Give Your Flannelboard an Early Math Makeover!

by Jessica Fredrickson / Emeritus CLEL Training and Advocacy Chair

As Melody Garcia recently posted on the CLEL Blog, early math skills are essential to both later math AND reading success! Reading math picture books in storytime is one great way to help young children build early math skills. 

The flannel board is another powerful tool! Many of us already do counting songs and rhymes during storytime. Here are some suggestions to enrich the math in your flannel routine:

  1. Use different sizes, shapes and types – not just different colors. Variety is the spice of life AND the secret to a robust early math flannel board!
  2. Keep it fresh by using different quantities, not always counting up to/down from 5 or 10. When using the flannel board with young toddlers, focus on quantities they can perceive innately (subitizing), which is 3 or less.
  3. When counting, always name the WHAT as well as the HOW MANY (e.g. 3 bears in the bed). Studies demonstrate that children’s understanding of quantity is significantly better by age 4 when their caregivers consistently name the quantity being counted.
  4. Model one-to-one correspondence while counting – that is, pointing to each object as you count.
  5. After asking how many, move a flannel piece into a different position, then ask how many again. This helps children develop number conservation – the knowledge that the number of objects in a set remains the same, regardless of physical arrangement.
  6. After naming “how many,” ask children to show that quantity using their fingers. This helps children develop number sense – connecting quantities to number names.
  7. Interrupt your rote counting routine! Help children develop a meaningful understanding of numbers by asking different kinds of questions. For example, you could pause during a rendition of “Ten in the Bed” to ask if there are MORE bears in the bed… or MORE bears on the floor?
  8. Engage in math talk beyond counting! For example, talk about similarities/differences. Attributes are the foundation of all math understanding.
  9. Just like with dialogic reading, be mindful of how many questions you ask. Early math talk should be a conversation, not a quiz!

For example, here’s a dinosaur flannel I adapted from Mel’s Desk:

I enlarged the original pattern to make dinosaurs of different sizes, types and colors. I made oodles and oodles of felt dinosaurs so that children and caregivers could each have one. When I use this flannel board in storytime, I first pass out the dinosaurs and encourage families to compare/contrast. How are their dinosaurs the same? How are their dinosaurs different? Whose dinosaur is bigger? Whose dinosaur is smaller? And so on.

Then I stick one dinosaur on the board and we sing our song:

One stegosaurus went out to play

On a giant fern one day.

They had such enormous fun,

They called for more stegosauruses to come!

(repeat with different dinosaur types)

The children then bring their appropriate dinosaur up to the flannel board. Depending on the size of the crowd, we might stop after a verse every now and then to count how many dinosaurs are on the board. After all the dinosaurs have made their way up, there’s opportunity for even more math talk! We can group dinosaurs by different attributes (e.g. size or type). We can compare which group has the most/least. We can discuss which dinosaur a hungry tyrannosaurus rex puppet would most like to eat!

Want to know more about Early Math in Storytime? CLEL Members can access a 2022 CLEL Conference presentation on the Latest and Greatest in Early Math Picture Books through the CLEL Training Archives. Not a member? Join now

About the Author: Jessica Fredrickson is a former kindergarten teacher turned youth services librarian. Jessica is the Emeritus Training and Advocacy Chair for Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL). Professionally, Jessica is known for advocating for accessibility and giving storytime flannels early math makeovers. Her favorite things include tea, mountain hikes and middle grade fiction.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position or opinion of the Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy organization or the individual committee members.