Storyteller weaves flannel tales


Felt storyboards bring familiar stories to life

Jan Fauntleroy's colorful felt cut out brings "The Rainbow Fish" to life.

When it's too wet to go out and too cold to play ball, you can sit in the house and do nothing at all. Or you can take out a felt board and tell stories all day.

"Flannel storytelling is something fun to do when your kids say they're bored or when nothing seems to be making your toddler happy," says veteran preschool teacher and storyteller Jan Fauntleroy from the Gan Shalom Early Childhood Center in Chicago. "Felt stories bring images to life for young children and the movement of the pieces on the board really holds their attention."

Fauntleroy started adapting books and folk tales into colorful visual stories 15 years ago as a way to help her young students learn to sit and listen to a story. Now, through her new venture, Heart Felt Stories, Fauntleroy also leads ongoing flannel story times for the Francis Parker Day School, Children's Memorial Hospital and others.

"I started with a simple rhyme, ‘The Three Little Speckled Frogs,' and the kids were completely captivated," she says. "They loved to see the frogs jumping into the pond and eating the bugs! And I thought, ‘Ah ha, now we're on to something.'"

Here are some of her storytelling tips for parents who want to captivate their own kids:

• Adapt a story to make a point. A parent once told Fauntleroy she was having trouble getting her child to sleep in his own bed. "I told ‘The Napping House' story to the class," she says, "and in the story no one was comfortable sleeping in the same bed and everyone wakes up grouchy. But the next day everyone sleeps in their own bed and wakes up happy. The moral comes across in a way they can understand. They seem to get the message."

• Ask open-ended questions. Fauntleroy followed "The Napping House" by asking questions such as: What would make Mom and Dad not so cranky in the morning? Why was everyone smiling the next day? Why is it important to get a good night's sleep?

• Keep it moving. Most children enjoy the action of moving pieces on the board.

• Create your own pieces. While Fauntleroy admits to spending three months creating the sea creatures for her version of the "The Rainbow Fish," she insists you don't have to be crafty to create great stories. Ready-made felt pieces are available in a variety of themes at most craft stores and several books offer easy-to-duplicate patterns. Most fabric stores carry fleece or fabric with characters that can be cut out and mounted on felt. A shoe box covered with felt can double as a storyboard and storage for your pieces.

• Encourage children to be storytellers. Children are their own best audiences and telling tales lets them flex their imagination.

• Have fun. "Children love to see their parents animated and a little goofy," she says. "Storytelling offers the perfect outlet for both."

Monica Ginsburg


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