Juggle Up a Backyard Circus!
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Running out of steam on a hot summer’s day? Gather your kids or the whole neighborhood and make a backyard circus! Once you help set the basics in motion, kids’ imaginations will bubble with creative ideas and a story line will develop to support a really great show!
A juggling circus is not only fun, juggling also helps physical development - improving balance, hand-eye coordination, flexibility, and overall fitness. According to Seattle-based educational consultant and movement education specialist Edmund Knighton, juggling has multiple benefits for children, including aiming, catching and throwing, creative thinking, dexterity, discipline, and social interaction. “Through aiming, a child develops the ability to track multiple objects in space,” says Knighton. “Attentional acuity sharpens, as does the duration of focus.” That means that kids not only practice focusing on objects in space, they’re also practicing focusing, period. “It requires discipline to maintain a juggling pattern, and to practice for a few minutes” says Knighton. “Discipline transfers …to academic tasks, chores at home, and artistic disciplines.” Juggling even helps grow the size of areas of the brain controlling vision and movement, according to a 2004 study reported in the journal Nature.
Ready to get your child outside and juggling? Here are some ideas to get you started on a backyard circus to remember! Preparation and practice make perfect, and help everyone get invested in building a successful circus. A day or a week ahead, gather materials for these fun juggling and clowning games.
What You Need:
- tennis balls
- dry rice or beans
- sharp-tipped knife
- kazoos (optional)
Prepare. Most folks have some old, flat tennis balls around. With a sharp knife, slit a 3/4” long opening on one of the ball’s seams. Squeeze both sides of the ball to pucker the slit open, and fill half full with dried beans or rice. When you release your squeeze, the slit disappears, and the ball is ready to juggle. The little added heft helps beginning jugglers feel the ball in their hands (which helps them to catch the ball) and also keeps missed balls from bouncing wildly when they inevitably drop to the ground.
Practice. Stand with a relaxed posture on both feet with fairly wide stance. Keep the elbows close to the body so the hands are in the same place, more or less, each toss. Start with one ball only, tossing and catching in one hand, alternating hands, and then tossing and catching with a partner. Make sure that the catching hand softens to allow the ball to drop into it. The ball then springs up to create a beautiful arc (if passing between hands) and should get good height on each throw.
Sing a song or listen to music while tossing and catching to help create and keep a rhythm (and to prepare for a performance). When one ball juggling is mastered, add a second ball, and encourage the jugglers to create new patterns of tossing and catching. For example, if two jugglers are facing one another, a toss can be from one right hand to the other’s left hand (straight across) or right hand to right hand (diagonally across) with lots of variations in pattern and rhythm. Two balls are usually challenging enough for most people, but feel free to add a third or more if the skills are there.
Perform. Each juggler or pair should choose their best or favorite patterns, and practice presenting them to you and each other, with singing or other musical accompaniment. Kazoos are great as you can add toots and change tempos easily.