We will be sharing a STEM challenge children can do at home here every Friday. Complete the challenge and share your results on social media with @BramptonLibrary #kidsatBL! 

This week’s challenge: 

This week we are challenging children to design a parachute that will create enough air resistance to slow a small toy’s journey down to the ground. 

For an extra challenge, try timing how long it takes for your parachute to reach the ground and see how slow you can make yours go!

Supplies you will need:

  • Selection of materials for parachute: garbage bag, tissue paper, paper napkins, old table covers, etc.
  • Selection of materials for suspension lines: string, plastic lace, ribbon, etc.
  • A small toy or weight to act as your parachuter (i.e. LEGO mini-figures, miniature animals/dinosaurs, &/or weights) 
  • Tape, glue, scissors, hole puncher
  • Small cups or other assorted craft supplies
  • Stickers & markers for decorating
  • Ladder or stable chair to drop the parachutes from
  • Stopwatch

Tips to get started: 

There are two science concepts that will help you build your parachute: gravity and air resistance. 

What is gravity?

  • Gravity is a force that tries to pull objects toward each other. Anything which has mass (weight) also has a gravitational pull. The more massive an object is, the stronger its gravitational pull is. 
  • Earth's gravity is what keeps you on the ground and what causes objects to fall. 
  • When a person or object is released into the air, gravity is the force that brings it back to the ground.

What is air resistance?

  • Why does a piece of paper fall more slowly than a marker or a stick of glue? The answer is air resistance! 
  • Air resistance (or drag) acts on all objects that fall in our atmosphere. 
  • The more surface area an object has, the more air resistance slows it down. 
  • Streamlining (decreasing surface area) helps decrease air resistance. Think about the smooth curved shapes of planes, modern cars, and high-speed trains, which greatly decrease the effect of air resistance and allow these vehicles to travel more efficiently. 

As with all engineering challenges, your parachute might not work the first time or right away. Here are some questions to help you think about what might need to be adjusted to make your parachute work better: 

  • Does the canopy of the parachute have enough surface area to counteract the effects of gravity?
  • Would a circular or square canopy make a difference?
  • What would happen if you shortened or lengthened the string lines? Added more, or removed some string lines? 
  • What would happen if you tried using a different toy for your parachuter?

If you liked this activity, you might enjoy these free resources from our digital library

Franklin & Friends: Franklin Flies His Kite (TV episode available on Kanopy, recommended for 3-7 years)

Science Max: Air Surfing (TV episode available on Kanopy, recommended for 4-12 years)

DK Eyewitness Books: Flight by Andrew Nahum (non-fiction, recommended for 8-12 years)

Resources for grown-ups:

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