Flannel Board Lust


Who knew when I started reading salon.com’s new column ‘Object Lust’ that I would fall victim to this deadly sin? Who could have predicted that the object of my attraction would be a flannel board?

Of course, it isn’t just any flannel board: it is Betty Luken’s Through the Bible in Felt, complete with over 600 pieces, many different backgrounds, overlays, scenery, and a guide to telling stories. I really do love this thing; I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I want my children to know and love the scriptures. I don’t think they will know them (not at ages 4 and 7, anyway) if we just read the KJV to them. But we’ve had some sweet experiences when we’ve done a flannel board story and then let the then-three-year-old retell the story. It’s clear that he knows it. (Not that he’s lost his sense of humor: we’re always dealing with minor catastophes like Jonah’s whale eating the tablets with the Ten Commandments on them.)

And I’m fairly well convinced that they won’t love the scriptures if their only exposure is the KJV. We subscribe to an educational philosophy around here that, in a nutshell, promotes the idea that elementary age students should be told stories, middle grade students should learn the relationships between stories, and high school age students should articulately express their opinions about stories. I love telling my children these stories, in a way that encourages them to know them. Really know them– and not just Noah, Jonah, and Daniel, either. With over 600 pieces, we can tell any story–even the ones Betty Lukens herself probably never thought about, like the daughters of Zelophehad.

I love the scriptures; the stories feel like old friends. I love introducing my children to these old friends for the first time. I like knowing that their “Hello . . . How do you do?” introduction from the flannel board is setting the stage for them to someday be familiar enough to ask these friends forehead-crinkling questions.


I’m also enamored of this particular set because, while its bright colors might not earn high marks for historical verisimilitude, it suggests something that I want to teach my children: that the scriptures, and the stories in them, are, in fact, bright, vibrant, engaging–gripping, even.

There’s also something about the set–stay with me here–that speaks to me. For example, there’s only one really old man, so he becomes Noah, Moses, Methuselah, Zacharias, etc. There’s (thankfully) plenty of female figures, but you’d probably still use the same piece for Deborah as you do for Ruth. There’s something here about the universality of figures that invites you to see each figure in the story as representative, which in turn opens the way for you to invite yourself in to be that person.

There’s practical attraction here, too: about 200 FHE lessons that I don’t have to plan or think about–just tell the story and, with my husband, adlib a discussion of the moral lesson involved.

I really like this thing.

(Note: If I have incited object lust in you, might I recommend that you get a used set from ebay? That’s what I did, and while I didn’t necessarily save any money, I didn’t have to cut all of those pieces out, either.)

14 comments for “Flannel Board Lust

  1. a random John
    July 30, 2005 at 11:06 pm

    I just saw the image, and immediately thought it was a screen shot of King’s Quest or some other such game. And that the player was trying to cross the river before the lion got him. Obviously I need to go to bed.

  2. Barb
    July 30, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    It looks brilliant! I think people may not always realize the capicity that children have with their receptive language abilities. I am not saying that they are very analytical at that age as abstraction generally comes later. They do process stories and information surrounding them in a meaningful way. I still remember my first-grade teacher discussing the meaning behind the Starp Spangled Banner. I also recall her teaching us about Adam and Eve.

    Children love to participate and being able to manipulate the pieces will help them become part of the story.

    This is quite an aside, but I used to watch the 3ABN channel a lot, which is the 7th Day Adventist Channel. I found that on their children’s programming that they would have people dress in simple period dress and talk to the camera as one person talking to another. It really seemed to personalize the message. Bear in mind, that sometimes in trying to make it relatable that they may veer a little from historical accuracy but I think historical fiction often does the same. I do not know if anybody has done any similar work with in the LDS Church. I do not have BYU TV :(.

  3. Wilfried
    July 31, 2005 at 8:42 am

    Julie, your excellent post reminded me of the flannel board with which missionaries used to teach the discussions. Back to the mid-sixties. The elders would set up the small easel-type flannel board on the table. One missionary would teach the discussion, the other handled the colorful pieces on the board. The pieces included the Church as a little pyramid: first the foundation of prophets and apostles, then the rest of the structure above it. Apostasy discussion. One of the elders would pull the Church foundation from the flannel board and lo and behold, the rest came down to. Question: “What happened to the Church when there were no prophets and apostles any more?” I still see it before my eyes, as it was shown to me more than 40 years ago. And then the Plan of salvation on the flannel board, with a beautiful sun to represent the celestial kingdom. The missionaries were using this to teach adults! Even so, the clarity and simplicity of the presentation helped people gain testimonies and be baptized. Hail to the flannel board!

  4. July 31, 2005 at 11:18 pm

    The idyllic scene in the second picture looks like it was taken straight from the back of a Watchtower magazine. Somehow, that only makes me want it even more!

  5. Kirsten M. Christensen
    August 1, 2005 at 2:40 am

    Cool post, Julie. What a masterful teacher your boys have!

    Our FHEs have gone up in quality since I finally got around to ordering the Gospel Art kit. Visuals really do make a difference to little ones (and to grown-ups, as Wilfried so vividly reminds us!) By the way, my father was a stake missionary in the 70s, and I still remember the slick roll-up flannel board he took with him to teach.

    Julie, your experiences with the flannel board confirms what I’ve seen, too — that teaching with images gets even better if students can manipulate, play with, interact with them. My mother-in-law gave our boys a computer game called “Charlie Church Mouse,” in which Charlie takes the kids to visit characters from the Old Testament. They hang out with Ruth and Naomi in the fields, see Daniel get sent to the lions, etc. They remember many more details about these stories than about any others they know.

    Of course there’s an interesting other side to images, namely, that the image becomes the story – that it might sometimes limit what we can ‘see’ when we subsequently hear the story. Our oldest son, for example, has become nearly obsessed by zeroing in on some of the nearly indistinguishable figures high on the city wall who are trying to shoot arrows at Samuel the Lamanite. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I guess, since he’s still focusing on the story, and I can remind him that even with all those big, bad archers, Samuel was triumphant. Our youngest son’s current religious art fixation is the jaguars in the opulent court of King Noah as Abinadi teaches him, and how those cats are _definitely_ not nice.

    It will have to be e-bay for me for the set you describe. My heart nearly stopped with your comment that, if you buy the set new, you have to cut all the figures out yourself. Gives me carpel-tunnel just thinking about it!

  6. JKS
    August 1, 2005 at 3:24 am

    Ack, mother guilt coming on. I don’t prepare flannel board scripture stories for FHE.
    But, I think I can get the gospel art pics out of the back of the closet and use a little more.
    We recently started nightly scripture reading again. I think that the scriptures are more than just the stories, so reading directly from them will benefit them.
    Its amazing how much there is to teach children. It can be a little overwhelming at times. You can only do it one story at a time, one principle at a time…..and they’re not going to remember everything so you have to teach them again and again!
    It was an adventure talking about Adam and Eve and the fall, the other night.

  7. Lisa B.
    August 1, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Kirsten has a good point about the power of images for good and possibly for bad, too. Because of this I have really mixed feelings about using illustrations for scripture stories. And we often use pictures with disclaimers like “This is what one artist thought Abinadi might have looked like. We don’t really know since they didn’t have cameras back then.” Maybe that’s one reason we like Veggie Tales. (Dare I bring them up?) There isn’t really an attempt to represent the people in the stories, but rather to convey the message first and foremost. And my kids sure remember those messages! (5-yr-old son: “Mom, you need to have compassion on Talia [and give her another brownie]. Remember Jonah?”) But my kids love the flannel board Book of Mormon stories set we have, too. And I would like to add other scripture sets to our collection.

  8. Lisa B.
    August 1, 2005 at 9:40 am

    Julie, I really like your suggestion about the universality of flannel board figures as opposed to static illustrations as a solution to the potential “wrong image” problem. Paper dolls, or even 3-D dolls or figures could work, too (if not too character-specific).

  9. August 1, 2005 at 10:46 am

    I thought about this yesterday while our 5 YO daughter was retelling Veggie Tales “King George and the Ducky” for FHE. It’s not that Veggie Tales are bad, on the contrary I love the silly vegetables. However, I think that may be the only exposure my daughter is getting to Old Testament stories.

    Perhaps it’s time to remedy that. Thanks for giving me something to help (and a great birthday present!).

  10. August 1, 2005 at 11:51 am

    Kirsten’s comments about her children reminds me of Elder Monson’s story when he was visiting with a fmily and there was a huge picture on the wall of Christ teaching children– the classic one we’ve all seen. He noticed their boy was looking at it and so he took the time to talk about the Savior and His love for children using the picture as a an example. It was a classic teaching moment. He asked the boy if he had any questions and the boy responded, “where can a boy get a pet goat like that one?”

  11. Julie in Austin
    August 1, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    Kirsten wrote, “Of course there’s an interesting other side to images, namely, that the image becomes the story – that it might sometimes limit what we can ’see’ when we subsequently hear the story.”

    Kirsten and Lisa,

    This does concern me. One thing that I am doing about it: every week, I check out two bible story books from the library and I hide them until sacrament meeting, when the boys can look at/read them. My hope is that if they have seen ten different renditions of Noah, they’ll develop some sense of which elements reflect artistic license and which elements come from the story.

  12. Ana
    August 1, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Another company that makes flannel board sets is The Story Teller. It’s a family-owned gig based in Salem (I think). They have a lot of non-religious sets and a nice selection of Bible and Book of Mormon stories. Also activity books (“quiet books”). Some come pre-cut. They sell through home parties similar to Pampered Chef or Discovery Toys. Say what you will about the distribution plan, but the felt is great. Maybe another eBay search term for you, at least!

    You can also make your own plain felt boards using masonite, felt and spray adhesive like Scotch 77. Best tips: iron the felt, stretch it very tight, and tape the edges onto the back using packing tape.

    Flannelboard figures can be created out of almost any illustration. You can pick up scripture illustration sets at the Distribution Center that are perfect. Or if you can somehow get your hands on some very old church magazines, they also have great sets in full color. Copy and laminate them if you like (I did and was glad of it when they became tub toys) then use spray adhesive to attach flannel, felt or used dryer sheets to the back. Then cut out. I hope you have good scissors and strong hands.

  13. August 1, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    “the image becomes the story”

    This is one of my concerns about Church art in general and the Temple in particular.

    I’ve known people to derive doctrine from church art, and I think that everyone subconsciously believes that the Nephites were 6’2 and benched 375, and Abinadi was an old but ripped man, thanks to Arnold Friberg. In the temple in particular, the level of detail can detract from the symbolic nature of the ceremony. Nearly all the details of the film are secondary to the ordinances, and we should not try to extract doctrine or principles from them.

    For those interested, President Hinckley’s biography details his involvement with the move to film. Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley by Sheri L. Dew. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996): 176-184. Gospelink (subscription required)

  14. William Morris
    August 1, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    Flannel boards must be a particularly strong current in the Mormon Zeitgeist right now (see the third item).

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