Circus Games for a Backyard Big Top


By Elizabeth Wells for Your Family Today

Ladies and gentlemen, and kids of all ages: Welcome to the greatest show on Earth. OK, maybe not the greatest show on Earth but definitely a very good time, and you don’t need tickets. If you can’t make it to the real big top this summer, you and your family still can enjoy three-ring — and five-star — fun in your own backyard or family room.

No one has to settle for simply being an audience member either. This home-produced circus gets everyone into the act with easy-to-set-up, easy-to-play games. Invite neighbors and friends or keep the fun in the family. Either way, prepare some popcorn and get ready for some serious clowning around.

Three-ring Toss

  • Fill several 2-litre bottles with water or small rocks and seal tightly.
  • Arrange the bottles on a table or the ground.
  • Fashion three rings (about 4 inches in diameter) from twisted pipe cleaners (you may want to twist several together to add weight to the rings) or paper plates with the centers cut out.
  • Line up the players several feet behind the bottles.
  • Have players take turns tossing the rings on the bottles.
  • If one of them “rings” a bottle, have that player step back one foot and try again.

Follow the Leader

  • Place a silly hat on the designated leader.
  • The child with the hat leads everyone through a series of antics of his or her choice, such as hopping on one foot, twirling and performing summersaults.
  • Use a timer to guarantee equal turns.
  • There are no winners or losers. Everyone tries to mimic the leader.

Clowning Around

  • Gather a selection of face paints and paintbrushes. (You can also use face crayons.)
  • Depending on age, allow children or adults to paint the designs. Either paint the whole face or do simple designs, such as ladybugs, butterflies, snakes, etc. (Note: Cold cream will easily remove the paint.)
  • Dress up in bright, oversized clothes — robes and PJs are always good — and accessorize with floppy hats, ties and big shoes. A couple of horns round out the outfit.
  • Have each family member climb on a bike or tricycle that’s too small for them, and hold bike races across the lawn.

Tightrope Walker

  • Stretch a piece of rope or tape on the ground.
  • Have them walk with or without a blindfold along the line. (It’s best the walker goes barefoot if blindfolded.)
  • Spectators should “ooh” and “ahh” as each participant moves along the rope.
  • Vary the walk to include a speed challenge, change of direction or backward walking challenge.


  • Take a tennis ball and cut a large slit in it.
  • Squeeze open the ball and fill it halfway with dry beans (the added weight makes it easier to handle).
  • Stand with both feet spread fairly wide apart and keep your elbows in so your hands are in the same place.
  • Start by tossing and catching a single ball with one hand, then alternate hands, then toss with a partner.
  • Add a second ball and practice tossing and catching.
  • Eventually add a third ball.

All this activity will make everyone hungry. Depending on your own energy level, you can offer an array of circus-style food for your gang, such as hot dogs, soft pretzels, nachos, animal crackers and sodas. For authenticity, serve the snacks in paper lunch bags and holler, “Hot dogs! Peanuts! Popcorn! Get ’em while they’re hot!”


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