In this way the work took on similarities of how the grammar material is presented in the Primary classrooms. We present a red circle for the verb and say that it is like the sun as it radiates energy. Words that have the red circle symbol above them in the sentence analysis work are "action" words. The word "verb" is not introduced until the children are in Elementary 1. They understand how it's used and identify words that are that, yet the child does not name/label it verb.
This is how my work attempting to present the continents to the toddlers is beginning to be shaped. They know the color the continent is identified with (white), they know a specific group of animals are only used on the white landscape and they can name those animals.
They have also begun to create habitats for those animals to occupy. I had purchased some furniture from Ikea and noticed that their white packing materials would make excellent caves. This is what it was used for. They were placed on table length sheets of paper and flour was dusted over them to simulate snow. I drew blue lines and arches here and there to create a suggestion of borders and waterways.
They moved around it selecting an animal or two which they then placed and positioned here and there.
The children were very quiet while they worked. Nap time was just coming to an end. A student would rise from their cot, put their shoes on and then come to the table. Within seconds they were using the materials.
One student slowly lowered her face into a pile of flour "snow." Yes, her face. She raised her flour covered face, smiled and for a moment I imagined an arctic fox sitting there looking at me. It was so wonderful.
This work is also the first introduction to prepositions - inside, outside, above, below, etc.
Then, in conjunction with this continent work, I started to pool together animals for comparative use. A pig and a warthog share the same snout. Pigs and cows both have utters. An ermine and a harbor seal have similar faces. A wolverine and a wolf, although from two distinctly different taxonomic groups, share the same-type padded paw with five toes - as my student below joyfully discovered.
The children were fascinated by the details of each creature. They showed great interest when I demonstrated to them that both the cow and the warthog have split hooves.
Collectively, we made so many discoveries.
In the back of my mind, during all of the work, I also knew that language acquisition was one of the cornerstone elements of all the work in the toddler environment. I needed to listen to my students and to hear them vocalize words newly added to their vocabulary. I will always remember the day, only a few weeks after we had first begun this work, I heard one of my students, who was working with the salt dough, excitedly declare, "Baboon! Baboon!"
Hearing that child call out, "Baboon" confirmed this was the right, age appropriate work for them and it invited me to think about what else could be added. Next, I brought in a racoon to pair with baboon so as to highlight the oo sound. We started beating out the sounds - two beats for both baboon and racoon, one for both cow and pig. This continues to evolve.
My thoughts returned to my initial goal - to teach continent work to toddlers. My next thought was flags! I could give an introductory lesson on flag making. After the children made them, they could temporarily anchor them into a salt dough hillside or island before taking them home. It worked out so well. The children eagerly engaged this work, too.
Days later one of my older boys (2.5 years) was looking out a window in our classroom and started pointing. He called me over to him and said, "Flag. Flag." He was pointing to an American flag hanging on a pole in front of the senior center next door.
I excused myself and went to one of the Primary classrooms where I borrowed an American flag. I gave it to the observing child, who was still standing at the window, providing him the opportunity to wave it slightly and have a more tactile experience with it. It was a great moment. Again, I knew all of it - the work with animals, the landscape work, the making of flags - was/is the Toddler Continent Work. Yes, I capitalized it as it is just that cool!