Felt Board Fun (Making and Using Your Own Feltboard and Figures)
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on October 13, 2010
Special note: I wrote this article years ago, and it originally appeared in Home School Enrichment Magazine. It is re-printed with permission. I added the pictures; they are from my own felt board sets. Be sure to peek after the article for links to some of the resources I describe; a couple of the links are also embedded in the pictures.
A note to parents of school-aged children: Felt board sets are also wonderful for older children; many of the companies listed below also sell sets designed for older children, so don’t skip this article! (there’s a human body set, for instance–put the organs in their proper place!)
Sunday school was always something I looked forward to when I was young. My two favorite things about Sunday school were the music and the stories. I always got excited when my teacher pulled out her felt board to illustrate—it made the story special. Sometimes, if we were especially good during the story, she would even choose some of us to put the figures up on the board—the ultimate reward.
The felt board has been a traditional part of Sunday schools, preschools, and kindergartens for 50 years or more. When I was young, I had a small felt board set of my own at home, as did many of my friends. Nowadays, however, felt boards are nearly forgotten.
Felt boards deserve to be saved from their untimely demise. They can be used for more than just illustrating stories; they can be used as serious early learning tools. Felt boards can do things that books can’t. They don’t just tell stories—they let your child participate in the story. Felt boards can be used to retell stories in new and creative ways, or to practice the sequence of the stories (what happened at the beginning? The middle? The end?) Felt boards can also be used for practice and reinforcement of new concepts, for games, and for other hands-on learning activities. They can be used to teach letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and much more—but most of all, they are fun!
Felt boards and felt board sets can be purchased pre-made—you can even buy the figures pre-cut and pre-colored so that they are ready to go—but what fun would that be? It’s cheaper and more fun to make your own. And when you make your own, you will be able to customize your sets according to your children’s needs and interests.
Making your own felt board and felt board figures is easy—and doesn’t take many supplies. You don’t even have to be artistic. If you can trace lines and color, you can make your own felt board figures.
If you are interested in making some felt fun for your children, you need to learn a couple of secrets.
The first secret: felt boards aren’t covered with felt. A real “felt” felt board quickly frays and pills, turning quite ugly. The best covering for a felt board is actually flannel. Another secret: not all felt board pieces are made of felt. The best material for homemade pieces is pellon. Pellon, otherwise known as interfacing, is used to stiffen and reinforce clothing (especially around the collar and button areas). It is available anywhere fabric and sewing notions are sold. The pellon you choose should be thick and smooth—and not the iron-on variety.
Making Your Own Felt Board
If you can wrap a present, you can make your own felt board quickly and easily. Here is what you will need:
• Particle board or some other thinly cut board, in whatever size you choose (even heavy cardboard will work in a pinch). I like my boards to measure around 20” x 25”. For church use, bigger is better. For a personal felt board, 14” x 14” is a fun size.
• A yard or so of blue flannel to cover the board.
• Masking tape or staple gun
To make the felt board, simply wrap the board in flannel, in the same way you would wrap a present. Lay two layers of the flannel on a table or other hard surface, smoothing out all the wrinkles. Next, center the board on top of the flannel. Pull the flannel over to the back of the board, one side at a time. Tape or staple it in place. Next, do the opposite side, checking to be sure that the flannel is not wrinkled. Continue until all the sides are secured.
To make your own felt board figures you’ll need:
• Pellon (start with ¼ to ½ a yard)
• Sharpie brand permanent markers (especially black ones)
• Oil pastel crayons (I like Cray-Pas brand)
• Sharp scissors (small ones work best)
• Patterns or ideas for your figures. There are several different options for this—picture books, pictures cut from a magazine, or felt board pattern books (my choice). My favorite pattern book is Felt Board Fun for Everyday and Holidays by Dick Wilmes, Liz Wilmes, and Donna Dane (you can find it on http://www.amazon.com). You might be able to find other, older pattern books that include felt board stories at your local library. An example of what you might look for is the book Story Telling with the Flannel Board, Book One, by Paul S. Anderson (there are at least three volumes).
To make your own felt board pieces, use a pattern from one of these felt board books or use a simple children’s book such as A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni (trace only the chameleons), or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? by Bill Martin for a pattern. Lay the pellon over the picture you want to recreate. Use a Sharpie brand pen to trace over the lines, leaving out any intricate detail.* If you are making a story, it’s a good idea to number the pieces in the order they will be used. Next, color the pieces as desired with the oil pastels. Cut around the pieces and they are ready to go.
Another option: save catalog and magazine clippings and use rubber cement to glue a piece of pellon onto the back of them; this makes an instant felt board piece.
I put my finished pieces into labeled zipper bags, or into file folders that I staple along three sides.
Using Your Felt Board
Letters, numbers, shapes, and animals are great first felt board pieces to make. Use them to practice counting and to match numerals to sets. (For example, make one cow, two ducks, three dogs, and so on; have your child find the animals that are alike, and then put the correct number by each set of animals.) A really fun idea is to make a farmer and various animals to illustrate the song “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” (The patterns for these are in Felt Board Fun for Everyday and Holidays.)
You can create a fun game by making small, medium, and large-sized apples. Find any simple apple pattern and enlarge or reduce it on a copy machine. Draw a simple worm or caterpillar, too. To play the game, place the apples on the board. Ask your child to point to the large apple, the medium-sized apple, and the small apple. Next, show your child the worm. Tell him that worms love to eat apples. Have your child close his eyes while you hide the worm under one of the apples. When your child opens his eyes, have him guess which apple the worm is eating: is he hidden under the large, medium, or small apple? To extend this activity, have your child place the worm on the apple, under the apple, below the apple, beside the apple, and so on.
• Make the alphabet letters, then have your child match upper and lower case.
• Put the letters in alphabetical order.
• Pick out letters and name them.
• Pick out letters and say their sound.
• Pick out letters and spell their name.
• Beginning readers can use the letters to practice word families. Put up the letters “a” and “t.”. Read “at,” then add sounds at the beginning of the word to change it (add “c” to spell “cat” and so on).
• Point to the numbers and practice counting, and later, skip counting.
• Label objects/sets with the correct number.
• Name the shapes.
• Make structures and designs with the shapes.
• Put the same shapes into a set.
• Put the same color shapes into a set.
• Tell the story to your child, and then have him tell it to you, putting the appropriate figures on the felt board.
• Retell the story in a creative way, changing a dog for a cat, etc, or changing the ending.
With finger plays:
• It is simple to make figures to illustrate finger plays such as Five Little Ducks, Five Little Monkeys, Five Green and Speckled Frogs, etc. You can also number the figures so that your child can see the count down.
For creative play:
• Let your child make up his own stories and play with the felt board. This works especially well when you use themed sets (Christmas figures, pre-made Bible figures, and so on).
The felt board is a great tool that parents can use to teach their children valuable skills in a fun, game-like way. I hope you will try some felt-board fun with your children.
*(An extra note about copying pictures directly from books: Make sure the pen doesn’t bleed through the pellon to the book. If you are worried that it will bleed through, your solution is to trace the pattern onto plain white tissue paper with a pencil or regular ink pen. Then lay your pattern onto the pellon. Use a Sharpie pen to trace over the pattern; it will bleed through to the pellon and make your pattern.)
This article is copyrighted to Home School Enrichment Magazine and is used with permission. Pictures and extra text © 2010 Susan Lemons, all rights reserved.
Felt Board Fun for Everyday and Holidays, by Liz and Dick Wilmes (I haven’t seen their other felt board books, but would guess that they are great, too! This is my all-time favorite felt resource book.
Story Telling with the Flannel Board, by Paul S. Anderson (there are 3 volumes to this; they are old and out of print. I don’t like every story in this series, but many of them are considered “classics” or “staples” in preschool classrooms.)
Free Online Resources:
Tutorial with pictures–making your own flannel board: Maya Made
Preschool Printables: Printable felt board patterns/stories
Billy Bear 4 Kids: Printable felt board patterns/stories
Other Articles/Ways to Use Feltboards in your homeschool: (remember, they do make felts for older children, too!)
Check out You Tube for more ideas–making flannel boards and figures, and how to use them!
Remember: The the best boards are made of flannel, not felt. You can glue pellon, felt, velcro, or sand paper to paper pictures and they will stick to your board. Of course, you can use felt board pieces, too!
Final tips: In addition to pellon, you can purchase milk filters from dairy supply stores for making your figures. They are heavy and stiff, and pre-cut in a medium-sized circle shape. Don’t forget to color your figures with Sharpies and Cray-Pas (oil pastels!)
And most of all…have fun!