Parachutes can be a fun accessory for indoor story-times or outdoor play, for groups of children from birth to adolescence.
Benefits of parachute play:
- Collaborative and non-competitive – children work together, need to spread out around the chute and all participate for it to work
- Helps to develop rhythm
- Builds shoulder, arm and hand muscle strength
- Good for practicing listening to instructions – if they didn’t understand it when you say to lift it up, but then their hand is lifted up into the air along with the parachute, that helps them learn the meaning of the instruction
- It’s a great way to gain children’s attention when it’s wandering, or to settle down chaotic energy in a group time
- It’s fun!
If you don’t already own one, buy a parachute. (That’s an Amazon affiliate link to a product that looks good quality and comes in a variety of sizes.) Parachutes are fairly inexpensive, and fold up pretty small so they don’t require a lot of storage space.
The size you need depends on two things – how big is your room and how many people will participate?
Parachutes are described in diameter – so 12′ means 12′ from one side to the other. You need space all around it for the people to move, so it’s best to have a 20×20 space at least for that 12′ parachute.
Parachutes typically have one handle per foot of diameter. So, a 12′ parachute could work for 6 people if they all held onto two handles, or for 12 people if each holds one handle – you can squeeze in more than that, but it gets tight.
A parachute alternative – in some of our classrooms, we have a red elastic band that is probably about 12′ in diameter. Many things you can do with a parachute you can do with this elastic band, and in some ways it is easier to start with because they practice all holding something in a circle without having all that fabric to get tangled up in. I have not found one of these for purchase, but it seems similar to this stretchy band. Learn about stretchy band play.
In my activity descriptions below, I’ll code what age groups they work best for:
- B = Babies. The parents hold the parachute and do the actions while the babies observe
- P/C = Parent/Child. For toddlers and preschool age. Parents all hold the parachute and do the actions. The children may hold on, they may go under the parachute, they may wander off…
- P = Preschool. A group of 3 – 5 year old children and 1 or 2 adults can do this without needing more adults to help.
- O = Older Kids. Kids 5 and up can do this.
- All = OK for any of these contexts
Up and Down
You can simply stand in a circle, say “up” and everyone lifts the parachute up high and “down” while everyone lowers it. Kids can be holding on the edge raising and lowering, or they can be standing under it or lying down under it. So easy, and it manages to feel intriguing yet soothing at the same time. ALL
You can also put on calming music and raise and lower in rhythm with the music for a calming moment in the midst of a story time. B, P/C
Sing this song to the tune If You’re Happy and You Know It. “When the parachute goes up (raising it up), shout hurray. Hurray! (as you lower it down). When the parachute goes up, shout hurray. When the parachute is high and floats up in the sky. When the parachute goes up, shout hurray.” Repeat with “dance a dance” or “stomp your feet” and so on. P/C, P
Toast in the Toaster – chant – shake side to side, then “pop” it up at the end
I’m toast in the toaster / I’m getting very hot / Tick tock, Tick tock / Up I pop!
You can also do lap songs with up/down motions like “Grand Old Duke of York” or “Let’s Go Riding in an Elevator” except instead of lifting a child up in your lap, you’re raising the parachute.
Side to Side
You can stand in place and swish the parachute from side to side. Here’s a chant to go with that motion: “I am a washing machine. Washing clothes till they are clean. I am a washing machine. Swish swish swish swish swish.” P
Making Waves / Shaking
You can shake a parachute slow and gentle, or fast and rough.
With slow waves, sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” B, P/C, P
With shakes, you can use some songs you use with shakers: “Oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop… (3x) Shake it up high, shake it down low, shake it on your tummy, and way down to your toes.” P/C, P
There’s a video here of a nice shaking song: https://nancykopman.com/parachute-songs-and-games-for-young-children/
Merry Go Round. The children hold onto the parachute with one hand and walk around the circle clockwise. Play any music – as long as music is playing, they walk, If the music stops, they stop. Turn to face the other direction (e.g. counterclockwise) and wait for the music to begin, then walk more. P
Ring around the Rosie. P/C, P
Walk around as you sing: Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posy, ashes, ashes
Kneel Down: All fall down!
Shake gently, close to the ground: cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups.
Then shaking fast: Thunder, Lightning, stand We all Stand Up!
Roly Poly (a chant) P/C, P
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, Up, Up, Up lift the parachute up
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, Down, Down, Down parachute down
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, In, In, In, walk toward the center of the circle
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, out, out, out
…. fast… slow… shake it
Zoom. (tune) P/C, P
Zoom Zoom Zoom. We’re going to the moon. walking around
Zoom Zoom Zoom. We’re going to the moon. stop walking at the end of this line
In 5…. 4…. 3… 2… 1 lower the parachute gradually to the ground
Blast off!!! quickly raise your arms and let go to launch the chute up in the air
Pop Goes the Weasel P/C, P
All around the cobblers bench (walk around a circle),
the monkey chased the weasel (rattle parachute).
The monkey thought it was all in fun (lower the parachute to the ground).
Pop goes the weasel (pop it up)
Wheels on the bus. Go round and round… wipers go swish… babies go up and down…
Children on Top of the Parachute B, P/C, O
For 3 – 6 month old babies, you can lay the babies on the parachute, and the adults hold on to the parachute and walk in circles, and give the babies a ride. You have to be slow and gentle so they don’t roll on top of each other!
For older toddlers, who are able to sit well and stay where you tell them to stay, you can have them sit up on the parachute and take them for a ride.
This activity does NOT work well with the “wobblers” in between those ages – the children who can sit but not very well and would tip over, or the children who will try to crawl away, and knock over the other children.
Many of the songs above and below here combine well with taking the children for a ride, as does “Here we go round the mulberry bush” or “we’re going to the zoo”.
Children Under the Parachute B, P/C
Babies can lay on the ground as the parents hold the parachute above them. Toddlers or preschoolers can sit or walk under the parachute as the parents hold it.
Colors Over You. (tune)
Red and Yellow, Green and Blue, these are the colors over you. Red like the apple, green like the tree, yellow like the sun and blue like the sea. Red and yellow, green and blue, these are the colors over you.
Peekaboo. hold the parachute low, just above the children Someone is hiding, hiding, hiding, someone is hiding, Who could it be? lift it up high Peekaboo!
Come Under My Umbrella (tune of The More We Get Together)
Come under my umbrella, umbrella, umbrella. lift it up high so it “balloons” up a bit
Come under my umbrella, it’s starting to storm. again
There’s thunder and lightning and wind and rain. shake it hard and fast
Come under my umbrella it’s starting to storm. lift it high
Sitting Down with the Parachute P
The children sit on the floor in a circle, holding on to the parachute.
10 Little Bubbles (tune: 10 little indians)
shake the chute as you do the counting part – pat the parachute with your hands for the “pop the bubble’ part
1 little, 2 little, 3 little bubbles. 4 little, 5 little, 6 little bubbles.
7 little, 8 little, 9 little bubbles. 10 little bubbles go pop, pop, pop!
Pop pop pop pop those bubbles. (x3) Popping all the day.
Row Your Boat – divide the children in half – those on the left half and those on the right half. (It helps if there’s a teacher on each side! They “row” the parachute – holding on and leaning back, then forward. So, as left leans back, right leans forward, and so on. Sing row your boat.
Props on Top – P/C, P, O
For parent/child classes, it’s easier for toddlers to see what’s on top of the parachute if the parents are sitting down and the parachute is down low. Preschoolers or older children could do it sitting or standing.
Popcorn – put several balls on the parachute and do this chant:
Popcorn, popcorn in a pan (hands go gently side to side),
shake it up, shake it up, (shake it fast side to side)
bam bam bam! (three quick “pops” of the chute – will send balls flying off the chute.)
Autumn Leaves. Put lots of silk leaves on the parachute. Sing this song to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down
Autumn Leaves are Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down… All Around the Town. up and down gently, so the leaves lift off the chute just a little
The wind will blow them round and round… swish the chute
Then you shout “oh no, it’s a storm” and you all shake like crazy till all the leaves fly off.
Now it’s time to pick them up…. gather up the leaves
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed. (use monkey puppets)
Games – O. (maybe P)
Ball through the Hole: Only works for parachutes with a hole in the center!
Place a ball on the parachute. Try NOT to let it fall through the hole in the center! For children 4+, divide the kids into teams (e.g. everyone who is holding onto a blue or green section of the parachute is one team and the other team is everyone holding onto red or yellow). Put two balls on the parachute – team 1 is trying to get their ball in the hole before team 2 can get their ball in.
Knock the Ball Off: If your parachute has a mesh circle in the center instead of an opening, you can adapt this game and have them try to keep their ball on the parachute while they knock off their opponents ball.
Swap Places. Everyone is raising and lowering the parachute. Then you say “stop” and everyone freezes with the parachute held way up high. You announce who needs to trade places. They swap quickly, then you continue going up and down. “Up and down, up and down. Up and stop! Bobby and Sally swap!”
Parachute Cave – lift up on 1, 2, 3 – when you get to 3, everyone (still holding on!) steps 3 steps forward under the parachute, then sits down with the parachute under their bottoms. You’re all in a parachute cave together!
Pass the ball – put a beach ball on the chute. Person A lowers the parachute till the ball comes to them – they raise one hand to roll the ball to the person next to them. That person then raises the chute to pass the ball to the next person. Keep going, trying to make it all the way around the circle.
Cat and Mouse – Children sit on the floor holding the parachute. One child is the cat – they sit on top of the chute and close their eyes while everyone counts to 10. The “mouse” child crawls under the parachute. Then the kids all shake the parachute to hide the mouse. The cat opens his eyes and crawls around trying to find the mouse.
Sources: https://childcarelounge.com/pages/benefits-of-parachute-play; https://www.earlyyearscareers.com/eyc/learning-and-development/top-5-parachute-games-children-early-years/; http://brampton.momstown.ca/baby/parachute-songs-kids; https://earlyimpactlearning.com/14-parachute-songs-for-preschoolers-games-lyrics-tips/; https://klmpeace.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/parachute-play-with-babies-and-toddlers/
Also check out my posts on
- Favorite Toddler Songs,
- where to find more great songs for toddlers and preschoolers
- why singing songs is great for kids’ brain development
- Lesson plans for a year’s worth of toddler group times
- Activities for toddlers based around common themes: transportation, farm, seasons, and more – include art, small and large motor, books, songs
- Rhythm Curriculum for Kids
- How to share picture books in online classes
- Or check out my other blog, Inventors of Tomorrow, full of hands-on STEM learning for ages 3 – 6.