What can act as a tent, a balloon, and a toy trampoline all at once? A parachute! This classic play prop is a perennial favorite of children everywhere. Whether it’s bouncing balls off the rippling surface or ducking underneath it as it balloons above, parachutes offer a variety of ways to play and explore, all while keeping children active and entertained.

This versatility makes the parachute an ideal item for afterschool programs; the educational possibilities are endless, and parachute play encourages teamwork and social development too! Even better, the parachute can be the only prop you need! 3-2-1: Time for Parachute Fun by Clare Beswick offers teachers and program directors dozens of fun ideas for parachute games. Here are a few parachute activities to spark your students’ interest without the need for a bunch of extra materials.

Getting Started: The Wheels on the Bus

This basic activity shows children how to use the parachute. Children will be able to experiment with its motion as they move to the song “The Wheels on the Bus.”

What to Do:

  1. Spread the parachute flat on the floor and sit around the edge with the children. Talk about all of the things one can do with a parachute. Explain that if the children hold a section of the chute and cooperate as a group, they will be able to move the parachute up, down, and all around
  2. Ask the children to take hold of the section of the parachute that is directly in front of them. Show them how to hold the material correctly by bunching it into each hand for a firm grip or by grabbing a handle if the parachute has handles
  3. Tell the children that on the count of three, they will stand while still holding the parachute. Count to three and then stand
  4. Sing “The Wheels on the Bus Go ‘Round and ‘Round.” While you sing the first verse, move around in a circle. Sit for the next verse and sing, “The bell on the bus goes ding, ding, ding”
  5. For the next verse, grip the parachute firmly, stand, and wave it from side to side as you sing, “The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish”
  6. Still holding the parachute, lie down so all the children’s legs are under the parachute as if they were fast asleep, and sing, “The babies on the bus go zzz, zzz, zzz”
  7. Stand and wave the parachute up and down, with the children jumping. As the children jump, sing, “The children on the bus jump up and down”
  8. Teach the children how to “mushroom” the parachute. Tell the children to stand and hold the chute at waist height. When everyone is set, tell them that on the count of three, they will lift their arms over their heads to waft the chute high in the air. As it billows, take one step forward, bring the parachute down behind them, and sit on the edge of the material. This will take practice, but the children will love to try it!

Can You Guess How Many?

This simple activity will engage children’s math and spatial awareness skills as they predict how large the parachute is.

What to Do:

  1. Estimate with the students how many children would fit across the parachute if they were lined up head to toe. Write down the different estimates that the children give
  2. Lay the parachute flat on the floor. Invite some children to lie on the parachute in head-to-toe fashion. When they reach from one edge to the other, ask the other children to count how many children are lying down
  3. Next, ask them to estimate how many children would fit if the parachute was folded in half or quarters. Write down the estimates and then check them. Were their estimates greater than or less than the actual number? Do the children see any pattern in the number of children needed when the parachute is folded in half or in quarters?
  4. Engage the children in a discussion about estimating

Dinosaur Parachute Play

Children can pretend to be their favorite dinosaurs as they move and play with the parachute.

What to Do:

  1. Spread the parachute flat on the floor and stand around it. Ask the children to lift it up to waist height
  2. Practice moving the parachute up and down so the children learn how to work together
  3. Move the parachute to imitate the movement of different dinosaurs. Following are some examples:
    1. Pterodactyl: Raise the parachute up and down like a pterodactyl flapping its wings
    2. Apatosaurus: Raise the parachute as high as possible because this dinosaur was so tall
    3. Stegosaurus: Wave the parachute rapidly back and forth like the stegosaurus’s tail, which it swished back and forth at its enemies
    4. Tyrannosaurus rex: Raise the parachute up slowly, then pull it down slowly, resembling a dinosaur taking big footsteps
  4. Encourage the children to suggest their own ideas for imitating the movement of different dinosaurs and then try their ideas