Taking Kids to the Circus

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Is the circus appropriate for a 3.5 year old?

April 2009

My husband wants to take our 3.5yr old to the circus. Me, besides the troubling issues with the Circus and the treatment of animals, don't think it is for a 3.5yr old. I am concerned that a child that age would see all the acrobatics and try to imitate them for a disastrous result. Am I way out of line? I thought the circus is for elementary age kids - more like 8-12yrs. What is typical? Don't send me the clowns.

I took my 4 y.o. to the circus and she loved it! I am sure your son would too. no clowning around

Your child is the perfect age for the circus, although s/he might enjoy a smaller circus or at least close up seats better. S/he will still believe in all the magic of it, and unless s/he already has a tendency to try dangerous stunts, s/he won't try any. It should be great fun! Nanu

Issues of content are probably best left to your judgment as parent. The real question is whether your 3.5 year old will have the attention span for the circus. We took our child at 4 to the Ringling Bros. Circus and were out by the intermission. He liked the animals before hand where he could talk to the keepers. The pre-show was also pretty good, but it was a lot to take in at once. The next year we went to the Circus Vargas, a family circus by the Oakland airport. Much smaller, more intimate, shorter program, less slick. The combination of another year of maturity and a less overwhelming experience made it a lot more enjoyable. Our child, the daredevil that he is, did not try anything at home - even the motorcycles in the cage. Watch for the smaller circuses when they come through and look for things like the Circus Center in SF when they have recitals, the Prescott circus, and the annual arts benefit in Alameda. Stephen

My concerns are more along these issues: Attention span and ability to sit in seat for long time - it's a long show. Too much to focus on apart from the show - venue, other people, kids who have treats (they sell a lot of souvenirs), Some parts are full of tension and can be frightening. Some action hard to see, depending on your seat and can be frustrating.

As for wanting to copy the acrobats - think of the millions of children all over the world for generations who have seen acrobats. Now think of one story of a kid injuring themselves trying to copy the act on the monkey bars. I think most kids understand that they can't do what they see in the circus. They might pretend in a safe way to do the acts. Kids don't like getting hurt, they don't want to fall. Besides, your child might be fascinated with the lion tamer and find the trapeze part boring... Look out, Fido! Mom of Two

You're right. 3.5 years is too young for the circus. It's more likely to be scary and overwhelming than entertaining. Sensory overload, loud music, scary-painted clowns falling and hurting themselves/each other, big animals, etc. A lot of the stuff will simply go right over a toddler's head - they won't necessarily understand the awesomeness of a juggler or aerialist.

There have been some family-friendly circuses in the Bay Area - Pickle Family Circus and Seven Finger to name a couple. Check out the Chron's datebook or something.

I was watching Cirque do Soleil last time it was in San Francisco. A very young girl and her doting mom and dad were sitting in fabulous front row center seats. The child let out an agonized wail almost as soon as the action started and was obviously terrified. After a while (too long) the parents finally faced the fact that this was a mistake and left.

There are big shows that come by (at the Coliseum for example) - like Sesame Street on Ice, Disney on Ice, etc that are much more gentle and toddler-oriented than your average Barnum and Bailey. Timing is everything

There are some smaller venue circuses that might be perfect for a younger child. I recall one coming to town several years ago called Circus chimera? (something like that) I think you are overreacting when you mention that your child would try to minic the acrobatics of a circus act. Just my two cents. Let your husband take the kid while you go have a mani- pedi or a nice hike alone. anon

Save the circus trip for a trip to see Cirque Du Soleil next time they're in town. They don't use any animals and the shows are just amazing!! We have taken our 5 year old to see them twice, once when he was 2 and once when he was 4 and he has loved it both times. When he was 2 there were a couple parts that were too ''scary'' but he just closed his eyes and then he was fine. He has not attempted to imitate any of the acts at home but he's also a very cautious child. Cirque Du Soleil lover

Unless your child is in the habit of trying to do the things he sees, I think you are being overly cautious. I took my child to the circus when he was 3 and a half. He did not then decide to climb a pole and walk a tightrope. Let him go, he'll have fun. Isn't that the point? anon

I took my then 4.5 year old to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey last August. Having done it, I now think she was too young. The 2 hour performance was about 50% too long for her attention span, which I consider very good for her age. She was neither impressed by nor even really interested in the acrobatics, so we did not have the problem of her imitating it, but she frankly was more interested in observing the girls in the audience. I think she was too young to recognize the unusual in what the acrobats did. She did love the animal performances and was disappointed that there were not more of them. Bottom line, I will not take our younger child this early, but wait until he is 5 or 6. Hope this helps! Heike

Somebody (maybe your husband) asked in Recommendations for a good circus. I suggested Circus Vargas (circusvargas.org) It is a traditional circus in a real big top tent and it has only horses and little dogs. We took our 3.5 year old last year and it was great. They will be in the Bay Area in summer time. Circus Lover

What circus, Ringling Bros? If so, we went, and it's a far cry from what one used to see. Elephants, yes. Horses? Yes. Anything else but dogs? No. There were more protesters than elephants and none of the ferocious animals of my childhood. Quite a disappointment, but not for small children. I wouldn't wait until 6 or 12 or the thrill even for them may be gone. tabsweb

My daughter first went when she was 2 or 3, and she loved every minute of it. I think it's PC to hate the circus without even knowing what's changed (and do we really think everything remains unchanged after so many complaints years ago?). My recollection is that Ringling Bros has a whole handout on how they treat the animals, and at least the last few times they even let people come early to see the animals outside the pen. And frankly, the acrobatics were breathtaking! Do you think your 3.5 yr old would try to imitate the olympics? That's more what it would look like. You'd do much worse to leave your kid unsupervised in front of the TV. Seeing such beautiful gymnastics can only help kids understand how their bodies could move with practice. I'd say let your husband take the kid, and if you really hate it, don't go. Take a nap or do some shopping.

some circuses don't have animals...Pickle Family comes to mind-however I love Ringling Brothers-before I get bashed let me say I grew up on a ranch.If animals didn't have ''jobs'' they were liable to get eaten or sold to be eaten therefore when you have domestically born elephants/lions/tigers and they actually work for a living they at least have a sense of purpose that most zoo animals probably don't have...i have two Aussies who are much less neurotic when they are ''doing something'' versus chillin' at home.

As far as tumbling-I can't imagine replicating it, i have 4 boys and one girl-the oldest being 21-3.5 was about the age I took them for the first time-clowns are a little scary for my 6yo-we find that by going early to the pre-show takes away a little of the fear.,.if you are opposed let your husband do the outing, it can be their thing. Chances are your husband has really great memories of the circus and simply wants to share them with your kid. If you don't have that or are simply politically opposed excuse yourself from this adventure so you don't taint it with the ''anti-circus vibe'' ring master

It's VERY expensive (they only sell snacks in souvenir containers so even something like popcorn costs a fortune) so I think it's better to wait until the child is a little older and will really remember it and appreciate it. When they are 3-4, they are thrilled with so much less - take advantage of that! But if your husband really wants to go, it definitely will not harm or traumatize your child.

I don't know your child, but assuming appropriate supervision for his/her age, I don't think ''acrobatics practice'' is a major risk. The bigger question how he/she will respond to clowns, etc. I also encourage you to select circuses without animals. animal-free-circus enjoyer

I took my girls to the B Circus when they were 1 & 3. They loved it. No trips to the emergency room resulted from the seeing the show. If you don't like it for personal issues, then don't go or just send your husband. It also costs a fortune ($12 cotton candy). Otherwise, it is a good time. -anon

Circus recommendation for 4 year old

April 2009

We are considering taking our almost 4yo daughter to the circus (She has been requesting to go). Any recommendations for child-friendly circus experiences in the Bay Area? devoted dad

You have to wait until they come back through town but Circus Vargas is awesome. They are locally based (Livermore-ish), have only horses and dogs for animals, are in a real big top tent and are a classic circus. They have a website, www.circusvargas.org Love Circus Vargas

Circus for 12-year-old (NOT B)

Oct 2005

For his 12th birthday, my son would like to go to a circus that does NOT include animals. My original thought was Cirque du Soleil, but their upcoming show sounds a little depressing for my sensitive kid (it's about a clown at his own funeral...). Does anyone know of a similar circus, or very well-done magic/acrobatic/variety show in the area (seeking a little more of an ''event'' than Buddy Club)? rk

try circus vargas coming to Richmond in Nov. I also sent an email directly to you. Just in case you thought it was spam... It is around the 2 week of Nov at the Civic Center. b3rkl33m0m

You may consider attending the 2nd Annual Circus for Arts in the Schools in Alameda on Sunday, November 6th. Jeff Raz, who was the star of Pickle Family Circus for most of the 90s has gathered some world class circus talent - jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, including former stars of Cirque du Soleil - to do a benefit show to raise money for arts education in Alameda public schools. The tickets are $12.50 for adults and $10 for kids. For more info, check out the website at www.friendsofpaden.org. This is a great show for a great cause. pam

The Pickle Family Circus would probably be a good fit. Cirque de Soleil-like with no animals, but a bit more slapstick and with less of a story to tell. They often perform at Fort Mason over the holidays, but that may not be soon enough for you. anon

This came across in a Ticketmaster mass email I get. It sounds like just what you are looking for, the UniverSoul Circus, coming in late October. http://www.universoulcircus.com/ Sharon

Is 2 year old too young for the circus?

August 2005

My 2 year old son loves elephants. We are considering taking him to the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus. Has anyone taken a child that young to the cirucs? Is he too young?

One more piece of information: we went to a July 4th parade a few weeks ago, and the very loud sirens from the fire trucks and police cars were very frightening. Are there loud, blaring noises at the circus that would be too frigtening?

PS I am already aware of the concerns for the treatment of circus animals. Jennifer

The Barnum & Bailey Circus is just like a LOUD rock concert. Music is BLARING from the loudspeakers. It is not only noisy, but totally overwhelming. I would not recommend taking a 3 year old that is sensitive to sounds to the circus. (This was at the Oakland Coliseum, I can't vouch for any other venue.) My 4 year old son is sensitive to sounds and HATED the circus! rozcro

For elephants, go to the Oakland Zoo. They are beautiful, appear well-cared for and healthy, and you can see them from not too far away. I think that would be more enjoyable for your two-year-old than all the noise and confusion of a circus. Watch out for the nearby camels, though. When we were there with our grandchildren in February two were mating, an intriguing process that involves loud noises from the female. All the kids loved it! Joan

We have 2 boys, 4 years apart. When our kids were 2 and 6, we took both kids to the circus. While the 6 year old had a good time (he also had a good time when he went at 4) the 2 year old was miserable. Too long, too loud, just too much of everything! After the first 20-30 minutes, one of the adults had to stay out in the lobby with the youngest boy, and he was really unhappy, crying and wanting to go home. My advice is to wait until your child is at least 4 or 5, so all of you can enjoy a trip to the circus. Been There

Your son is not too young. Kids do hate a lot of noise but when I take my daughter who is 2, she just looks, it's like an amazement. There is so much going on at the circus that they are so entertained. Shelly

Circus Chimera

Oct 1998

Circus Chimera came to El Cerrito plaza over the last week of August. I took my very demanding 7 yr old son and my Been there, done that in-laws and we were all very impressed with the quality of the performances. It was a good value for the money (especially if you get the two for one coupons they give to merchants in the vicinity of the actual performance), and there were no animals, thus avoiding any ethical/animal rights issues that seem to come up with circuses, especially budget affairs. It had a very nice family feel, the size was not overwhelming, it wasn't too commercialized, and the ringmaster greeted everyone outside the tent after the performance. Several people I know liked it so much, they went twice while it was there. Enjoy! Beth

I took my 3-yr-old & 8-yr-old daughters to see Circus Chimera when they were in El Cerrito & we all loved it. The circus is acrobatics/trapeze/etc. only, no animal acts & only one occasional clown (my kids are scared of clowns). If I had it to do over I would definitely pay the higher price to get a real seat (not a space on a bench) in the part of the tent that faces the action. The cheap seats are all on the sides and *very* uncomfortable -- the bench is about 6 inches wide! Also when we came back from intermission our relatively good bench spaces had been taken by other people & we watched the 2nd 1/2 up in the rafters. Melinda

I've heard from two friends that this is wonderful for families. Lots of gymnasts and acrobats -- sort of like Cirque du Soleil without the drama and the mystery.

I know public schools are giving out coupons so a child gets in free with each adult ticket. (I think adults are $15.) Pick a coupon up at the front desk in the Columbus School office (Addison/7th Street). Ann

We saw them when they were at the El Cerrito Plaza with our almost 4 yr old son. We all enjoyed the show. It's mostly acrobatics and the members of the circus seem to really enjoy themselves. The big top is pretty small, the acts are close to the audience, and there's a little kid in one act. We found discount coupons at a store in the Plaza. You might be able to find something like that at Jack London Square shops. Laurie

Truly fun. My 4 yr. old son & I saw it in El Cerrito on the advice of people in this newsletter. He mostly liked the bouncer things outside before & after, and he REALLY liked the very good cotton candy & real sno cones. You gotta figure it's mega-treat day. (Also, I folded & bought the $5.00 light-up sword. My husband loved it so much when he saw it later, he said we should have bought more for gifts. It is really cool.) However, the circus kept him occupied for almost 2 hours. The less expensive seats are hard tiny bleachers, so if that's a problem buy the real seats. It's not a super-professional circus, very homey & friendly, but very good acts, & very new. We were told that the performers developed it themselves. It's a lot like Cirque de Soleil - one ring, running theme (sort of), various acrobats, no animals. Oh yes, there are plenty of chances to buy treats inside, people come around constantly. Don't bother trying to juggle food, child(ren), etc. before finding your seats. Leah

Circus Chimera is great. We went to Ringling Brothers in August and ran into Chimera in El Cerrito's shopping mall 2 weeks later. Ringling Bros was awful and Chimera was great fun. We got 2 for 1 coupons at Long's Drugs, and I think they are available at other places for the the Jack London stop. General Admission seats are about the same at reserved, since the one tent is so small. They are benches and Reserve have seats with backs.

It feels like a home town 1950's circus in some ways. It is lots of gymnastics, clowns, trapeze stuff. No animals!! The music is taped and it is somewhat amazing that they stay on schedule with the music. The performers have lots of interactions with the audience. I think a 3 year old may be bored since they won't know how hard the stuff these folks are doing really is to do. My 5 year old loved it, and we know several other families who did too.

They even took our picture with a clown and during the second act came back with a little slide in a light box/telescope for $5.00. They also have an astrojump outside, a tiny train ride, a few souvenirs and drinks, snow Tavie

I took my 2 1/2 year old to the Chimera circus, and found that she was more interested in the playthings outside and the food than in the circus itself. She kept waiting for the animals --- I had no idea that there wouldn't be any. She did watch the first half of the show, but lost interest during the second half. She had fun, but was a little young for this. Mary

We took 2 girls aged 4 1/2 and 5 to this circus and we all loved it. In fact the girls (and we) liked it better than the much higher priced Barnum and Bailey Circus. There are no animals--it's lively upbeat, multi ethnic and just terrfic. Well worth the highest priced tickets and well worth every one's support. They're a new unpolished troupe but just great. Go enjoy!!!! Steph

My family and I went to see the show in El Cerrito. I strongly recommend it. My four year old son was tired and didn't enjoy it too much, except for the little train ride and a novelty flashlight we got him. I was taken by the magic of the show, which has a feel that might not be as polished as other larger circuses, but for that very reason made it more charming. Having said that,though, some of the acts are truly amazing. The circus also forgoes the use of animals, which is a plus for those concerned about their treatment in the circus world. I would recommend considering the open seating area, since in our case, the bleachers were only filled to about half capacity, which left seats fairly close the the ring available at a lesser price. You can also pay for tickets by Visa/MC/check. Eric

I want to put in a plug for going to see Circus Chimera at Jack London Square while they are still here. Based on all the recommendations I read on this listserve, my family went to see the show on Sunday, and it was outstanding. It was not as slick and professional as some circuses I've seen, but what it lacked in polish it more than made up for in providing a warm, intimate, and thoroughly entertaining show. This company is brand new, having just been formed in April, and they really deserve an audience. At the conclusion of the show we attended, the whole company received thunderous applause. My young children were enthralled for the first half of the show, then spirits flagged as they got tired, but overall they loved it.

Circus Chimera will be at Jack London Square through November 15. From now through Halloween, any kid who comes wearing a costume gets in free, and on Halloween anyone wearing a costume gets in free. I have two Two-for-One coupons which I would be willing to drop in the mail to anyone who wants them and truly intends to go. Just e-mail your name and address to me. With the two-for-one coupon and your kids wearing costumes, a family could get in for as little as $15 for section C seats. I would definitely recommend springing the extra $ to get the section A seats. Show times are Tuesday, Wednesday at 7:30, Thursday and Friday at 4:30 and 7:30, Sat-Sun at 1:30, 4:30, and 7:30. Kimberly