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Extreme Jacks

This is an excerpt from Great Games for Big Activity Balls by Todd Strong & Bernie DeKoven.

Everything you know about playing jacks holds true in Extreme Jacks. The big differences are that Extreme Jacks is played with a very large ball, a small parachute, and five badminton birdies.

Five players hold the edge of a small parachute. They start the game by putting the badminton birdies (jacks) on top of the parachute, then pulling on the edges with a sudden jerk that tosses the birdies up and off the parachute. After the parachute descends, the players roll the ball on top of the parachute, and the game gets really interesting.

The players snap the parachute tight again, which this time tosses the ball up in the air, and the race begins. A player must pick up one jack and throw it onto the parachute before the ball hits. Players snap the parachute for the second round, which tosses the ball and the first jack upward. Four players try to keep the first jack in the parachute while the fifth player grabs the second jack. Play continues until the team has retrieved all five jacks.

If the game becomes too easy, players can try to pick up two jacks at a time. If they make a mistake, they forfeit their turn to the next team of five.

Here are some examples of common mistakes:

  • A previously caught jack escapes from the parachute.
  • The ball falls off the parachute as it descends.
  • A player fails to pick up a jack before the ball hits.
  • A player picks up the wrong amount of jacks.
  • The team that plays the most rounds without making a mistake receives a round of applause from the group.


Players toss the big activity ball with a small parachute or towel. One player tries to collect the jacks and throw them onto the parachute before the big activity ball lands.

Additional Equipment

  • A small parachute or large towel
  • 5 badminton birdies (If you don't have badminton birdies, substitute any item that is light, easy to pick up, and doesn't roll.)

Safety Tips

As the players become more advanced, they may choose to move as a unit with the parachute to catch the ball. Individual players may also briefly break away from the parachute to pick up a jack. Players may not run, but may take brisk, walking steps.


Parachute Ball

Developmental Skills

Primary skills include cooperation and rapid response.

Secondary skills include coordination.

Duration of Game

Play this game for 5 to 10 minutes.

When to Play

Play this game at the beginning or end of a session.


Ginormous Juggling


The traditional game of jacks has many variations. Players may add more birdies or let the large ball bounce once or twice on top of a slack parachute before tightening the parachute to catch the ball.

Teaching Tips

As with all games in which there are a series of steps, players tend to get impatient, trying to rush on to the next level before they have mastered the first. Encourage the players to practice various components of the game by breaking down the steps, and simplifying the challenge. “Let's see if we can play with just two jacks.” until they've demonstrated enough mastery to try the “real” game.

Players use a lot of different skills in this game. They must communicate and work together to throw the ball high, to keep the jacks in the parachute, and to move as a group to retrieve additional jacks. Given all that, the most exciting challenge lies in making up new tricks.

More Excerpts From Great Games for Big Activity Balls