Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tutorial - Making File Folder Games

I know, for many/most of you this is old hat. So don't read this post. But for many new providers, preschool teachers or parents, making a file folder game can be a little intimidating to get started, or frustrating when trying to get it accomplished.

  • One main reason...SPACE. They fold away and tuck nicely into a file drawer, file crate, and basically anywhere else that is large enough to accommodate them. They also STACK well.
  • Secondly, they are the right SIZE. Large enough for children to view and utilize manipulatives that aren't way small.
  • Thirdly, SIZE. They also can be expanded with added pages that will still fold up nicely to tuck away.
  • Fourth(ly?) FLEXIBILITY. They can go anywhere, easily tucked into a suitcase, spread out on an airport tray or lap tray in the car, and they can cover absolutely ANY subject matter. The layout and functionality are only limited by the creator's imagination.
  • Standard file folder OR pocket folder
  • Scissors
  • Paper cutter
  • Laminating supplies
  • Spray adhesive
My Fave!


A file folder game usually has
  • A front label 
  • Two game boards
  • Manipulatives [the play pieces]
Many games use alternative manipulatives such as candy, theme erasers, plastic bugs, etc. and may not come with pieces, or you may choose to utilize something more interesting that would work.

It is time consuming to make one from scratch. However, if you are a teacher or care provider, a laminated file folder game can last pretty much your entire career if the children are taught to handle it with respect. It is a good investment.
  •  Print out the file folder game. Plain paper is fine if it will be laminated [YES!!!] or cardstock if not. If you are a parent and this will be used only a few times by one child, then cardstock MAY work. Just expect that the game will quickly show wear if used by anyone under third grade.
  • If there are any instructions included that you feel you'll need, such as game play rules, then those will need to be treated the same as the front label and adhered to either the front under the label or the back for reference. YES, I have come across an old file folder game and had absolutely no clue what the procedures were. And, YES, it was one I had created. [sigh]
  • Cut out the manipulatives as necessary. If manipulatives are square cards or can be square cards, then your time is drastically reduced by using a paper cutter. I prefer my manipulatives to have some character to them, so to the irritation of my TPT clients I am sure, most of mine have a lot of cutting necessary. If you plan on doing a lot of file folder games, this a good task to pawn off onto parent volunteers or assistants.
  • Laminate. [YES!!!] My laminated file folder games and manipulatives have lasted ten years through toddlers and preschoolers as long as they don't bend them hard. For just a few lamination projects, you can get the self-laminating sheets or use clear contact paper. Smaller manipulatives can even be sealed up in clear packing tape. If doing more though, I strongly recommend a heat laminator. Cheap laminators are available through Harbor Freight, through Amazon and Sam's Club and similar stores at relatively good prices at every price point, and through Office Supply stores at not so good prices. 
  • Cut out manipulatives again as necessary from lamination material. Ensure you leave a large enough lamination border that they won't de-laminate with use. Usually that is about 1/8 inch.
  • Use spray adhesive on the back of the front label and adhere the label to the front of the file folder. I lay newspapers outside and place the item(s) face down on them. A quick light coat is all that is needed. Use a different piece of newspaper for each spray, as it goes everywhere. 
  • Check the fit of the pages into the file folder. Some file folders are smaller and the laminated pages may stick out of where the file cut has been made. Try to keep the glue off of this area. Overlapped post-its can be applied to the area to mask it. Position in folder, mask, and remove prior to using glue.
  • Use spray adhesive on the back of the first game board and attach to the inside left of the file folder. POSTITION IT BACK FROM THE CENTER LINE JUST A TAD. If it is right up on it, there will be too much bulk and it will not want to close properly.
  • CHECK THE FIT BY PLACING THE SECOND GAME BOARD INSIDE. If it is too tight, you'll need to re-position the one on the left, if possible, or adjust the one on the right accordingly when you adhere it. Use spray adhesive on the back of the second game board and attach to the inside right of the file folder. 
  • Decide how you want to store your manipulatives. I store mine in a quart freezer Ziploc that I just place inside the folder for storage. You can attach a clasp envelope to the back of the folder, staple or glue a Ziploc to the folder, or edge glue a piece of cardstock to adhere to the back to act as a pouch. I have found that younger ones will rip apart anything they can't easily get the pieces into and out of, which is why I use a loose Ziploc big enough for them to get their whole hand into...or two hands if there is some contention in partner or group play.

To add additional pages to a file folder game, I use clear, heavy duty packing tape. The heavier it is, the less likely you are to have it create creases when applied. Also, the less likely it is to rip with use.

Positions for a triple page - you just add the additional page with tape in the direction it runs. If the pages are in landscape, you do the first style, if in portrait, you do the second. To make 6 or 9 pages, you would add to either side.

Positions for a quadruple page -  you add the additional pages as below. If tape shows between the pages due to need for the gap to close properly, add a narrow strip of tape on top to seal. Additional pages would be added to the opposite sides of the file folder, ensuring that the pages read left to right and top to bottom as appropriate.

  • Cut a strip of tape slightly longer than the page. Lay sticky side UP on a table, easier to do with heavier tape. If you want to ensure it doesn't slip around, cut it longer and tape the tape ends down to a table.
  • Ensure that you know exactly which direction each page is to face and which side each piece is to be taped. If necessary, number or note on post-its and add to the back for easy reference.
  • Place a page down onto the tape, face up. 
  • Place the second page down, face up, leaving a slight gap. OR lay the second page on top of the first and smooth the tape over the edge onto the second page, being careful not to cause wrinkles in the tape, again, the easier the heavier the tape. Although, laminated material will easily release the tape if you need to re-position.

ADHERE AFTER TAPING, folding the side(s) in as you lay it down that are not to receive adhesive spray to keep clean.

To close the file folder game, the outlying pages are folded into the file folder.

I have dozens of these things and love them. The children love them as well. They are wonderful learning tools for independent learning and even group learning. We have a monthly Spanish game that is a fold out game board we use on the floor with all of us sitting around it. 

There are many sources for file folder games. There are books that have them, but they are fairly pricey, and are card stock, so you would still need to laminate them, and they are often relatively...lame. I sell mine on TPT which is a good source and there are some that are free on the internet if you do a search for "free file folder games."

However, you can get creative and make your own. For personal, non-commercial use, there is a ton of free clip-art and free fonts available on the net. Determine what you want to teach your child(ren), check out some examples, and I bet you can come up with some pretty great ones. Even better, take pictures of your children, pets and family wearing different colors, their body parts, holding numbers, etc. and use THEM in the games. It will be even more personal and special for your kiddos.

If anything in this post is not clear to you, please shoot me an email and let me know so I can update this post with a clarification. THANK YOU!

UPDATE: I am now using 2 pocket folders for all my file folder games. Check out the post!

Some of our file folder games in action:

Tags: file, folder, game, manipulative, tutorial, preschool, childcare, daycare, child, care, children, kid,pre-k, kindergarten, homeschool, homeschooling, math, language, counting, alphabet, colors, shapes, counting, center, centers, unit, theme
 kid's, kindergarten, theme, unit, math, center, language, literacy, writing, alphabet, numbers, colors,


  1. do you laminate the actual folder? if so, is there a machine that is large enough to the the entire file folder?

    1. I do not laminate the entire folder. I only laminate the pages. However, I believe that many copy places, child care referral agencies and office supply stores DO have machines fully capable of laminating the entire thing.