As fall comes to an end, let your pumpkin décor exit the season with a smash in the name of science. Challenge your family to build a pumpkin parachute and launch it from the top of a slide or staircase.
- Duct tape
- Small gourds and pumpkins
- Upcycled items
- Safety glasses
- Tarp or large towel
1. Collect small gourds and pumpkins (or choose large ones if you are open to a bigger mess). It is beneficial to have more than one gourd or pumpkin per participant to allow for trial and error. Making modifications after testing a design is crucial to the inventing process.
2. When it comes to designing the parachute, consider upcycling a plastic bag, as they are lightweight and provide excellent air resistance.
3. Consider screwing or hammering the parachute directly into the pumpkin. Since pumpkins are malleable, children can be successful hammering and drilling into them (with safety glasses and supervision).
4. Before launching your pumpkin or gourd, place a tarp or large towel on the landing zone to ensure easy cleanup.
5. Encourage each participant to launch their pumpkin by tossing it from the top of a slide or staircase. Have children stand far away from the landing zone while observing others and waiting for their turn.
6. Create, test, modify and retest! Don’t give up after just one design, but instead test new models and continue to improve on each attempt.
Educators: Use this activity in the classroom with these modifications!
Invite your students to bring small gourds and pumpkins from home to use in this experiment. Divide your students into groups and instruct them to work together to first design, and then create their own pumpkin parachutes. Turn this activity into a game by establishing multiple rounds. Between rounds, allow each team to improve on their designs and create more effective parachutes.
What are we learning?
In this STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity, participants explore the science of force and motion in action! As children toss their pumpkins and gourds, observe how they fall at a slower rate with a parachute attached than if they descend by the force of gravity alone. This is because the parachute creates air resistance, with the air below the parachute pushing up against the material. The larger the surface area of the parachute, the more air resistance, and the slower the pumpkin will drop! Parachutes will need a lot of air resistance to slow down a pumpkin’s fall.
National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Samuel Alderson explored forces and motion as he invented the Crash-Test Dummy. This invention has provided automotive engineers with valuable information, enabling them to design more effective safety features including seat belts and airbags. We encourage you to watch this video to learn more about Alderson’s innovation!