In a 2004 School Library Journal article called “Children of the Cloth”, Renea Arnold and Nell Colburn say that flannel (or felt) stories “are a great tool to help kids learn early literacy skills.” (p.37) and I heartily agree with them.
They acknowledge that felt stories have been a storytime staple for years in schools and libraries. They explain these fabric-based stories invite participation as young listeners try to guess what will appear from behind the feltboard or call out the name of the animal, letter, or object being put on the board. I especially appreciate that Arnold and Colburn emphasize how this kind of storytelling helps young children learn – that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Because felt stories usually emphasize sequences in visual way, as pieces of the story are put on the board one by one, or taken off one by one, children learn how stories work. If the kids are actually part of the action, by holding a piece of that sequence in their hands then taking their turns placing the pieces on the board to help tell the story, even better. I believe that practicing these things builds narratives skills which we know is one of the things that will help young children learn to read later on.
When I was a children’s librarian, I saw this phenomenon play out thousands of times in my own storytimes. Although I still cannot find much scholarly research to back this audacious claim, I believe felt stories are important early literacy tools that offer children rich multimodal learning opportunities. I have observed that for many children the felt board is their favorite part of storytime, especially when they get to participate in the storytelling. I always let kids take turns playing with the felt pieces after storytime and observed their little brains figuring out how to retell the story they had just learned. They often created new and hilarious stories with the felt shapes too, like the time a child used the colored dots from the story Dog’s Colorful Day to re-color Dog’s eyeballs!
Why use felt stories in storytime?
- Felt stories offer engaging, visual experiences
- Felt stories can also offer sensory, physical, linguistic, and interactive experiences
- Felt stories are simple and inexpensive early literacy tool that you can make yourself
Are felt stories inclusive?
Yes! I have developed lots of storytimes designed to be inclusive of children with disabilities. Felt stories were always key features of these programs. I observed that children with a variety of developmental and sensory disabilities benefited from the multimodality of felt stories which helped them stay engaged, learn new words, and have fun.
Recommended flannel board / felt board story resources
This workshop handout is everything newcomers to felt stories need to get started including: the basics of making your own felt stories; suggestions for stories to make; and how to rehearse your felt stories in advance.
This initiative is a great example of crowd-sourcing! Storytime bloggers share their felt story projects on Fridays via Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook.
If you are not already familiar with the treasure trove of storytime wisdom at Jbrary.com, today is a good day to start. This post is perfect for newcomers but also great for everyone who wants a refresher on the topic.
Although mainly designed for teachers, this section of Kizclub has some handy patterns for folks who want to start making their own felt stories and other story props.
Did you know that clean pizza boxes make awesome portable felt story kits! Here’s how to make them!
A fantastic storytime blog all the time, this post focuses on felt stories and is a must-read for anyone keen on upping their felt story game.
From another utterly essential blog for storytime folks, this post points you to dozens of felt story patterns. Get your flannel pieces, scissors and glue out, you’re making a felt story!
Arnold, R., & Colburn, N. (2004). Children of the cloth. School Library Journal, 50(12), 37.
Pictured above is one of my favourite felt stories (Froggy Gets Dressed). Please share your latest felt creations in the comments!
Tess Prendergast was a children’s librarian for over twenty years and now teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She has served on many ALSC committees and is currently serving on the 2023 Geisel Award committee. You can read more about her work here and here.