New to Storytime: Using Felt Stories

Welcome back to my New to Storytime series. It’s been awhile! These posts are aimed at people just starting out as storytime leaders. It’s really fun, I promise. This post will cover the basics of picking felt stories and songs and using them with small children in storytime or circle time setting. Don’t miss the other posts in this series:

Getting Started

Choosing a felt story or song can be daunting. My tip for beginners, especially if you are new to storytelling in general, is to start with a simple song. I’ve shared many of the felt songs I use weekly and I use them because they are so easy to incorporate. Already have a favourite storytime song? Try making felt pieces to go along with it and incorporate them before or during singing. Here are some examples:

I whipped these up to act as a visual guide for toddlers and preschoolers as we sing the songs. You don’t have to learn anything new in this case – you already know the song!

If you want try a felt story, choose something with a basic plot, a manageable amount of felt pieces (sorry, Very Hungry Caterpillar) and repetition. The felt pieces themselves act as a trigger to help you remember what to say, though you can also have a printed copy of the story on your lap or beside you as a guide. Sometimes I highlight the key words on the paper to help me remember the order of things. The great thing with felt stories is that you don’t have to tell a story word-for-word. You can use the pieces as your guide and make it your own. Here are some examples of simple stories that are easy to learn. All of the pictures are from Storytime Katie because she’s the bomb when it comes to felt stories:

These three examples are based on books. Just like with books, it’s important to practice felt stories ahead of time. Grab your felt board and let’s get started!

How To Use

There are a few things to do to set yourself up for success when using felt or flannel stories. Firstly, practice, practice, practice. Consider the following:

  • Do all of the pieces fit on my felt board? Do I need to arrange them in a certain order for them all to fit or make sense?
  • What colour is my felt board? If it’s black do I have any pieces that are hard to see?
  • Where will I store my felt pieces when I’m not using them during the storytime? Do I have a place on an easel, a table behind me, a special storytime bag, etc? Are they easily accessible to little hands?
  • Do I have the words to the story printed or have I memorized the story?

Before every storytime I take the time to put all of the pieces I’m using in order. Trust me, you do not want to be scrambling to find the next felt piece in the middle of the story! Once the pieces are in order I find a secure place to store them until I need them during storytime. My felt board easel has a tray on the inside where I can tuck away my felt story until I’m ready to tell it. Out of sight is better for little ones who will be tempted to come up and grab it if they spy it!

Introduce Vocabulary

One way to use felt pieces is to introduce the vocabulary in a song or story. For example, before we sing Zoom, Zoom, Zoom I put up the rocket ship. Then I ask kids if they are ready to go on an adventure. How will we get there? I point to the rocket ship and we say it together. Where should we go? I put up the moon and get kids to tell me our destination. Next we warm up our engines (rub our hands together). All of that vocabulary frontloading is done with the felt pieces before we sing the song. After a few weeks the kids instantly know what song we are about to sing as soon as I pull out the rocket ship. You can easily do the same for a story with unique vocabulary.

Practice Early Numeracy

Flannels are a natural fit for incorporating early counting and number skills with kids because they provide a visual aid that helps little ones see numbers. Flannel Friday has a Pinterest board filled with counting ideas and Storytime Katie has a list of her Five Little Whatsits if you need inspiration. My favourite counting story to use with felt pieces or puppets is Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd. If you use a counting rhyme take some time to put all of the pieces up first and ask the kids about them – what are they wearing, how are they different, how are they the same, what do you notice? This encourages the early literacy practice of talking and incorporates math and scientific thinking in a fun way. Here are two I’ve shared on Jbrary:

Simple Games

Don’t feel like singing or telling a story? Try playing a game with your felt pieces! My all time favourite is any variation of Little Mouse, Little Mouse. Seriously. I have a blog post with a bajillion renditions. See how it’s done:

There are so many game ideas out there though! If you have a small group and can give kids the chance to take turns to come up and interact with the felt pieces that’s even better. Some librarians leave the pieces up after storytime too so that kids who really want a chance to play get access to the story. Here are some other game ideas:

Have kids build a castle using shapes by Mel’s Desk
Key Shadow Matching by Felt Board Magic – shapes, colours, similaries, and differences!

Using flannel pieces as games is a low stress way to integrate them into your storytime. You don’t have to memorize anything, there are endless options, and there is no one “right” way for kids to interact. It also encourages lots of open-ended conversations where you can model the serve-and-return model of talking to kids.

Making Felt Pieces

You do not need to be an artist or a crafty person to make some awesome felt pieces. Trust me. Here are some tips and resources for building up your collection.

  • Clipart and Google Images are your friend – you don’t even need felt! Printing some nice pictures and taping them or clipping them up for the kids to see still provides that visual cue which is so helpful in toddler language acquisition.
  • Bigger is Better: I love how Mel makes oversized flannel pieces for her babies and toddlers. It makes so much sense – they can actually see them and manipulate them better. If you have a big group I also recommend going large over small if you’re board can fit them.
  • Keep Calm and Use Clipart: In this post by Storytime in the Stacks, she walks you through how she uses clipart to create her felt pieces. She includes a list of websites where you can get clipart for a fee or for free.
  • Flannel Friday: This online community has myriad felt stories arranged by theme. They link back to the blog post where the flannel was shared.
  • Flannel Board Fun: If you do have some money to invest I HIGHLY recommend checking out Wendy’s shop. Colourful, well-made, and she shares ideas for how to use each set on Instagram!

Alright folks, what did I miss? Any tips or tricks you’d give to a new storytimer when it comes to use felt or flannel stories? If you’re a newbie and have questions, feel free to leave a comment!

6 thoughts on “New to Storytime: Using Felt Stories

  1. Our library has some enormous felt pieces for stories – so large that only one piece at a time will fit on the board. Fortunately the tables in our community room swing up for easy storage, with the surface verticle. The verticle table top is perfect for taping the over sized pieces on, and there’s plenty of room for even the biggest felts. If you don’t have the perfect flannel board, get creative and use what you do have available!

    1. Excellent advice, Paula! I love how you use the felts at the end of storytime to teach turn-taking. Such a great way to help every child practice and also get that positive reinforcement from you and their caregiver.

  2. Well, what a lovely surprise! Since I always learn something new from you, I had to read this post—and lo and behold you mentioned me!! Thank you so much—and as I suspected, such a great and comprehensive post.

  3. Thanks for another great post and the shout out, Lindsey! How and why I use flannels has changed so much since I started. I used to make flannels willy nilly, and now I’m a lot more picky about what I invest the time and energy into making… plus I’m running out of storage space!

    I still love flannels for all the reasons you mentioned and more! Flannels are so fun and are a great way to build many skills besides. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how flannels can support the many math skills besides early numeracy (and even number sense by itself is a lot more than counting)! The more I’ve learned about early math, the more I’ve moved away from just 5 whats-its counting flannels. Now we count up more often than down, because learning to count up comes first developmentally. We don’t always start/stop with the sacred 5 or 10, either. Sometimes we count up/down from 3, from 4, from 6, etc.

    I blame the Center for Early Childhood Creativity! Their paper on school readiness really encouraged me to explore that connection between literacy and math and really changed my thinking. I blogged a little about my math learning journey here: https://storytimeinthestacks.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/flannel-friday-10-juicy-dog-bones/.

    1. Yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about early numeracy too. Flannels would be a great tool for this. Over the years I’ve also changed my preference for flannels that are large (good for those babies and toddlers) and can be used in multiple different ways. Mel shares a bunch of these on her blog like her ocean set where you can sing a song with it, sort it, talk about it, play with it, etc. So much more versatile that story-based flannels, although those are still great too. If you would ever consider writing a guest post on Jbrary specifically about early numeracy and how you practice/encourage it in storytime I would be honoured to share it 🙂

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