the kids can put their arms through the hole to become the trunk.

Paper Plate Lions
Use a small or a large paper plate and have kids add wiggle eyes, a triangle nose, and draw a cat mouth. Give them strips of yellow, brown, and orange construction paper for the mane. Talk to kids about placing strips for the mane around the plate in a pattern (ybybybybybyb or yobyobyobyob).

Have precut giraffe shapes and give the kids bingo dabbers, or sponges and paint to make spots on their giraffe. Embellish with yarn manes and precut horns. You can sit with students and talk about patterns in the spots or count the spots

Clown Faces
Paste pictures of students’ faces onto paper plates and attach hats and bows using brads. Kids can use paint to decorate the faces.

Encourage students to make tickets in the art or writing areas and use the tickets to purchase treats. 

Math Center
Clown Game
Make six medium-sized clowns, each with different colored clothes.  Then cut them into 6 pieces (hat, head, upper body, lower body and big shoes), each with a number from 1 to 6 on it.  Students roll a die and select the appropriate piece.  The first student to make their complete clown wins. 

Silly Clown Face
Make 6 large clown head shapes plus pieces (hair, hat, eyes, nose, mouth, ears) on a plain die.  Students put the faces together by rolling the die and selecting the appropriate piece. Make the features as outlandish as you want.  Each face can be different so that each time they play they finish up with another clown.

Science Center
Balloon Art
Make 2 or 3 balloons out of white paper or poster board and laminate them. Then have 3 small containers with colored water in the 3 primary colors. Provide small paintbrushes or eyedroppers and let kids put the colored water on the balloons to see what color their balloons end up!

Balloons and Blowing
Get either kazoos or blowouts and show the kids that the same thing happens when you put the end of a balloon over the part you blow into. Younger children will be amazed by this!

Sizzle Experiment
Pour 1 inch of vinegar into a catsup bottle. Put 2 tsp. of baking soda in a balloon. Quickly put the balloon over the bottle and watch the balloon fill with the gas created by the interaction of the soda and vinegar.

Face Paint Recipe
2 tsp. of shortening, 1 tsp flour, food coloring, 5 tsp corn starch, 3-4 drops of glycerin, fragrance free cream or lotion.

Dramatic Play Center
Book Center
Use an activity hoop and red and white streamers to create a “big top” to hang up for kids to read under.

Put cardboard boxes in an area of the classroom for students to make circus wagons.  Add stuffed animals to pull in the wagons.

Set up a Circus
Use tape or activity hoops for the center ring and encourage kids to act like lions, lion tamers, ring masters (find an old top hat or cat-in-the-hat), and clowns.  Add a balance beam, mini trampoline, ropes, balls, and stuffed animals. Set up a ticket booth, chairs for audience, and a snack center.

Writing Center
Make signs, tickets, circus posters, and animal pictures.  Dictate stories and compress into a class book. Have children make tickets in the art or writing areas & then use the tickets to purchase treats.

Large Group Activities
Balloon Match
Make several sets of balloon pictures. Instruct students to match them by shape, color, size, or anything else they want to.

Pin the Nose on the Clown
Give each student a nose (pompom with double sided tape on it), blind fold them and have them put the nose on the clown (you can spin the children but it is better not to do this for younger ones).

Cotton Candy Match
Create triangular cotton candy holders and puffy looking cotton candy cutouts in several different colors (or use multi-colored cotton balls). Let your students match the cotton candy with its matching holder.

Jump through Hoops
Provide activity hoops and instruct students to jump through them. To add a bit of excitement wrap red and orange ribbon around the hoop and pretend it is on fire!

Food Activities
Big Top Mix
Make a parade mix using peanuts (be sensitive to nut allergies) and pretzels. Mix them together and put it in white paper bags with red stripes just like you get at the circus.

Ice Cream Clowns
A small scoop of ice cream is the head; the ice cream cone is his hat. You can use whatever you like to decorate them. Use blueberries for the eyes, chocolate sauce for the hair and mini marshmallows for a pompom on the hat.

Frozen Banana on a Stick
Provide bananas, craft sticks, milk, crushed Grape-Nuts®.  Have students peel their bananas.  Help them insert their craft stick into the end of the banana and instruct them to dip the banana in milk and then roll it in the Grape-Nuts®.  Freeze until hard. 

Pop popcorn with students or bring in pre-popped popcorn.  Encourage kids serve them selves using a paper cup and use circus-themed bags for the popcorn.

Music and Songs
Funny Clowns
“A funny clown in a big tall hat
A funny clown who is short and fat
A funny clown so tiny and small
A funny clown with a nose so red
A funny clown with green hair on his head.
A funny clown who is tall and lanky
A funny clown with great big shoes.”
Encourage students to add their own verses.

What Can You Do?
“Oh little lion. . oh little lion,
Jump through the ring, Jump through the ring
Oh little lion, oh little lion,
Let’s see you, let’s see you.”

Oh Mr. Clown
“Oh Mr. Clown
Show me your tricks
Oh Mr. Clown, oh Mr. Clown
Let’s see you, let’s see you.”

The Little Clown
“This little clown is fat and gray (hold up thumb)
This little clown does tricks all day (hold up next finger)
This little clown is tall and strong (hold up next finger)
This little clown is wee and small (hold up next finger)
And this little clown can do anything at all.” (hold up little finger)

We Are Clowns Now (sung to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell”)
“We are all clowns today
We are all clowns today
Hey Ho the derry O!
We are all clowns today.”

Carousel (sung to “Bozo the Clown”)
“The carousel goes round and round
The horses go up and down
Up and down . . .round and round
I want to ride it, all day long.”

Bouncing Balloons
“This is the way we bounce the balloons
Bounce the balloons, bounce the balloons
This is the way we bounce the balloons, gently in the air.”

Take Me Out to the Circus
“Take me out to the circus
Take me to the big top
I want to see the clowns tumbling
As I eat popcorn and drink soda pop
Oh, the lions and tigers may scare me
And the high wire acts amaze me
So . . .you! . . .see . . .all the great things we’ll do
On our circus day.”

The Big Top
“Everybody circle round and lift the canvas off the ground
Push and pull and watch it rise, the big top grows right before our eyes
Everybody circle round and lift the canvas off the ground
Sit and watch the circus acts singing
Everybody circle round form a great big ring upon the ground
Now we're set to watch the show
Circus acts both high and low
Everybody circle round and form a ring upon the ground.”

Circus Elephant
“A circus elephant I went to see (Hold hand over eyes like binoculars)
He had four legs and was bigger than me. (Hold up four fingers and then point to self)
He had two ears big and round (Show two fingers and make a circle with hands)
And one long nose that made a sound errrrr.” (Make elephant trunk with arm)

Silly Clown
“Silly clown, silly clown with great green hair
Silly clown, silly clown with a great big nose
Silly clown, silly clown with two big shoes
Silly clown, silly clown wearing funny clothes
Silly clown, silly clown with a great blue suit
Silly clown, silly clown with a spotted tie
Silly clown, silly clown with great big glasses.”            

Culminating Activities
• Visit with clown
• Video tape a clown getting dressed and putting on make-up
• Interview the clown on video with children
• Have children put on clown make-up link to make-up
• Visit with a juggler
• Video tape the juggler doing tricks
• Have children make up own silly tricks link to balls or other juggling supplies
• Invite a guest who can make animals out of balloons toward the end of the unit.
• Display balloons around the room to create a circus effect.
• Visit a circus
• Video tape different acts
• Interview performers with students, if possible (if you call ahead and make arrangements, people are generally very helpful).

Now that your students have explored life under the big top, look for more fun lesson plan ideas.