Join the Circus

Carrie Heller

At the age of eight my parents sent me to a summer camp that happened to have circus as one of the activities offered. I fell in love. It was great for my self-esteem, my physical development and socialization with my peers. Little did I know this would define my future work with children as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

It all started when I brought juggling and balancing into a play therapy room, just for fun. I discovered almost immediately that when children juggled before we talked, they tended to be more focused. It was fascinating. And it was the beginning of a methodology for Circus Arts Therapy®, a unique experiential therapy using circus equipment to assist individuals, families, and groups.

Through the Circus Arts Institute and my private practice, I soon discovered that Circus Arts Therapy was particularly beneficial for special needs children. There is a strong correlation between sensory integration and circus arts. I trained with Occupational Therapists to understand ADD, ADHD, PDD, Aspergers and other emotional and behavioral challenges, and began to offer individual and group therapy to special needs children, family therapy, and a summer camp, Circus Arts Social Summer.

Circus arts offer benefits to strengthen and create new neural pathways in the ADHD brain:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • Muscle strength, including core muscles
  • Crossing the midline
  • Brain and body balancing
  • Planning and performance of both gross and fine motor skills
  • Activities that assist in regulation
  • Increased flexibility

Group work also focuses on the development of Social Skills and Social Consciousness with a strong emphasis on:

  • Cooperation and teamwork
  • Engagement and communication with peers
  • Trust, responsibility and relationship building
  • Empathy, patience and respect
  • Self-esteem
  • Ability to overcome fears

So, how can you use this information at home

Kids respond to the circus, and circus activities, because it is playful and fun. Life as a special needs kid can be very stressful. It is often packed with many things that are required or expected that are not just boring, but often really hard!  These kids need to balance work with play, and its all the more fun when it comes from an unexpected place like their parents!

So, do you want to bring some circus into your life? I recommend Scarf Juggling! Try the following:

  • Supplies: Go to the grocery store and get yourself some plastic bags. Turn them upside down. They become “Juggling scarves.” You are now ready to start scarf juggling (with bags that will float in the air like scarves).

Begin by simply holding the bag in your hand with your thumb and first two fingers, modeling for your child how to do this. Read on and don’t worry about not getting it “right” the first, second or even third time. Most importantly, enjoy your juggling experience together!

Solo Juggle

Throw one “scarf” from left hand to right hand.

Throw one “scarf” from right hand to left hand.

Repeat 10x each way

Partner Juggle

  • 1. Stand opposite

Throw one scarf back and forth

Same side

W/ Right to Left then

Left to right

  • 2. Throw one scarf back and forth

Criss Cross=

Left to left and

Right to right

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