Article Bread Bag STEM Activities: Make at Home Parachute
How to make an upcycled bread bag parachute to send small toys soaring!
June 19, 2020
What’s better than using play to explore the wonders of physics, the joy of engineering, and experiment with real-life applications for math? Sending in an airdrop of fun with stuff you already have in your kitchen and toy box! (And finding a creative way to give second life to recyclable materials, too!) Part of our new Bread Bag STEM Activities and Bread Bag Crafts for Kids series, our Make At Home Parachute is pure fun with purpose. A perfect rainy-day diversion, or an excuse to get offline, make something, and grab Dad (or Mom) for outdoor summertime play, kids of all ages will love experimenting to see how far their favourite small toys can fly.
Younger at-home scientists have freedom to improvise using lids, bowls, or plates of different sizes as tracers for their upcycled parachutes. Older kids can test their hypothesis and discover which precise combination of parachute diameter, passenger weight, length of string, and drop height will give their figurine the longest time in the air—or get them closest to the landing zone in different weather conditions. Make one and give all their tiny toys a turn, or collect enough bread bags to make a dozen parachutes and send a flotilla of figurines soaring off the back deck together. Practice indoor-friendly launch techniques from the top of the stairs, or take it to the park and drop your passenger from the platform at the playground.
Whatever you do, there are only two rules for bread bag STEM activities like our Make at Home Parachute: learn through safe, hands-on experimentation, and have fun!
- 4 – 7 (Supervised)
- 8+ (Unsupervised)
- Kitchen string
- Scissors (age-appropriate size and type)
- Clear tape
- One-hole punch (Don’t have one? Use the outside hole of a three-hole punch or a yarn needle with a large eye)
- Nail or push pin
- Ruler or tape measure
- 1 empty Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery bread or bun bag
- Small, unbreakable figurine / action figure (weighing between 3 and 10 grams)
- Round pot lid, mixing bowl, or plate (between 8-inches (20cm) and 11-inches (28cm) wide)
How to Make a Bread Bag Parachute
Step 1: Cut open the bread bag so it lies flat in a single layer.
For parachutes smaller than 9-inches, cut both side seams off of the bread bag, as close to the edge as you can (see the how-to video).
For parachutes larger than 9-inches, cut only one of the side seams off of the bread bag. Then cut through the bottom gusset to open and flatten the bag into a single layer. This will give you more material to work with. (It’s okay if the remaining bread bag seam crosses over the corner of a larger parachute (we tested it!)).
Step 2: Using a marker, trace a round pot lid, mixing bowl, or plate on your bread bag.
The more your figurine weighs, the bigger the circle you’ll need for your parachute.
- Our largest parachute passenger test was a 10 gram rattle mouse we borrowed from one of our team member’s cats. We paired it with an 11-inch parachute.
- Our smallest parachute passenger test was a 3 gram pterodactyl toy from our friendly neighbourhood dentist. We paired it with an 8-inch parachute.
A classic figurine from your favourite colourful interlocking plastic block set is 1 ½-inches tall and weighs 3.5 to 4 grams (depending on the accessories it’s wearing or holding!). We tested ours with both 8-inch and 9 ½-inch parachutes. It flew best with the larger parachute, but your mileage may vary. The purpose of our bread bag STEM activities is to learn through fun—experiment with parachute sizes to find the combination that works best for you!
Step 3: With your scissors, cut out the circle you traced.
(Recycle the rest of the bread bag with other soft plastics).
Step 4: Fold your cut circle into quarters.
Measure ½-inch (1.25cm) in from the corners. Using your marker, make four (4) evenly spaced marks on your circle. Also mark a dot at the centre.
Step 5: Place a small piece of clear tape over each mark on the front of your circle, then flip it over and repeat on the back side.
Taping both the front and back will make punching holes for your parachute strings much easier! (And makes your parachute more durable, too).
Step 6: Using a hole punch, make a hole where each of your four edge-of-circle marks are.
If you don’t have a hole punch, use a heavy-guage needle with a large eye (like the kind used for sewing canvas) to pierce holes and thread your strings through at the same time (after Step 8). If you don’t have either of these, don’t fret—practice your improvising skills! Use a large nail to poke hole, or use scissors to snip a tiny X just large enough for your string to pass through.
Step 7: Using the nail or a push pin, poke a smaller hole through the centre mark.
(This helps your parachute fly straighter by reducing drag).
Step 8: Measure four (4) equal lengths of string.
In the same way heavier passengers need bigger parachutes, the larger the parachute, the longer the string needs to be.
- For our 8-inch parachute, we used 20-inch long strings.
- For our 11-inch parachute, we used 24-inch long strings.
Step 9: Thread one string through each of the four holes on the outside edge of your parachute.
Pull the strings half-way through each hole so the ends are even.
Step 10: Flip your parachute over, so the right side faces down (right side = the printed side of the bread bag).
Gather the ends of all four strings (8 ends total) together, so the ends are even. Tie a knot about 2 ½-inches up from the end. Keep the knot loose at this point, as you may need to adjust where it sits based on the height of your figurine.
Step 11: Tie another knot as close to the bottom of your collection of strings as you can.
This will become a simple harness that will fit figurines and toys of all shapes and sizes!
Step 12: Split the strings between the knots—your harness section—into four strands each.
- If your figurine has a head and legs, place them through the harness so the top knot sits directly behind their head. Loop the bottom knot either between their legs, or around the outside of their legs to form a harness.
- If your figurine is oddly shaped—such as a many-legged animal or a creature with wings—experiment by looping a few sections of the harness string around their body and appendages until they’re secure.
- Whatever shape figurine you use, you want the top knot balanced over your parachute passenger’s centre of gravity. For a person-shaped passenger, this is usually behind their head. For the small plastic mammoth and the large cat toy we experimented with, the top knot was on their back, near the middle of their body.
Step 13: Once your passenger is secure in the harness, your bread bag parachute is ready to fly!
Bread Bag Parachute Tips:
- We used the bag from our Sprouted Whole Grain Burger Buns with Sesame Seeds for these photos, but any of our bun or bread bags work—we tested it with bags from Squirrelly Bread™ and Steady Eddie™, too. Use what you’ve got! (We recommend giving them a quick rinse and dry first).
- Decorate your parachute any way you’d like! We found permanent markers worked best for doodling on the shiny plastic of our bread bags. (The ink in children’s washable felts tends to bead and smudge easily). Keep younger artists from becoming accidental interior decorators. Protect your work surface with a couple layers of newspaper and supervise closely when using permanent markers. Stickers may be a good option instead. They’ll add a little extra weight and change the flexibility of the parachute, but experimentation is the best part of the fun of bread bag STEM activities! (We decorated ours between Step 7 and Step 8).
Engineering and Experimentation Tips:
- In addition to the hole in the centre of the parachute, we also experimented with four small pin-holes, ½-inch away from the centre (we poked these while the circle was folded). Experiment for yourself to see which size—and how many—holes make your parachute fly best!
- Add extra STEM learning for older kids. Write a hypothesis for an experiment, then test and document the results! Try precise parachute sizes, passenger weights, drop heights, holes of different sizes and placements, lengths of string—or even different shapes of parachute! (Does an oval parachute traced from the lid of your slow cooker fly better than a circle? Test it to find out!)
- After a few jumps, the strings of your parachute may get crossed or become a little tangled above your passenger. Take a moment to straighten and untangle them—your parachute will fly straighter and stay in the air longer with straight strings.
- Store your parachute for another day of flying. Fold the circle into quarters, then fold the quarter in half again (into eighths, like a slice of pizza, cake, or pie!). Gather the strings gently into a bundle, then carefully wind the bundle of strings around the parachute. Secure the strings and parachute with a rubber band so nothing gets tangled in the toy box. (If you leave your passenger in the harness, secure them along with the strings under the rubber band, too).
When You’re Done:
- Recycle your bread bag parachute when its flying days are over. Remove the strings and recycle the plastic wherever you usually take soft plastic bags for recycling. (Our bread bags are recyclable. Collection varies from community to community; if soft plastic recycling is not available curb-side where you live, ask your local grocery store or community recycling facility).
Want more bread bag STEM activities and at home bread bag crafts for kids? Check out our Bread Bag Blooms Craft for Kids! Show us your makes on our Facebook page, or tag us on Instagram.