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Up, Up and Away: Getting Ready for Parachute Play
By Sharon Krull

It's the first day of school! You're ready… or at least you think you are. The adrenaline's been going and you and your students are in high gear! You love new beginnings and can't wait for the start of what you're sure is to be a great year. This year, you're determined to include physical education or movement as part of your daily curriculum.

Recent surveys have confirmed what you have observed of the youth today-they are more obese, leading a sedentary life style with the increase of TV, video, computer games-not to mention fast food. And, yes, they will have desk time/sit down time in your classroom, too. You know about the correlation between moving and learning. You know that in order for the brain to grow, the body has to move. You know that children need periods of physical activity interspersed with quiet or passive activities. It increases focus and attention span. You want the children in your class to get-to-know each other and enjoy participating in group activities.

What better way to engage them than by pulling out the bag with the parachute in it. But, where is it? You know it's in some closet in some classroom, somewhere! Go find it, now! If you don't have one, purchase one. The benefits outweigh the cost (relatively inexpensive). They are now so affordable that every classroom could have its own rainbow colored parachute.

When selecting a parachute, look for one that has a mesh-covered center hole. This is primarily for safety reasons. The hole or center opening is an invitation for a young child to run underneath and stick their head through it. Other children holding onto the parachute and pulling on the edge can unintentionally cause neck and spine injuries to a young body. If the parachute you presently own has an uncovered hole, it's easy to fix. Just find yourself a piece of mesh at the fabric store or purchase a small mesh bag at the "dollar bins" from your local grocery or variety store. With needle and thread sew it around the inside perimeter of the hole and voila… your parachute is ready for safe play.

Most parachutes have stitched handles, usually having as many handles as it is wide. For example, a 12' parachute will have 12 handles, though it can accommodate about twice as many children. I recommended not even using the handles --just flip them inside the outer edge and roll up the edges (about 5 times). Instruct the children to hold the parachute with palms and thumbs down in a claw-hold grip -just like a little birdie sitting on the branch of a tree. Children will be ready to listen and play when holding the rolled up parachute edge at their belly buttons. Trust me, the "belly button place" really works! Parachute play can be a wild and uncontrolled activity if you don't establish these types of rules. And when using the parachute, plan on children participating for ten to twenty minutes maximum. Young children's arms tire easily and attention spans wane quickly.

The parachute is about the most "user friendly" piece of equipment I know of. You don't need a lot of skill or training to use it effectively. Get ready for that first day of school, that first introduction to movement and "feeling good about using our body" by including parachute play.

Children who have had previous experiences with the parachute will have favorite games they want to play. They might already be shaking the parachute, jumping up and down or running under the parachute full of energy, enthusiasm and nonstop giggles and wiggles. Insure them there will be a time for them to lead their game but first the group needs to establish rules for playing safely and cooperatively with the parachute.

Solicit ideas and suggestions from the children themselves. They will more likely have a sense of ownership and even "buy into" accepting and reinforcing the rules if they have had a part in creating them. Here's what you'll want to discuss with them before the parachuting begins:

1.       Institute the freeze rule, which means that at the teacher's command, "Freeze!" the children cease all activity and listen to directions.

 

2.       Hold the edge of the parachute with both hands at all times unless instructed to do otherwise.

 

3.       Raise and lower the parachute on command (e.g. "Shake!"; "Freeze!"; "Touch your toes!"; "Ready, lift up!"; and then, "Back to your waist and belly button!").

 

4.       Emphasize good listening.

 

5.       Instruct children to stay away from the center hole or aperture of the parachute. Inform the group that this hole or opening allows air to escape. This enables the parachute to descend slowly and keep the proper shape without bobbing.

 

6.       Stress working together cooperatively. Just as it takes each and every player on the football team to execute a play or score a touchdown, so, too, does it take each and every participant holding the parachute to lift it up and make the dome shape or "umbrella."

Let's put these rules to the test now as you the teacher says, "Shake!"

"SHAKING THE PARACHUTE" is a great warm-up exercise. Plan to conduct this activity at the beginning of each parachute lesson. It serves to review and remind; and the children respond instantly by shaking the parachute up and down.

Direct the children not to move their feet. "Keep your body still and let your arms move up and down," is a good reminder. On your next command say, "Freeze!" The children, of course, automatically stop shaking the parachute. Try varying the speed of the shaking. "Shake the parachute as fast as you can!" "Shake the parachute as slowly as you can." Ask the children to shake the parachute using different arm movements. "Make big, tall ocean waves with the parachute. Your arms will have to go very high and then very low. Now try little ocean waves, making very tiny hand movements to make little waves." Alternate big and little movements and fast and slow speeds for several turns.

Always remember to say, "Freeze!" between each movement and each change of speed. Children will be encouraged to listen carefully or you might trick them!

Using a rainbow-colored parachute, let the children holding onto just one color shake the parachute while the others rest. Try having children holding onto just two colors shake the parachute at one time.

"How does the parachute move if you move your arms from side to side?" Let the children explore and experiment with the different ways of moving and shaking the parachute, either standing up or sitting down. Are we having fun yet? You bet! And the fun began the moment you brought in a parachute! And now you're READY! Your class is all SET, doing movin' and shakin' warm-ups! The children are eager to GO and play more games and activities with the parachute!

Sharron Krull is a child development instructor at Modesto Junior College in Modesto, CA. She also conducts staff training, seminars, workshops, and keynote speeches. SHe can reached by email at skrull@excelligence.com.