Written by Teague Urquhart, B.Sc., Common Digs Forest School educator


For most of my life I had not paid much attention to the materials I was using or the materials I was offering in educational spaces. When I began working with Common Digs I was introduced to the concept of the Environment as the Third Teacher (the first being the family and the second being the educator/community). The Environment as the Third Teacher is a Reggio Emilia concept that encourages educators to think about their environment in relation to the children and their interests. The environments we offer at Common Digs seek to reflect the children’s interests, promotes relationships, and fosters exploration through play.  The materials in these environments are placed and used in a thoughtful manner to allow for deep thinking, play, and creativity.

I would like to share with you five of materials that I have fallen in love with after exploring them with children and colleagues: 



I am sure most of us have had the opportunity to use some form of clay-like material in our lives. I used to love the feeling of squishing wet clay and mud through my fingers, though as an adult I had not used clay at all until coming to Common Digs. Common Digs and Nature Kindergarten staff recently had a workshop where we deeply explored this material and learned some of the basic techniques that could be shared with the children. With this knowledge I have the confidence to offer new ways to explore clay and I look forward to the next time we use it. I know the children have clay knowledge to share with me and each other!



Paper is a material that I have always found rather bland. When it was used in my schooling it was white with black typed words that held information or questions related to examinations. When I first came to Common Digs I saw paper as a tool for educators to use for our writings or for the children to practice their drawing and letters. I noticed that I always wanted the children to maximize the space on the paper they were given. When they did not it made me hesitant to return to using paper with them. 

At the beginning of this year the staff at Common Digs and Nature Kindergarten deeply explored paper as a material. We looked into many types of paper including cardboard, tissue paper, textured paper, coloured paper, and white paper. What I noticed is that most of us focused on using papers that were new or aesthetically pleasing and that the white paper was virtually untouched. I wonder if it might have to do with our preconceived notions around white paper. I also wonder if children think of it differently. I have seen children explore the white paper extensively by cutting, crumpling, tearing, gluing, taping, painting, colouring, and sometimes even chewing. For me this has inspired a new love of paper. I now choose to observe how the children are exploring the paper rather than solely focusing on how to conserve the paper. 


Watercolour Paint

I first remember seeing watercolour paint and paintings as a youth. My brother took art classes and he would store his materials and art in our home. I regret never asking him if I could try watercolour painting.

In my first year of being an educator with Common Digs I felt that I was lacking a lot of familiarity with art materials but none more so than paints. My colleagues supported my re-discovery of many art materials and taught me that we are community of learners who will work together to build our knowledge base.

Last year a class of mine found immense satisfaction in watercolour painting. They would paint layers and layers of colours and describe their art in wonderful stories. We returned to watercolour throughout our time spent together and even ended the year by showing off their art and photographs to their families.  

As I go forward with this material I hope to create natural pigments based on things we can collect around the Park (flowers, clay, charcoal, grasses, etc.). I look forward to learning more about watercolour!


Dried Plant Material

Last autumn was the first time in my life where I harvested and dried out some plant material (sea buckthorn and raspberry leaves) for the use in tea. This was inspired by seeing how my colleagues at Common Digs had collected a vast array of dried plant materials and offered them to the children. From custom art pieces to creating special Forest School Teas the children have connected with plants while crafting understanding and community. 

I want to invest in a fruit dehydrator and have the children use it to interact with their food in a new way. I love dried plants and cannot wait for the summer to consciously collect more. 


Hand Tools

This year at Common Digs a class of mine was really interested in building with the assistance of hand tools. The children were asked to bring in tools they might use at home and we explored these while working on a Little Library for the community. I noticed that when the children used their tools they did so with a calm energy and an intense focus. What is it about using these tools that interests the children so much? A question I am still reflecting on through my observations and explorations with the children. What I currently believe is that the use of these tools is building fine motor skills, concentration, vocabulary, self regulation, and community.

I wonder what tool might be explored or re-explored next?


And a giftaway

In honour of our 5th birthday we are continuing with our birthday giftaways! This time, Teague’s mom Kathy shares some of her favourite materials and gifts a hand-made pair of wool-blend socks and bracelet. These aren’t just any pair of socks, and the photo won’t do them justice - all of the staff at Forest School were ogling these beautiful, handmade lovelies! Thank you Kathy so much!


To enter for the draw to win, simply share with us your favourite material for yourself or that you use working and playing with children. What do you love about it?

Leave a comment by March 17th, 2019 to be entered in the draw. The prize winner will be announced in the blog comments.

AuthorCommon Digs

This story was originally written in April 2017 on StoryPark and has been adapted for this blog. StoryPark is a platform we use at Common Digs Forest School for sharing with families and our educational team.

Written by Lisa Menzies, Co-Founder, Common Digs

We were on a search to the willows for signs of medicinal plants but along the way we couldn't help but notice, as H described "a whole trail of dirt". 

We didn't have time. We had an agenda. But we couldn't ignore it. We took the time to let the children explore together a pile of beautiful, soft earth, broken up from a vole. It was luscious. 


They lay on the ground. Running their hands through the soil. Squishing it in their fingers. Looking closely. They flung it a little bit and gently put it on top of each other and themselves. 

Time slowed. Breathing slowed. 

Breathing it all in. 

The beautifulness of the day. 

The beautifulness of our time together. 

We could have rushed them along, time was ticking and we weren't meeting our agenda and hadn't brought our lunches, but we sensed that this moment, this time together would be the most important part of our day. 

Talking and laughing together. Noticing. Contemplating. 

Mc: Dinosaurs dig fast. I found a rock.
E: I found a plant. Oooh look at this plant."
S: Leans in and whispers "Do you know that bugs live in dirt? 


Not everyone was interested in the dirt pile, "I am not going to dig in the dirt. I am not going to get my hands dirty", says A. But they too seemed to recognize the importance of this time together and chose to lay on the ground lazing in the sunshine.






"I am making a real hole," says H. "I am making a dirt road. Sometimes dirt sticks on my fingers." 

Educator Felicia pointed out the dark soil was squishy soil and they took dirt and made dirt balls.

M: I am hunting for dirt balls
Mc to M (while making dirt balls): How did you do that?
E: I think I hear something dead under there.
Educator Lisa: What does dead sound like?
M: Grrrrrrr.

And the zombies are back. Everyone begins to stir, motioning we are ready to move on. 

This was, as Jackie Seidel writes, "a brief inhaled moment of potential awakening. Can we hold ourselves here?" Potential awakening. Potential for so many questions. Potential for a curriculum to contemplate our connection - rocks, dinosaurs, plants, dirt, bugs, fingers death - life - all connected in a pile of dirt. All of us here together, connected. An awakening of our senses. An awakening to the important things. 

"Can we hold ourselves here?”

I can only hope that those moments and times shared not only, "sticks on our fingers" but also our hearts and minds and "holds us here" no matter when and where we are and no matter how fast life is moving or what agenda we have. I hope that we can recall this time and slow down, take the time to contemplate to recall an awakening. To recall and contemplate what a "whole trail of dirt" might offer us and we it. 

Seidel, J and Jardine, D. 2014, Experiments in a Curriculum for Miracles, Ecological Pedagogy, Buddhist Pedagogy, Hermeneutic Pedagogy. P. 121, Peter Lang Publishing Inc, New York, NY USA

Slow summer camp gift-away

In February Common Digs Forest School Turned 5! years old. To celebrate we are having a series of birthday gift-aways. For this one, we are gifting a 2019 Forest School Summer Camp. To enter, tell us about a place in Calgary, a park, a river, maybe a community alley or an abandoned, uncared for space that you experienced “a brief inhaled moment of potential awareness.” Tell us about it in the comment section and be entered for a chance to win a Forest School Summer Camp. Enter your comment by March 27th. Children must be between the ages of 3-7 years old to attend our summer camps.

AuthorCommon Digs
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