Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gym Class Parachute Day

Ah, parachute day. Whether you were a budding star elementary athlete or one of the designated indoor kids, the parachute was a universally appealing gym class apparatus. Something about those glorious primary colors had the power to put children under some sort of enchanted parachute spell, mesmerizing them with its rhythmic movement and waves of red, blue, and yellow. Throw in the fact that we each had our very own handle and this was a participatory physical education dream. The responsibility was great, sure, but the excitement of playing a role in the billowing of the giant parachute was infinitely greater.

It just goes to show that it doesn’t take flashy or expensive equipment to delight a child and pique his curiosity. These parachutes were extremely simple in design and use, yet they rarely failed to entertain us during a vigorous physical education hour. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to label it as actual exercise, but maybe all that arm flapping gave us some sort of low-level workout. As long as it tired us out enough for naptime, our caregivers were more than satisfied.

Just in case you haven’t brushed up on your gym class parachute activities in a few years, here is a handy guide to some of the many magical games offered by this overhyped nylon bedsheet with handles.

Making Waves

Even the youngest Gymboreers can take part in this one, assuming they have the ability to grasp the handle and wave their arms maniacally. To create waves, all the children in class simply have to pick up a handle and shake vigorously. The parachute billows back and forth, the kids ooh and aah in amazement, and the teacher sneaks out back for a smoke.


I actually believe we may have called this maneuver “Mushroom Cloud,” but that’s probably just a tad too morbid to fathom for five-year old children. “Hey kids! Isn’t this just like an atomic explosion?”

In this exercise, all children have to obediently pull their handle up and over themselves to retain a bubble of air in the center. It’s like a little fort, only much more colorful and slightly awesomer. Plus all your friends are there. I kind of want to stage a Jellyfish right now, it sounds 100% preferable to a day at the office.

Variation: Washing Machine

Make a Jellyfish/Mushroom configuration, but allow the kids to shake crazily while inside. If it’s not realistic enough, feel free to put them in an actual washing machine.


Insert sports ball in center of parachute. Grab handles, shake like maniacs. Commence in delight at rubber balls popping in air. Repeat ad nauseum. Seriously, children never tire of this. You could do it forever.

Shark Attack

The details on this one varied from school to school, but the game universally included screams of bloodcurdling terror. Two children are selected as sharks, the equivalent of “It” in a game of tag. All the other children place their legs under the parachute as the sharks attempt to pull them under in Jaws-like attack mode. Good news is, once you were eaten, you magically became a shark who got to eat swimmers, too. You know, just like in real life.

Merry Go Round

This activity leads me to believe our teachers were fairly sadistic and all had a good laugh in the breakroom at making us dance like obedient trained monkeys. Everyone grabs the handles and the teacher calls out a movement, like “Skip!” or “Run!” The kids run wildly in a circle until they collapse in a pile of heavy-breathing exhaustion.

All Change/All Switch

Here’s a good way to check if your students know their birthdays or which letter of the alphabet begins their name. Make them all hold the chute tightly above them, then call out a command like “Everyone with June birthdays, switch!” The idea was to allow everyone to switch before the parachute fell, but there was always some kid without a June birthday who’d tackle the parachute to the ground before they had a chance to try. Jerk.


Red said...

Oh my gosh, i LOVE this.

Only, we didn't have handles on ours. Just grab onto the edge of the cloth and away you go.

Love it.

Tahleen said...

I think we called it Mushroom Cloud too. I loved parachute day.

Lauren Kelly said...

Oh my goodness, I LOVED LOVED LOVED this in elementary school!!!! We did this when we'd have field day!! :)

April's Flowers said...

I loved parachute day! But our wasn't pretty at all, it was army green. I grew up near an Army post where the paratroopers trained, so we were told that it was an official Army parachute...I now that I think about it, wonder if Mr. Cannon was telling a fib?

jen mccrady said...

omg all of your posts are SO spot on. did we grow up together? haha :)

Juliana said...

I love this post. Mushroom and popcorn were my favorites. I was always afraid to run through the middle when everybody switched.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I LOVED this day!! Omg I haven't thought of that thing in years!! It was soo awesome!!!

Kathryn said...

Oh, wow...I totally thought Parachute was something my gym teacher had invented, and we just happened to have access to a parachute. This explains a lot about me as a kid, and consequently as an adult.

Simply_Megan said...

Wow I loved this so much! And what's really weird is that we played every game listed on there with the parachute. There must be some parachute handbook for gym teachers.

Alison said...

I LOVED the parachute. My favorite was the jellyfish, but we called it the Jello mold. For our last gym class in elementary school, we got to choose what to do--Unanimous vote for the parachute! For whatever reason, our gym teacher thought we had outgrown it in 3rd grade.

I volunteer at a nursing home, and the residents use a parachute to do the waves to exercise their arms. So. Excited. that I volunteered that day. Score!

Lil' Woman said...

I would have married a parachute in kindegarten, that's how much I loved it.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Oh my word, this makes me giddy, just thinking about all of the joy the parachute brought me as a young-un. Popcorn was the first thing I thought of when I saw what today's post was. And @Kathryn I thought the exact same thing. Don't feel too bad. :)

The K Family said...

OMG! Parachute day was my favorite thing to do in gym class. Thanks for posting this!


coulrophobic agnostic said...

Our parachute had smaller sections in alternating colors. I remember THAT, but not what I had for dinner last night.

The parachute was awesome, and I kind of wish I had one for my house. Except, you know. There's only me to play with it. Not as much fun.

Mr. Condescending said...

you are so awesome! I completely forgot about this and it brought back such fun 90's memories!

you must made my night!

Jessica said...

WOW :) Loved this day at school & you made me smile :)

rsparks said...

Parachute day was the best. Do they still do this in elementary schools today?

John W. said...

Great post, I used to get so excited when I would walk into P.E. and see that parachute laying in the gym just waiting for us to have an amazing time with it. There was one game though that we played that you didn't mention, a person would sit in the middle of the parachute and everyone else would walk around them wrapping the parachute around that person in the middle. Then, after it was wound up a few times, everyone would pull it towards themselves really fast and the person in the middle would spin around. I think we did this or maybe I'm crazy and it never happened.

Shop Girl* said...

I am a special education teacher, and let me tell you--parachutes are still the hit of every gym class. haha

Katy said...

This brought back memories! I used to love hiding under the parachute...a certain amount of safety in that!

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Colleen Malia Wilcox said...

Ah! I love this blog! Totally hitting everything on the head from my childhood LOL. Thanks for making me laugh

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Paigealicious! said...

I *LIVED* for the "mushroom!" It was awesome sitting under the parachute fort. Also loved the "shark attack." Blood curdling screams indeed!

Kristie said...

I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago! I was just talking to my best friend about "the parachute game" and she said that they don't do this in gym class anymore. Bummer.

Yankee Girl said...

I totally forgot about parachute days! They were the best!

sheena said...

Very cute comments shared about this blog Children of the 90s. "Gym Class Parachute Day" was pretty good post. The comments shared under this topic was really good. Thanks for sharing.


Betamaxrules said...

These were the greatest damn things. We used to do merry-go-round and switch all the time.

Actually, I want to buy one now semi.

jo oliver said...

So cool...makes me wish I was back in grade school;)

The L said...

I'm a child of the eighties and we had these I hated them. Ours weren't rainbow colored though they were just white sheets, but I grew up in the south.

Julie said...

We so never played about half the games in this post. I feel so cheated!

Donica said...

Ohhhh parachute days were the best!

Our gym teacher had us shake the parachute (no handles on ours) He would throw some balls in the middle and then some lucky people got to run around inside the parachute while everyone was shaking the damn thing.

Ours also had a hole in the top so when we did the mushroom thing (I can't remember what we called it) he would call someone to go and put their head through the top. I used to have this on a home video from 92...

I was never lucky enough to be chosen to do either. My childhood was scarred.

Vani B. said...

I love you for making a post on parachutes. You know, not only were parachutes popular in P.E., we kids also played with them at outdoor birthday parties. No lie.

I love your blog.

Bridget said...

oh my goodness, i loved parachutes!
not only did we use them in gym class...we had them at summer camp, AND my family owned one that we played with at reunions.
i specifically remember playing the popcorn game with beanie babies.
nineties enough for you? :)

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Its a good idea i also tell you ,, children should need care and its health important,, we are providing about child gym and its fitness make sure goo.,
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SecretSwifty said...

I remember playing a game called Shark where everyone would stick their feet under the parachute and wait untill one of the "sharks" (who scooted around underneath on scooterboards) grabbed ahold of their ankle, then they ether got pulled under or saved by a lifeguard

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