Always an Easy Theme
It's been 2 years, since I did this obviously fun theme. It's worth repeating, since it guarantees a good time. But also, I need to use this stuff! I have accumulated a lot of crazy circus goodies and I'm a firm believer in "use it or lose it." I put it all to use.
It was fun having so many in my senior groups who remembered real tent circuses. Yes they still exist, but most performances are in arenas and stadiums now.
Some of us remembered seeing tents go up. I saw the Carson & Barnes Circus elephants raise the tent in Tulsa about 20 years ago. It was a magical thing to watch, but elephant treatment is luckily changing and they no longer have that job.
Movies and Books
I had some kids visiting in all of my senior groups and none of them could name a circus movie besides Dumbo.
The rest of us had fond memories of Burt Lancaster using his circus skills in "Trapeze" and Charlton Heston running "The Greatest Show on Earth".
Photographs and Paintings
I had quite a few books with wonderful photographs of the Flying Wallendas and even a book of famous paintings depicting circus life. A few got into the books, but as usual it was the music that took over.
Music and "Juggling"
When brainstorming circus music, the only song that came up was the song Judy Garland made famous,"Be a Clown". I didn't have that recording, but I did have Henry Mancini's "Elephant Walk" and the iconic one we used to sing as kids... "...fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze..." Quite a few sang along with that one. But it was the recording of real circus music that was the most fun.
The energetic sounds of horns, cymbals and drum rolls got everyone so revved up I decided to use their energy with a juggling exercise. We avoided the frustrating balls and tried juggling with scarves.
It wasn't planned, but somehow that music (in 2 of my groups) got the "jugglers" so wound up that suddenly all 12 scarves were shooting across the table like fireworks. Hands were reaching, grabbing, tossing... in any direction.
I felt like a teacher who had lost total control of the classroom, but I loved all the laughter and squealing.
I had a few old clown photos and some fun (yet odd) clown figures from childhood. The guy on the unicycle was hit. Margaret beamed as she rolled the little plastic fellow with the painted face, back and forth over the quilt.
Dot took one look at the clown and announced with giddy enthusiasm, "Clowns were always my favorite! When ever the circus traveled within 100 miles of our home in Louisiana, my Papa would drive us to see it!
Kids and the Circus
It was so fun having kids visiting in many of my groups. They were of course delighted to see all the colorful stuff and get their hands in there and play! I guess it shouldn't have been a real surprise when I heard the answer "No." from most of the kids when asked if they'd ever been to a circus.
Today the circus competes with TVs and video games and amusement parks . I was more surprised to find out how many kids are afraid of clowns. Two of the kids admitted it was scary movies with evil clown characters that made them learn to fear those painted faces.
Then the Stories Came
After stacking acrobats and trying to spin plates... the stories came. We heard about circus parades from many. Quite a few thought that watching the elephants and performers march down Main Street was more exciting than the circus itself.
Betty remembered finding a prize in her circus popcorn as a child. "It was a belt buckle and it just happened to have my Dad's initials, so I gave it to him..." She said he never got rid of that buckle.
Margaret remembered riding the city bus with her mother and siblings and neighborhood kids to the circus in Chicago. After waiting in line, they discovered there were only expensive seats left. Her mother tried to explain why they were heading back home on the bus, but her baby sister continued to sob. They stopped at a pay phone to call "Daddy" since maybe he could calm the 2-year old. He failed, but a sympathetic woman with a hot pretzel came to the rescue. I was glad to learn that Mother returned the next day with the whole bunch and they arrived VERY early to assure getting cheap tickets.
Clown Shirt and Top Hat
In my last group, we took a photo of our happy gang before clearing off the table. They made me wear the ringmaster's hat since I was wearing a clown shirt.
I had hesitated wearing the garish shirt that I bought on a whim when dining at the Circus City Cafe in Hugo, Oklahoma last month. I was glad I did since one visitor to our group saw "Hugo" on my shirt. She knew the small "circus town" well and told us some stories.I
What did I learn?
It's possible to have fun with a Circus Theme, without totally avoiding some of the controversial issues. I didn't push the discussion of animal mistreatment, but the subject came up in each group. I had quite a mix of folks, from worldly, sharp 90 year olds to seniors who have lived poor and sheltered lives, to folks with various degrees of Alzheimer's... as well some kids from 6 to 13.
Surprisingly enough, there wasn't a person in any of my groups who could not handle a cautious discussion about fair treatment of animals.
It saddened us all to realize the elephants and other animals may some day not be a part of any circuses. Many came up with ideas of how to train without cruelty. But the main thought for most of us... we were glad we had experienced the fun of seeing a circus with lions and elephants, back in the day!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.