Lots of kids threaten to run away and join the circus, and now U.S. educators are encouraging such behavior. In an effort get kids more active and promote the athleticism of its performers, Vienna, Virginia’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey created a youth fitness program called CircusFit. So far, 2,100 State-side educators have signed on to the program, which is provided at no cost to teachers. The on-line curriculum combines adult-led lessons on health and strength building along with circus skills such as acrobatics and juggling for U.S. kids ages six to 12.
The ball started rolling over a year ago when a Chicago youth group asked the company to launch a program loosely based on circus acrobatics. More associations cottoned on to the idea and began asking for the service. RBBB then approached educators across the country to see what was missing from elementary school fitness programs to further finesse its burgeoning national plan. The company found the best way to get its name into the schools was to work with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport and offer a free-of-charge physical education program to teachers who have increasingly limited resources to mount similar programs on their own. So far, US$300,000 has been invested into developing and implementing the program.
CircusFit falls into five modules and it’s malleable enough to work with daily or weekly lesson plans. Each component has five on-line lesson plans with corresponding handouts and worksheets teachers can download from www.circusfit.com. The first three deal with nutrition, setting fitness goals and aerobic activity, and once kids master the basics of phys. ed., it’s time to jump into circus-inspired athletics such as balancing and juggling.
The final module, called ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ merges the physical and theatrical elements of the circus. Kids are assigned roles such as director, producer and performer, and then put on a show for their classmates. Darin Johnson, an organizer of this initiative at RBBB, says building a performance into the program was key to getting teachers stoked about the undertaking.
The CircusFit website also includes an interactive kids area with daily activities and challenges. For example, one task asks kids to count how many steps it takes to walk around the block and report the results on-line. They’re accomplishments are then compared with answers provided by other participants.
Moving forward, RBBB is eager to brainstorm with not-for-profits and companies involved with fitness programs. Currently, the company is working with the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in the U.S. to help promote Sport and Phys. Ed. month this May. RBBB will distribute 10,000 posters to educators who’ve signed up with the association to promote CircusFit and the themed month.
Additionally, RBBB’s own circus performances have become a vehicle for spreading the word. For one hour before each show, the cast interacts with the audience and discusses how they stay fit. The latest edition of the traveling big top also integrates CircusFit messages into the merriment, with nutrition and fitness missives popping up on the show’s video screens.