Red, green, yellow, blue! As I work on today's post, Elli’s preschool class is being introduced to a parachute for the first time at school. For most this is their first experience with one. Elli’s teacher gives clear direction to sit around the parachute with their hands in their laps.
“What do you observe about the parachute?” she asks.
“It’s like a ball!”
“It has lots of colors!”
“It looks like a beach ball!”
“Let’s warm up our fingers,” she says. Then they sing a song.
“Everyone find a handle… We’re going to be safe, let’s not go under it.”
“Let’s sing, Where is thumbkin!”
The teacher's voice gets hushed –“We’re going to do what’s called the wave. Move your hand up and down. Freeze." They practice without holding the chute's handles.
"Do you think we’re ready to do it now?”
A chorus of yeses.
Lots of rustling,
“Let’s have a sleeping wave.”
“A medium wave!”
“A fast wave. “
“Oh it’s getting sleepy again!”
“We’re going to do the parachute to the music. When we hear the music stop, we’re going to make it stop.” There is a sound of much movement with periodic silence when the music says freeze.
“Did you have fun?” Elli teacher asks.
“Yeah!” the little voices cry out. “More!”
“Let’s walk it on it. Ok, let’s go back to the classroom.”
And then they were gone almost as quickly as they came. Today was an introduction to parachute play. It helped to establish the boundaries. It has been my experience that kids almost always love the parachute and look forward to its appearance. However in their eagerness to play with a parachute it’s easy to overlook safety. Elli’s teacher knew her group of 3 & 4 year olds well and helped them to learn the rules of the parachute so everyone could have fun.
As an adult bystander, sitting in the next room working on homework, it would be easy for me to be bummed out over this experience. I adored the parachute as a child. Why didn’t they try a mushroom, or cat and mouse? As parents we want our children to immediately experience all of the fun and joy in something that we once did. Sometimes we even forget that we were often introduced to some of our first play experiences slowly and methodically. We want to rush in and give our kids everything – even if they’re not developmentally ready yet. I know that I’ve been guilty of this at times. We forget that our children need to explore things at their own pace, albeit sometimes with guidance. We expect perfection or completion when it’s often about experience for our kids. Today, Elli’s class had a wonderful experience of the colors, feel, and sounds of the parachute. Everyone was safe and learned what was expected. Was it true play? Probably not under many definitions, but it set the groundwork for future play.
I mentioned that I adored parachutes as a child. Later as a young Recreation Director, I actually came to dislike them for a while. While the kids loved them, parachutes were often a logistical nightmare. How would you keep little Sarah from dodging underneath or getting trampled? Could I get the kids to stop tugging long enough to explain the next game? How do you choose the next players while keeping everyone else happy doing the wave? When does the fun turn into disaster? Parachutes really stressed me out. Why? Because I wanted to jump right in. My memories of being a child often set up some unsafe situations. After my first few times out with the parachute on my own, I really learned to be much more purposeful in my introduction and safety guidelines. And guess what? The kids ended up having a much better time when clear guidelines where shared from the beginning. These guidelines also allowed me to relax and enjoy my time with the kids and the parachute. As a parent, we now own two chutes. They really are wonderful when you can balance safety with fun!