Inspired by Abby’s fantastic post about scarves found here, I wanted to express my love for the storytime parachute. Parachutes can feel like risky investment: they’re pricey and, unlike other storytime props, you can’t easily add a few extra as your audience grows. But for me, parachutes have always been big crowd pleasers that easily transition through the different ages of my storytimes. Babies can sit on top, or play peek-a-boo from a parent’s lap. Toddlers love hiding underneath as the parachute balloons above and then covers them. Preschoolers madly shake monkeys off, or help birds take flight. Here are my tips for parachute success.
Picking A Parachute:
Room: Make sure that your space can accommodate the full diameter of the parachute, plus plenty of room to sit and walk around. The dimensions of your storytime area might mean that it makes more sense for you to use multiple smaller parachutes rather than one big one.
Intended use: Smaller parachutes are great for use during free play. They encourage caregivers to engage with their baby, and let kids play together cooperatively. If you plan on using it as an element of the storytime itself, big parachutes help keep everyone focused on the activity.
Audience size: When holding the parachute, assume about a foot per participant. You can ignore the handles, but if you draw big crowds, group play on single parachute during storytime might be a challenge.
Cost: Generally, the bigger the parachute, the more expensive the price per foot. Despite the cost, most people wish they bought the size bigger. If price is a concern, consider using sheets or towels. It’s a great way to demonstrate to parents that storytime activities can be fun home activities, too.
Controlling The Crowd:
Set the ground rules: Parachutes take a little more instruction than other storytime props. Explain who should be holding on, the movements, and where the child is positioned in relationship to the caregiver and the parachute. It’s also a good idea to give caregivers suggestions for working with a child who becomes frightened. Reassure them that their child doesn’t have to hide underneath, and can participate in other ways, like singing along or holding the edge.
Time cues: As with other storytime props, you can avoid meltdowns by making sure to announce ahead of time when the parachute will be collected. Saying something like “After this song, we will all let go and I will roll up the parachute,” can help make this transition smoother.
Pair with a book: Highlight any of your storytime favorites featuring flight, counting, water, or opposites. A big hit for me has been Eileen Christelow’s Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed, followed by bouncing 5 monkey finger puppets on the parachute while singing the song. Bean bags, beach balls, puppets and stuffed animals all make for fun objects to bounce around.
Use with a rhyme: Any rhymes with a jump, a bounce, or an up-and-down movement will work. I like “Jack Be Nimble,” “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “Jack and Jill.”
Music and movement: The songs and recorded music you use for scarves and shakers will easily adapt to your parachute, adding repetition while extending the activities.
For more ideas, I found these blog posts to be particularly helpful:
Storytime Katie: Parachute Playlist & Plan
Read Sing Play: Parachute Play: with babies and toddlers
If you have any favorite parachute games, songs or activities, please share!
Brooke Sheets is Children’s Librarian at Los Angeles Public Library’s Children’s Literature Department and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee.