Up in the Air Unit: Leonardo da Vinci’s parachute activity

Did you know the Leonardo da Vinci conceived of the idea of a parachute long before one was ever tested? Before we make our own da Vinci parachute, read more about the history of it and show your child his original sketches in this post. You can also read Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt (or read it here on OpenLibrary) to give your child a bit more background on da Vinci himself.

Next, let’s make our own da Vinci parachute!

What you need:
What to do:

Cut two dowels so you have 4 pieces that are each 12 inches long. (Have your child help you measure each section before you cut.)

Next, cut the remaining dowels so you have 4 pieces that are each 16 inches long, letting your child help with the measuring and/or cutting as appropriate.

Using the 12-inch dowels, have your child create a square. You can use this as a time to review what makes a square a square, what the perimeter is, and how to measure it. Use masking tape to secure the corners.

Next, you’ll make the top sides of the parachute. Cut the remaining dowels into four 16-inch pieces, and use them to create two triangles on opposite sides of the square. Secure all the corners together with masking tape, like this:

Now that you have the pieces taped together and lying flat, trace each triangle section onto a piece of parchment or wax paper and cut out the triangle shapes. (Tip: Trace the pieces a little larger than the triangles so you’ll have enough to overlap the edges.) Use a clear tape to secure two of the paper triangles to the triangle dowel frame, like this:

Next, take your four strings and knot them together at one end. Secure one paper clip to this loop. At the other end of each string, tie another paper clip. It should look like this:

Next, fold up the covered triangles to begin to form your pyramid. Use the paper clip at the top of your knotted strings to loop over the top of the pyramid and secure with masking tape. It should look like this:

Finally, use your remaining paper triangles to cover the remaining two sides of the pyramid. Secure with clear tape. It should look like the parachute you see in the top image.

You’re ready to test! First, drop your parachute from a height (like a deck, off a staircase, or while standing on a table). Does the parachute slow the fall? Next, add some weight by looping washers through the dangling paperclips or even tying on a small toy. How does this affect the fall? Repeat the test as many times as your child has interest in doing!


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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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