Science Experiment- Parachutes and Air Resistance

I remember, as a child, at our family’s grocer store, each year about this time, the toy man would bring parachutes.  Those little plastic parachutes with an army man tied to the end.  We loved those little things.  I never realized I had a science experiment in my hands!

Today, we are going to make a parachute.  These will fly across our yard on a windy day. It wasn’t so windy this morning, when I did the video of Sweet Pea trying out one of the parachutes.

To make a parachute, you will need:

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A garbage bag (I used a 13 gal. It makes 8 large), scissors, string (four pieces for each parachute about 18″ long), masking tape, paper clips and a penny or metal washer for each parachute.

To make the parachute:

Cut the ends off of the garbage bag.

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Then, I fold the bag in half and cut on the fold.

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After cutting this, you will also need to cut the folds on the bag to make four pieces from each side.

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To have a comparison in my experiment, I also cut one of these sheets into fourths to make four smaller rectangles.

To assemble the parachute, using one sheet of plastic, place a string on each corner of the rectangle.

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Tape the string using masking tape.  I found that it is sturdier if you tape along the length of the string and then across.

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Next, gather the ends of the string and tie to the open end of your paper clip. The original directions call for using a metal washer.  I didn’t have one, and I wanted to use something most families would have readily available, so I chose a paper clip and a penny.  You could also use a metal nut or a plastic army man.

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Last, secure a penny to the paper clip.

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Repeat the process to make a smaller parachute.

To throw the parachute, hold it in the center of the plastic parachute and throw into the air.  This is a demonstration of Sweet Pea throwing the parachute.  As you can see, the wind is not blowing.  If it is a calm day, you may want to have your children drop it from the top of a slide or a second story window.

What happens?  Air resistance is when the air acts as an opposing force to an object that is falling.  The resistance opens the parachute and causes it to fall slowly to the ground.

Have them drop both the larger parachute and the smaller one.  Have your child make predictions about what will happen.  Which one hits the ground first? Why?  The smaller one will hit the ground first.  The parachute is a smaller surface area and therefore it has less resistance.

For further investigation, try making much lager parachutes using a whole garbage bag. You can use a small lego man for the bottom.  What happens with different size men?

For a fabric parachute, use a handkerchief, sew thread through the corners, and use a small plastic army man.

I hope you enjoy working with air resistance and parachutes!  Have a blessed day!

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