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New York City
April 2001

Making a Feltboard Story for Tots

by Margaret Blachly

Whenever we get out the feltboard at circletime in our 3’s classroom, the children cheer, “A feltboard story! Yay!” The feltboard stories we tell are fairy tales or popular children’s books adapted for a feltboard. Besides being fun to tell and listen to, feltboard stories encourage emergent literacy skills in the children, like story sequencing, repetition and plot prediction, word patterns and vocabulary.

However, early on in the school year, the teachers in our classroom came to a troubling realization: this favorite group activity did not always support our inclusive, anti-bias curriculum. One day last fall, the class was listening to an all-time favorite, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The teacher was having fun dramatizing the story based on the colorful paper cutouts on the feltboard. “The daddy bear was a BIG, TALL bear with a loooow voice,” she narrated in a low voice. “The mama bear was soft and plump, and she loved sitting on her cushiony pink chair,” she spoke in a sugary voice. “And they had a little baby boy.”

As raptly attentive as the children were, it was apparent that something wasn’t right: the gender stereotypes that the original tale perpetuated were out of date. Looking at the children, we saw children whose families had a mommy, but not a daddy, families with a mommy and a grandparent, two mommies, brothers and sisters. The families in our classroom were a beautiful example of diversity, but this story was encouraging the very stereotypes that an anti-bias curriculum strives to dissolve.

Now we have made a new version of the Goldilocks story. Our set contains two adult bears and two child-size bears, four beds, chairs and bowls, and two children with different skin tones. All of the figures are gender-neutral. With the four bears, we can create family structures that represent every family in the class.

The first time we told “Goldilocks” using our new set, the teacher told the children they were going to hear a “new old story.” Everything about the narration was the same except that the bear family had only a baby bear and a mommy bear. “What about the daddy bear?” demanded the children. The teacher explained that this bear family had only a baby bear and a mommy bear, and that was the family. We had already discussed how different teachers tell the same story in different ways. This was just a different way to tell “Goldilocks.” The children accepted this and listened happily to the story.

The next week we told the story with two mommy bears. This time the children were not surprised; rather, they looked around at their peers and said , “Oh yeah, just like some of us have two mommies in our family!” They now look forward to the variations. We even sometimes make Goldilocks a boy. Now the children tell each other the feltboard stories, often choosing bears that represent their own families, or the family of one of their peers. It is still one of the most popular stories we tell, but now the assumption that children gain from the subtext is that families can be many different ways, and that all families are valued in our classroom.

New adaptations of familiar stories have revolutionized storytelling in our classroom, and have opened the doors to discussions and revelations that foster acceptance and celebration of diversity.

Materials for making a feltboard story:

• feltboard (can be purchased or made by covering a large piece of wood or cardboard with felt)

• a favorite story

• felt or paper cutout representing the characters and objects in the story. Illustrations in books can be color-copied and laminated, with a small piece of felt glued to the back to stick it to the feltboard.

Ms. Blachly is a 3’s teacher at Bank Street’s Family Center.


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All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.