I made a sheet of tickets for each child, using a blank "admit one ticket template" found online. Then I found clip art to match all of the poses I wanted to do (see image at bottom of post). You could use my suggestions or create your own! Older children may enjoy having larger tickets that are blank, so that they could draw their own circus acts on their tickets. For the ages that I teach (2-6 years), it worked well to give them a stamp or sticker on each ticket after we'd completed that act, and then they were free to take the tickets home or back to class, where they could color them and show their parents.
Here are the materials and props I collected for the two classes:
-Playlist: "Circus Music" album by Circus Band on Spotify, plus one song for the snake charmer (I used an untitled song from the album "Sounds of The Indian Snake Charmer" on Spotify)
-A plastic baton (found at dollar store)
-Jump Rope (or other long sturdy rope for "tightrope walking"
-Circus Tent (the Ikea tent folds up to fit in a small tote bag!)
-A "ticket" page for each student, plus stamps or stickers
-A small fan-shaped paintbrush (any soft clean paintbrush is fine)
-Silk Scarves for fire-breather pose
-A large soft or inflatable ball
I repeated the same breathing exercise and warm-up parade for each of the two classes, with different poses and relaxations to finish (see below).
To introduce our class and tune in to our breath together, we talked about different things you can see at the circus. I told them that people who perform in the circus practice for many, many years and become strong and brave to perform their difficult feats. The fire-breather must be very brave! We know a pose of a person who is strong and brave... the Warrior Pose! In Warrior Pose, hold silk scarf with the front hand, right in front of the face. Taking a deep breath in through the nose, exhale slowly and forcefully through rounded lips to make the scarf move like fire. Try with the other leg and arm forward.
To warm up our bodies and travel to the circus, I turned on a circus march and had them follow the leader (whoever has the baton). I started leading the marching to give them some ideas. We marched in place on our mats with variations: with our arms up, in circles, tapping our knees with our hands, etc. Pass the baton around the room so each student gets a few measures of music to "lead" the parade.
Next I had the parade line up and follow me to the corner where the circus tent was set up (tent flaps closed mysteriously!). Each student got to go inside one at a time to get a ticket which I'd laid on the floor of the tent, and bring the ticket back to their mat. None of my students were afraid to go in, but for some younger students you might want to leave the flaps open or let them go in two at a time.
Back on our mats, we tucked our tickets halfway under the front of our mats so they wouldn't blow around or get stepped on. After each pose, I stamped or stickered their ticket, but you could wait till the end or just use a marker to give them a star.
Circus Poses Part 1
The Monkeys: Swing your arms and legs, do somersaults (if old enough to safely roll), and do a banana pose standing with feet together and palms together overhead, lean to each side.
The Clowns: Take a moment to dramatically put on a curly, colorful wig, a big red nose, and large clown shoes. Stand in an "X" shape with feet apart and wave to all the children. Older children might like to try juggling with a beanbag or hackey sack. Turn your clowns around so everyone has their back to the circle, and then try Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold and have everyone make silly clown faces at each other from under their legs.
The Trapeze: This could be done in several variations. I had the children do Locust Pose while I held their ankles down, as it becomes possible to lift the chest and shoulders a little higher and "fly" when the feet are stabilized. This is great for building strength in the upper back, as many children are already in the habits of hunching forward to look at an iPad or watch TV. You could also have them do locust pose facing a partner and hold hands. Older children might elaborate on the idea of acrobats, building a pyramid or doing other partner poses.
The Snake Charmer: After explaining that a snake charmer has a snake coiled in a big jar, and that the snake comes out to dance when it hears music, we curled up in Child's Pose. As I turned up the volume on the snake charmer's song, we slithered up off of our thighs to stand on our knees, hands held behind our backs, and swayed from side to side. I turned the volume down and we lowered ourselves back to Child's Pose. The kids really loved this pose and we ended up repeating it several times.
The Seals: Pilates-inspired Seal Pose. Balance on sit bones and lift feet off floor, holding the ankles. Clap soles of feet together. Try rolling back and forth along spine. Pass around the large ball from seal to seal, only using your "flippers" (feet) to move the ball.
The Lion: Begin sitting on knees, with one hand on the floor next to legs. Reach other arm up and over to the side, opening the fingers wide and then clenching into a fist (stretching our paws). Reach to the other side. Scratch fingernails along mat to sharpen claws. Place hands on thighs to do Lion's Breath. Next, use the hula hoop (explaining that it's on fire, so you don't want to touch it with your furry paws!) and let each student crawl or jump through as they roar.
Return to mats for Bubbles Relaxation. Rub some Yoga-Glue on your backs, the back of your head, and your palms so you can stick yourself to the floor, but let the legs hang out up in the air. Turn on some relaxing music and dim lights. Blow some bubbles towards each students feet, telling them to use only their feet to pop them (they'll need to be reminded to keep their palms glued to the floor! When one student asked why he couldn't use his hands, I explained that our hands get to do most of the fun things, but our feet don't usually get to pop bubbles--that seemed to make sense to him).
Close class however you usually do--we give ourselves a big strong hug and say "namaste" to each other, and I thanked them for being brave and trying new things at the circus. I wrote the kids' names on the backs of their tickets and kept them for the following week's class assuring them that they could take home their tickets next time!
Circus Poses Part 2
Begin class with a short review of last week's circus to see what they remember. Repeat Fire-Breathing Warrior Pose and the Parade Warm-Up. Return to the tent to find your ticket from last week.
The Cannonball: I had to explain this act to some of the kids (I had one student asking about "the bomb"--yikes!), but they liked that it involved being hurled through the air and landing on a springy net. We did a squat (Malasana) at the very back of our mats, putting on a helmet for safety (hands clasped over head). Count backwards from 5 and jump to the front of your mat. They wanted to do it again and again!
The Elephants: Stomp your large heavy legs, arms intertwined or hands clasped to make a trunk. We balanced on one leg with our trunks up.
The Tightrope: If you have a co-teacher, they can help with this one; otherwise students can take turns holding the other end of the jump rope. Stretch it taut, holding it a few inches off the floor. Each student takes a turn holding the baton in both hands and walking, one foot in front of the other from one end to the other. Remind the other students to be a great audience by being as still and silent as possible, so the tightrope walker can concentrate!
The Unicycle: Sit in Boat Pose with hands out to the sides for balance and bicycle the legs. Older students who can do Shoulderstand will have fun riding an upside-down unicycle!
Popcorn: With feet on the floor, wrap yourself into a small shape by crouching down with arms around knees, like a tiny popcorn kernel. Spring into a jump with arms and legs outstretched and shout "POP!" Repeat several times so you can fill up a box! What other circus snacks do you know of? Can you make a pose for them?
The Circus Tent: Stand facing a partner with your hands on each other's shoulders. Take a few steps back from each other for a nice back stretch.
The Performance: If you have time, this is a fun way to end class. Let each student go in to the tent to think of which act they loved best (or make up their own). With some music on, they can pop out of the tent and do a pose and take a bow (encourage good audience support, cheering and clapping)!
Face-Painting Relaxation: Return to mats and lie down with soft music and dim lights. Using the paintbrush, softly trace each student's eyebrows, bridge of nose, and cheekbones. They always have the option to say "no thank you," but my students love it and usually ask for another turn. I love watching their facial muscles relax (except for little smiles)!
Come back to a seat and close class.
If anyone has suggestions for a good children's book about the circus, please post in the comments below! I didn't have time to research a good story to go with this class, but would love to hear from other parents and teachers with bigger libraries than mine.
If you teach your own circus-themed class, please link to your blog or add your circus poses and games to the comments!