Felt boards (or flannel boards) as a fun and/or educational group activity

Copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC

Felt boards and flannel boards provide hours of fun and educational group activities. I recall loving them as a child, and my cousin and I spending entire afternoons cutting and gluing new felt shapes to be used on the boards.

At the bottom of the page we give basic instructions for making one. We also give instructions for creating images that can be used on the felt flannel board. But first…

Unique ways to enjoy your felt board

1. Combine a felt board story read by you with free play with the felt board for the kids afterwards: Read a short fairy tale for which you have the felt images, such as the Three Little Pigs, occasionally moving the characters around on the board when necessary, then give children a box of additional felt images to play with as free play.

There’s almost nothing like the combination of structured creative activity (reading the story and watching you work with the felt board) followed by related free play (the kids playing on the felt board themselves). The structured activity focuses their minds, gives them a role model (you) they need to ignite their own imaginations, then gives them the tools and freedom to express it. Pure free play with no starter is a completely different animal. It’s good to use occasionally, but this combination of structure and freedom is great.

2. Allow the kids to help make a few images with your instructions, then allow them freedom and materials to make more images from patterns they choose themselves or from their own imaginations. You may need to mentor at first with the younger kids to make sure too much felt isn’t completely wasted for experiments that go wrong.

3. Make felt boards large enough for cooperative imaginative play, and/or make a smaller personal felt board for each child, but making new images and playing with the boards individually can still be done as a group activity.

4. Hold a felt-making workshop for kids to make felt. Various kits and DIY instructions are widely available.

5. Every month or so, remove worn, tattered images (make sure they're not beloved favorites, though!) and allow your kids to do a treasure hunt to find more images and a fresh batch of colorful felt to make their own new ones. (See more about image sources below).

Making felt boards and flannel boards

Smaller felt boards are made by cutting a piece of strong, thick cardboard without any bends to the chosen size, then cutting a piece of felt about an inch larger on all sides. Glue the felt to the cardboard with school glue, bending the excess felt onto the back and gluing it down. At the corners, you’ll make a nicer edge by snipping a one-inch slit in the corners at a diagonal before bending them back.

For larger or sturdier felt boards, people prefer to use plywood, masonite, or non-toxic cork board, usually ½ to ¼ inch thick. I’d suggest avoiding using conventional particle board that can outgas toxic fumes.

The flannel usually used for these larger flannel boards is a little thinner than most felt (think pajamas), so some people prefer to stretch it over the backing material and staple it down.

Making felt flannel board images

You’ll be cutting out shapes from various colors of felt to be used on the felt board. If the shape is cut out of felt, then it will already naturally stick to the felt flannel board. If you cut out shapes from other materials, then you’ll glue felt or sandpaper in various areas on the back of the image to make it stick to the felt board.

- You can pin or tape coloring book images onto the felt, then cut around them for the basic shape. You can then either remove the paper image and fill in the shape with fabric markers, glitter, glue-on eyes, feathers, buttons, sequins, yarn, more felt and so on. Or, the coloring book image can already be colored and actually glued instead of pinned onto the felt itself to be used as is on the felt board. The felt you glued it to was just used for stiffness and to make it stick.

- You can choose heat transfer designs meant for T shirts and iron them onto white felt. Then, trim around the shape.

- Use cookie cutters, the edges of drinking glasses, and craft store stencil templates of various shapes and letters as image outlines.

- If you’re planning to have a treasure chest full of lots of images for your felt boards that kids can dip into, remember to include basic shapes such as rods and circles and ovals, rectangles and “blobs.” Also, include “parts” of shapes, such as breaking a possible tree shape into many separate leaves and trunk choices. This allows the kids to use their imaginations more. Kids also love to play with human shapes that appear to just be wearing, for example, a leotard, and then trying out various clothes, masks, hats and hair styles.

- There are also pre-made felt board story images, such as those needed for specific fairy tales and Bible stories.

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