Flannel boards are a great way to really bring children into a story. They can help move the pieces around as you spin your tale, and later they can retell the story (or create their own new and improved version). It’s a simple hands-on tool for supporting the language and comprehension skills that build solid readers.
A flannel board – or felt board – can be one of the easiest DIY educational supplies around. All you really need is some flannel or felt. Where you go from there is up to you. I think the easiest route is to attach the fabric to a sturdy piece of cardboard. That’s it. (See how Made By Joel makes it simple enough, even for babies…) You can set your cardboard up in a frame if you want to get all fancy like that (leave the glass out). In the picture above, I put magnets on the back of my flannel-ized cardboard and used it as an insert on my magnet board. I’ve even used a flannel pillowcase as a backdrop, which is great for travel kits or bedtime stories.
So once you’ve spent fifty cents and two minutes creating your flannel board, the real trick comes. How do you create figures for the story you want to tell?
When I need a particular figure and I don’t trust my artistic skills, I turn to the Pellon technique. Pellon is a brand of interfacing you can find at your local fabric store. It comes in a variety of weights, any of which would work, but the stiffer ones may hold up under the use and abuse of preschoolers a bit longer. The interfacing has a textured side that adheres well to the flannel board and it’s also sheer enough you can use it as tracing paper! I lay the Pellon on top of the illustration I want to use, trace with a pencil, then outline the figures with my Sharpie. Then I use a crayon to add a little color. The texture of the interfacing picks up the crayon very easily and adds a fun texture to the pictures as well.
This technique is particularly helpful when you want your illustrated story board to match your book. Or, in my case, if you want the children to recognize the cow as a cow and not a dog. Above, I used figures from two separate books to create pieces to go along with the classic Spanish farm song, Vengan a Ver Mi Granja. Using visual aids helped to reinforce the Spanish vocabulary as we sang, and the kids loved playing with the pieces afterward.
If you’re less restricted by budget, you can use a color copier, a laminator, and a few strips of sandpaper to create flannel board pieces like Melissa at Chasing Cheerios, or try out this intriguing idea from Baby Jayne’s using your own printer and iron-on transfer paper. Of course, if you have the knack, go ahead and make your own patterns and designs from felt. Thankfully, felt is nice and inexpensive, so you – and your little ones – can play around and perfect your felting craft.
What’s your favorite way to use flannel boards?