Flannel Friday: 3 Mice Tails

It has been three long months since I have been able to pull together a Flannel Friday post. It feels so nice to be back!

Today I have something a little different and I can’t wait to see what you guys think. I spent some time this past month reading about pre-writing skills for preschoolers, and learning about fine motor activities and some developmental stages for scribbling, drawing, and writing.

I was studying up with the hope of brainstorming storytime activity ideas that would support the Writing part of the Every Child Ready to Read 5 practices (reading, writing, singing, talking, playing)…without actually involving writing or scribbling.

Well, I came across this fun idea book: Everyday Play: Fun Games to Develop the Fine Motor Skills Your Child Needs for School, by Christy Isbell.

Everyday Play

She describes making a “ribbon pull” out of a coffee can.

Ribbon Pull book illustration

from Everyday Play by Christy Isbell


Pulling ribbons through slits in a coffee can lid lets children practice their pincer grip, and strengthen their finger muscles, which will help them be more successful when they start holding crayons and pencils.

I wanted to do this! I wanted every kid in storytime to have their own ribbon pull, and I wanted it to be a used during a directed activity in storytime itself, and then also something to play with after storytime is over.

So here’s what I did.

First, I made a small ribbon pull out of a Crystal Light container. (Many thanks to my friend and colleague Virginia, who had a stash she was willing to share! My first thought was to use snack size Pringles’ containers, but Virginia thought small children would have an easier time holding on to the narrower Crystal Light cans. What other small containers would work for this?)

Ribbon Pull Container

I used three different colors of ribbon, and made each ribbon a different length.

To make the ribbon pull, cut slits in the plastic lid with an Exacto knife or box cutter. Push a ribbon through the slit, and tie a knot at both ends of the ribbon. This way the ribbon won’t pull all the way through the slit easily.

When all the ribbons are threaded and knotted, pull the ribbons to the “bottom” side of the lid, and put the lid back on the container. Do not tape the lid shut! Once all the ribbons are pulled “out,” you’ll need to take the lids off in order to pull the ribbons back down, so the children can pull them up out of the container again!

I used grosgrain ribbon, because it is pretty sturdy, and also because I thought the ridges might help the kids get a grip on the ribbon.

Then I made three mice, and an owl.

Recognize this adorable owl?

The mice are the same colors as the ribbons. The body shapes are teardrops, and there are two roundish ears, one glued to the back of the mouse, and one to the front. The eyes are tiny circles of white felt with a Sharpie dot in the middle.

Make the mouse tails out of yarn or floss, so they can stick to your flannelboard. (Mine are braided floss, mostly because I didn’t want to purchase 3 balls of yarn and only use a few inches of each.)

Also, the green mouse has the shortest tail, the blue mouse has the medium size tail, and the yellow mouse has the longest tail. These match up to the lengths of the ribbons in the ribbon pull.

Why do they match? Because…now you can tell a story.

In storytime, hand out a ribbon pull to each family, and tell them to hold it but not pull on the ribbons yet.

Put the three mice on the flannelboard so that their tails are all mixed together and you can’t see how long they are.

Then tell this story. (I made it up, so it is no great shakes. It is just the bare bones of a tale, so of course you would adapt this to suit yourself!)

“Once upon a time three mice met in the middle of a forest. They had never seen each other before, and immediately started admiring each other’s soft fur and handsome tails. Before too long, however, they began to argue about whose tail was the longest. Unfortunately, the tails were so long and the mice were so small that they couldn’t see for themselves! They argued and boasted and bragged and quarreled until an owl heard their noisy voices. She flew to a branch high above the mice and called down to them: ‘Mice! Mice! From up here, I can see everything. *I* can tell you who has the longest tail. Stop arguing and stretch out your tails, one by one.’ Each mouse was certain their tail was the longest so immediately they did as the owl said. The green mouse stretched out her tail as far as she could. The owl agreed her tail was very long, but was it the longest? So the blue mouse also stretched out his tail as far as he could. The owl called down, ‘It is a little bit longer than the green mouse’s tail, but will it be the longest of all?’ Now it was time for the yellow mouse to stretch out her tail. She stretched and she stretched and when it was as long and straight as she could make it, the three mice looked up at the owl. ‘Owl, Owl, whose tail is the longest?’ And the owl called down, ‘All your tails are magnificent, but the yellow mouse’s tail is the longest of all.’

Untangle the tails on the flannelboard as you tell this story. As you stretch out each mouse’s tail, tell your kids that you need their help! When you stretch out the green tail, invite them to pull on the green ribbon in their own ribbon pull. When you stretch out the blue tail, have them pull on the blue ribbon. And as you stretch out the yellow tail, have them tug on the yellow ribbon. When all the tails are straight and the ribbons are pulled, have the grown ups help their kids decide which color ribbon is the longest. This is why they are all matched up…so that the answer on the board is the same as the answer on their ribbon pulls.

Then as you gather up the ribbon pulls before your next activity, you can tell the grownups that pulling on ribbons or string will help build a child’s fine motor skills and get them ready to be writers and readers!

Another way you could use the same ribbon pulls would be to make three felt balloons, with matching ribbon or yarn for strings. Make a bird or a butterfly out of felt, and put the balloons on the board so that the bird or butterfly is hiding behind one of them. Then tell the kids, “Oh no! A little butterfly is lost in this crowd of balloons! Can you help me find it? Let’s look behind the green balloon…pull on your green string! Pull!” When all the kids are tugging on their ribbons, then you take down the green balloon off the flannelboard and say, “Oh, good pulling, we pulled down the green balloon, but no butterfly. Let’s pull down the yellow balloon! Pull on your yellow string!” etc. until you find the butterfly.

I know this is an unwieldy idea for large storytime groups! But for smaller storytimes it might be a lot of fun to put together and play with. And I’m going to keep working on these pre-writing ideas! Maybe we can think of something that will work for large groups, too.

Whew! That was a long post! Thanks so much for sticking with it to the end. The round up this week is here at Mel’s Desk. And all sorts of Flannel Friday information can be found on the new Flannel Friday website!

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15 Responses to Flannel Friday: 3 Mice Tails

  1. Babette says:

    What fun! I think kids would love playing with the ribbons this way. Also, while this is not suitable for storytime, another idea to share with parents is that picking up things with ice tongs is a way to build this skill too.

    I would want to give parents a heads up on talking about lengths of the ribbons though. While exposing kids to ideas of measurement is ok during preschool, developmentally kids can’t begin to grasp what really is or isn’t bigger, longer, more etc. until about age six. Parents might get frustrated or worried if their 2-5 year old doesn’t “get it.” So parents (or us) talking about the differences in lengths is fine but we want to let them know too that there’s no expectation that their little one can learn this yet.

    Great post, Melissa! I look forward to adding this to play and exploration time.

  2. Melissa says:

    Babette, you make an excellent point about cognitive development here, thanks so much for sharing it. At my library, the grownups are all in storytime with the kids, so I know there will be “helpers” around to come up with answers when we play guessing games like this. But you’re right about reassuring parents about what kids are and are not capable of in preschool. I think what I’d do to incorporate this is to not ask the kids and parents to think about which ribbon is longer, but to just model that discovery myself as the leader. “Oh, look, the yellow mouse stretched out her tail and it was the longest one! Wow!” Then while I’m talking to the parents about pulling ribbons and finger strength, I would mention that although we looked at different lengths of ribbons for this story, that children aren’t expected to really know what’s longer, wider, taller until they are in Kindergarten or first grade. Thanks so much for your input, that’s a critical point to make!

    The other thing I thought of overnight is not to make the ribbons long enough to go around little necks, if the ribbon pull is going to be used independently by the child and not always during supervised play.

  3. Amy says:

    Could you make a larger-size ribbon pull with ropes and a larger lidded container (like a trash can or plastic storage bin? You’d probably have to have kids pull horizontally instead of vertically, but that would be a similar, large-scale visual for a bigger group.

    Also, it wouldn’t get at the writing aspect of gripping the ribbons and pulling them up, but I was thinking how fun it would be to get different sized lengths of rope and have volunteers from the audience act out the story as you told it on the flannel board. You could start out with the kids tangled up and have them sort it out at the right time of the story. Might work for larger storytimes, especially those that attract some school-age kids during summers.

  4. Melissa says:

    Nice thinking! A large “ribbon” pull would be a fresh and different prop for bigger groups! And you could hold up a small one when you were done with the story and just show the parents the sample while you were telling them about the gripping and pincer grip stuff. Thanks, Amy!

  5. Babette says:

    Exactly! Those are wonderful ways to share what’s going on. And it’s what’s so wonderful about well done storytimes. We get to share more than “just” stories and such. :-) Storytimes can be great opportunities for parents to learn too!

  6. Kelly says:

    Thanks for posting this, Mel! What a clever story to show relative size! I’ve been thinking about the writing part of ECRR, too, and I have probably the same tot trays everyone else does with child-friendly plastic tongs, containers, poms and other light objects to move around, but I’ve been trying to think of something original myself. I’ll definitely take a look at the book you recommended.

  7. Melissa says:

    Do let us know what you think of! I am eager to add more tips about writing to storytime!

  8. Library Quine says:

    This is a great idea Mel, with very informative comments too! Now I have to put my thinking cap on to discover a suitable container that is available in this part of the world!

  9. Melissa says:

    Good luck! If you try it, let us know how it went! At first I was wondering if I could adapt toilet paper tubes somehow, but was afraid they would tear too easily .

  10. I love this idea! It would work well with any rainbow stories and The Splendid Spotted Snake. I’m going to look up that book to check out, too!

  11. Melissa says:

    Oh, I don’t know the Splendid Spotted Snake! I’m going to put it on hold! Thank you!

  12. Kari Ann says:

    I can’t Wait to do this!! I like the ballon idea! Thanks so much!!! Now I need to drink crystal light!

  13. Melissa says:

    Or eat a lot of Pringles! Have fun and do let us know how it goes!

  14. Shweta says:

    A brilliant idea! I made it for my baby and its working :) she just loves the toy! Thanks!

  15. Melissa says:

    Yay! What fun! Thanks for letting us know!

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