Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Flannel Board Basics

(reposted from January 2012 blog article)

I know what some of you are thinking . . . flannel boards are so yesterday, there are so many things today to engage children. You're right of course, there are no flashy screens or buttons to click but a flannel board has some essential elements that today's media options don't. For one thing they are very tactile and can encourage creativity. Let's not forget it's a fun learning tool. Here are some ideas for making your own.

The Concept
While it's called either a Flannel Board or Felt Board you can use materials other than these. You need material that has "nap" which is consistent throughout the fabric. Carpeting can work well as the base for the board section as long as the nap is not plush or too deep. Nap is the fuzzy ends of the material which you can feel move when you touch it . . . a smooth woven fabric has very little nap while flannel has an obvious nap which you can feel. When you place the figures and shapes onto the board they will stay in place without any adhesive, can be moved or removed easily - if you have a material that can do that then you're in business. Traditionally flannel boards were used as a visual addition to telling a story. Think of the story of the Three Little Pigs for example. The story can be told and the figures manipulated on the flannel board by an adult or child to illustrate the story. A flannel board can go further in encouraging the concepts of sequence, labeling, problem solving, relational connections, counting, quantity, letter identification and much more.

Making Your Board

View from the back
Boards can be made in many ways. Let's explore a few options.
1) Select a base: a large piece of cardboard, foam core board, particle board or the like. You'll want to choose something that will allow for the board to be used vertically. Although you can also use them on the floor. We would prop ours on the easel and use the paint tray area to hold the figures and shapes.
2) Select your fabric base: flannel, felt, carpeting, fleece, etc. Remember nap is important so the figures stay on the board.
3) The amount of fabric you'll need is dependent on the size of your base. You'll need enough to wrap your fabric around to the back of the board to secure. If you choose carpeting you'll not be able to wrap the board as easily so you'll need to consider how to finish off the edges. Carpet squares have bound edges which would be a good choice.
4) Wrap your board base with the fabric like you are wrapping a present. Secure the fabric to the back of the board. I prefer using a strong glue over staples but I've also had a lot of success with duct tape. As you are wrapping make sure that the front of the board fabric stays smooth and flat.

Figures and Shapes

Frogs on a Log
Like the board base you can use a variety of materials for the figures and shapes. You don't have to be an artist to create the figures, often all you need to do is trace. Children also like to make their own figures and shapes so encourage them in being creative. You can use cookie cutters for tracing out basic shapes or figures. If you do an online search you'll find all kinds of ideas and patterns.  Pellon - You'll find pellon in different weights at your local fabric store. It is a fused material used in sewing to bring form and support. Usually for collars or cuffs of shirts. What is great about pellon is that it has a translucent quality so you can trace easily. Markers work well on pellon, just remember to put something under the pellon (a piece of paper will work) when coloring in areas as it has a porous quality.
Felt - Felt comes in different weights and firmness. You can find it at a fabric or craft store. It is sold by the yard or in sheets. It's durable and holds up well to hours of play. Over time it can lose it's firmness and get "fuzzy" so you may need to replace figures as needed. I've found the flannel or fleece isn't "stiff" enough to offer support for figures or shapes.

Paper Figures
Paper - Yes, you can use paper but you'll need to back it with something that will adhere to the board. Paper figures and shapes can be backed with flannel, felt, pellon or Velcro. If you want to use Velcro you'll need the "hook" side rather than the "loop" side. Velcro can be purchased in pre-cut packages or by the yard like ribbon. Adhere the Velcro to the wrong side of a paper or cardboard shape and you are good to go. This means that children's drawings can easily come to life on the flannel board.
We'd love to hear from you about uses and materials for flannel board stories and games. Please comment!
Next week we'll share some great flannel board stories, rhymes, songs and games. We could share your's just send us a comment.

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