I have to admit when I first saw the trailers for Greatest Showman I was super stoked. Hugh Jackman, totally on board, musical, yep, P.T. Barnum, who I’ve found fascinating since we learned about him when the kids were in preschool? Oh yes. There were a few moments I really wanted to see from his life we didn’t get to see, so I share with you a bit of fun history lesson disguised as a geography lesson.
(This post contains affiliate links, see my Disclosure page for more info)
Who is P.T. Barnum?
P.T. Barnum is famous for being a showman. He created the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (but only in the last few years of his life) back when it was just the Barnum Circus and is the picture of the American capitalist coming from meager roots to become world famous. He organized many different spectacles over his long career, and won and lost several fortunes.
What’s not shown in the movie (because it gives a largely fictionalized and from a short time period, but that music is awesome) is the charity work he did, and how he crusaded for the causes he believed in, including abolition and prohibition.
But, my absolute favorite thing he did:
Twenty-One Elephants crossing the Brooklyn Bridge
Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing is the book we used to study P.T. Barnum’s life. I love the idea of everyone being nervous about the bridge and will it hold, so P.T. Barnum rides his elephants across the bridge to show it’s safe. Not to mention getting a fair amount of publicity as his 21 elephants and the rest of his menagerie crosses the bridge.
Now to what I wrote on P.T. Barnum and this geography lesson back when we first did it
One of the things I’m loving about doing geography with other families is from time to time one of the other moms or the kids will teach the lesson, and often times they’ll go in a completely different direction than I would. She read several books on the circus and one book on P.T. Barnum (who’s from Connecticut, the 21 Elephants book I mentioned).
Books read from my reconstructed memory: Star of the Circus, Circus Parade, Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing
Then showed off some tin can stilts. All of the kids loved trying these, maybe I’ll make some spaghetti again so I can make our own tin can stilts.
Circus tent supplies
big top circus tents (they also have a link to circus figures, I do not recommend the circus animals because the scaling is way off in comparison), cardstock, something to color with (I used my Prismacolors, but the kids used “cake markers“), glue stick (this price is better than back to school prices), masking tape
Fun to add in if you have them: circus train (we have one hiding somewhere in our train box) or these super cute wooden circus figures (I don’t care that my kids are too old now, they’re cute)
How we made our very own circus tents for P.T. Barnum to direct from
We went to the table and everyone got busy coloring their
With some adult help they were able to put together some very cute tents (detailed instructions at the link).
In re-doing this to get a decent picture of a circus tent…..total honesty all these pictures from the original craft are blurry and bad, but it’s an awesome project! Here are my suggestions:
- Have an adult or an upper elementary kid cut out the tents. Preschoolers cannot handle the details.
- Have a sturdy base to glue your tents onto, for our original project we glued them onto construction paper. There is a third page that has either a colored or white circle (if you’re printing out a pre-colored one like I did for my sample). If you print this on cardstock it is strong enough to cut a hole in the big tent.
- Tape the tabs to the bottom of your circle and it’ll be nice and sturdy.
- Use extra pieces of cardstock to help the figures stand up. I folded them into a triangle figure and glued them to the back.
- Do not permanently attach the roof, it’s so much more fun if you can take it off to put items in there. It adds quite a lot to the playability.
Here’s Princess’ tent. The kids were disappointed you can’t cut out the door or the structure of the tent is not sufficient to stay standing up (see the tips I adapted to make this work better). But, the lid is removable, so you can store all sorts of stuff in there…….
A Great Follow-On STEM Activity: Build a Bridge to hold 100 pennies
Originally published May 17, 2011
What a cute little circus tent! I love watching other moms teach, too – such a great way to get new ideas!
It must be nice to work together with other families!
I like the circus tent!
Raising a Happy Child says
Great circus tent! I wonder if I can convince Lars to make a wooden version 🙂 It looks like you have a wonderful time learning with other homeschoolers.
The tents are adorable!
Fun Mama - Deanna says
Your homeschool group looks like a lot of fun!
Wonder Mom says
I now have circus themed music stuck in my head…
Joyful Learner says
I want to try that canned stilts too!
Oh look at how tiny your children were!
Have you seen the film? It’s incredible! I loved it so much and the whole cinema erupted into applause when it came to the end. I’ve never heard of that happening before!
I know! They were sooooo little!
I took Princess to go see it, the theater was sold out, and we’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since.
natalie planetsmartypants says
Such a fun blast from the past! I wonder how you liked The Greatest Showman movie?
I really liked it, it’s a largely fictionalized account, but I’ve learned going into “biopics” to know events are not exactly what is portrayed in the movie. The songs are fun, the costumes are fun, and the movie strikes a nice balance in general.