I haven’t always loved flannels. Honestly, when I started working with youth and studying how others did storytimes, I was shocked that there was such a big emphasis on storytelling and games that used felt crafts. In my mind, I always pictured the flannelboards that were used by the elderly women who taught Sunday School. You know, the ones from the seventies and eighties that had screenprinted graphics on white, flat felt. I wasn’t overly fond of that image.
Time after time, though, I saw that most other librarians seemed to love using them so I decided to give it a try. To go along with an owl-themed storytime, I created five colorful owls to use as a counting activity. Simple enough for a first attempt. I took them with me, along with a small flannelboard, into preschools where I was doing outreach. The kids went bonkers for them.
“How do they stay up there?”
“Can we touch them?”
“How did you make these?”
It was like I hauled a magical wardrobe into the room and let them peer into Narnia. Who knew?
I still don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog entry or article on how telling stories and playing games with flannels helps build literacy skills so I’m here to give my personal perspective on why I think flannel stories are still valuable parts of storytime.
- They build narrative concepts. I have two ways of using flannel stories. One way is to hold a book in my lap or print out the words from a document and read it as I go along, putting up pieces and moving them around as the story progresses. The second way is to memorize a simple story and tell it as I do the same. The first method allows children to see how print tells us the story, not just the pictures. They can see me looking at the words and pointing them out, so they start to see how important reading is to telling and understanding a story. It’s clear that I’m not just looking at the pictures and making up the story as I go along.
The second method allows them to see that a story can still live in your imagination. They can see me create, seemingly from nowhere, parts of a plot and they realize that they can do the same. This leads to my second advantage.
- It gives children props to help them retell or create a story. I let the kids play with my flannel pieces after storytime and often, they try retelling the story we did that day. They may not remember all the words, but usually they remember something about how the pieces interacted with each other and they can piece together a similar story.
This isn’t just with flannels, either. I also let kids play with my puppets and finger puppets and they use them the same way. Sometimes they even want me to teach them the script for how I used them that day. “Can you teach me all the words you said today?” It’s so sweet.
- They just really, really like them. During my post-storytime playtime, the kids always want to play with the pieces, but I rarely see them look through a book again. It’s not something that I’m really promoting as better than books. No way. It’s just that if something as beneficial and easy as a flannel game or story can keep a child’s interest more than a book, I’m not really fighting it. It’s just another tool for learning.