Wednesday, July 8, 2015

DIY Parachutes (and the Science Behind How they Work)

What kid doesn't love parachutes? My boys have gotten so many of those parachuting army men as party favors, I've lost count. And forget trying to untangle the strings. (Ain't nobody got time for that!)

The weather may not have been on our side, but with so many rainy days this summer, eventually you just throw caution to the wind and do outdoor activities anyway. And so it was the day we made DIY parachutes.

Making these was simple. We had all the supplies we needed around the house.

What You Need
Disposable plastic (or paper) cup
Plastic garbage sack
String (we used some tightly twisted yarn)
Paper punch
Tape Measure or yardstick

How to Make It
First we punched holes in the top of the plastic cups, just under the rim. You'll need to punch four holes equal distance apart (approximately).

Next we cut one plastic kitchen garbage sack into a 14-inch square. Since we made two parachutes, we measured and cut the bag with it flattened (i.e. two plies) so we had two squares with only a few cuts.

Now we cut four 14-inch lengths of string for each parachute. Our oldest son gathered a corner of the plastic square and tied one length of string to it, leaving only a small tail. He repeated this with the other four corners.

Then we tied each string to a different hole on the cup. (TIP: Try to keep the tails all the same length so you don't get a lopsided parachute.)

Now all that was left to do was to go to a high place and drop those puppies. My sons perched on the landing of our deck and later our yard's play set. They LOVED watching them gracefully float to the ground.

My oldest son tucked the parachute in the cup and dropped it to see what would happen. It sank to the ground with lightning speed. That's gravity for ya!

How Does a Parachute Work
The cup glides slowly down thanks to something known as air resistance (or drag). When air gets under it, the plastic parachute fans out for maximum coverage; this air resistance slows the fall of the object tremendously.

This great activity came from Patricia A. Staino's wonderful book Magic Moments: Super Science with Your Kids. Check it out!


  1. These look like so much fun. My son has gotten some of these as party favors, but we end up throwing them away when they get tangled up (because you're right...who has time for that?). It would be great if we could make our own. Thanks for the tutorial!

  2. my son will love to try this, great idea!

  3. Wow, this look so easy and so fun! My kids would love this! I think this will make a fun weekend activity :) Thanks for sharing!! ~Bethany

  4. thanks 4 sharing i will use this activity in my physics class about gravity

  5. I will be trying this with my class - they will enjoy the process and the end result!

  6. My grandchildren will love this. I think we will try putting something in the cups to see the difference in drop speed!

  7. My 1 and 3 year old loved making these and playing with them off of the top of the stairs. We even created a pulley system using a long string attached to a cup to hoist the parachute back up to the top of the stairs so we didn't have to constantly walk up and down the stairs to retrieve the parachchute or to throw it back up every time. Fun project!