by Dawn Heisel, Virginia Public Library

As a long-time lover of flannel (and not just for my pajamas) I was excited
about this presentation, especially since flannel stories are gaining a new
“cache” in Libraryland.  Monica Stratton and Anna Haase Krueger, both young
librarians from Ramsey County, prepared a room filled with enticingly cute
flannel displays and talked about how they created them and used them in their
libraries.  I’m sure they didn’t notice my sneaky attempt to steal their
ideas with surreptitious clicks of my I-phone!

For those of you who don’t know, flannel stories are loved by just about
everyone.  They are fun to make, fun to use, and after storytime I always
see children having great fun playing on the flannel board.  They are made
from basic sheets of felt and are relatively simple props.  Librarians use
them as additional support for teaching early literacy skills since many flannel
sets help increase children’s narrative skills, math skills, or letter
knowledge.  Anna and Monica talked about their use of flannel boards and
the need to have appropriately sized visuals.  When it comes to flannels,
size matters.  Nothing will lose the attention of a young child quicker
than having a tiny little strawberry they can hardly see instead of a big,
juicy, luscious strawberry seen by all right to the back of the room. 

Monica and Anna also addressed the need to keep it simple.  For
instance, some stories are just too long to use effectively with flannels, while
others are a natural fit.  Numbering pieces and keeping them in the order
of presentation are two techniques for making a flannel story successful. 
In addition, a board with a false horizon, or attached to an easel can make it
easier to place items on the board so that they make sense to the viewers. 
Practice will make everything perfect.  Don’t assume because the flannel
might be simple that you remember it from last year.  A quick review and
practice of placements on the board will be far better than attempting to do it
cold.

So, after decades of using flannels in my storytimes, I was surprised when
a basic materials review  netted me a great new idea.  The use of a
thicker piece of black felt on the back can make flannels seem more three
dimensional – and definitely more attractive.  Some flannels can simply be
glued to a larger piece of black felt so that there is an outline of black to
set off the flannel.  Other flannels make a better visual if they are cut
into sections and attached to the black background with spacing between the
sections. The section method is an easy way to create interior lines since
drawing neatly on flannel is nearly impossible – and very frustrating.

Anna and Monica discussed ways to store their flannels as well as where to
find new sources of patterns.  File folders or notebooks with plastic sheet
protectors are good ways to keep your sets organized.  As for source, 
Flannel Fridays is an invaluable online resource with children’s librarians from
around the world posting their patterns and discussing ideas for new flannel
activities.  Anyone can join at http://flannelfridaystorytime.blogspot.com/.  
One warning though: making new flannels can be addictive!
Our session ended with a hands-on activity.  Each participant had time
to begin making their own flannel fingerplay using the black felt
technique.  So, the last few minutes of my very first session were spent
cheerfully snipping felt and getting up close and personal with tacky
glue.  A great way to start any day!