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This is an article that I wrote for High Country News recently:

There was a story told to me in an old growth forest of Sussex, New Brunswick this past summer. It was the story of  “The Bird that would be King”. Maybe some of you know it. I’d like to tell you this story, but although it is only about five minutes long it would be far too long for the space I have been given here.

Jon Cree of England’s Forest School Association told the story to a group of educators and early childhood workers that had come together to participate in a pilot Forest School Practitioner training program through Forest School Canada.

We sat in a circle under the canopy of old spruce trees, a sensorial cornucopia, the richly-coloured canvas of the forest before us and decades of mulch beneath our feet creating a familiar thick, sweet smell that hung in the air. But all of our eyes were on Jon.

 Jon, a veteran Forest School leader, told this oral story, an arguably endangered art of storytelling without the support of a book, with the greatest of theatrics, enacting and mimicking the movement of the birds and their voices as each one played a part in the story. His voice rang out in the otherwise silent woodland. I sat on the edge of my child-sized wooden bench listening with my whole body and mind waiting to hear what would happen. I was not disappointed.

 After the story, we were given the opportunity for free time. Without direction, some of us took up with clay that had been made available and made the characters of the birds. Others took to writing in their journals. Some took to retreat to their sit spot (a spot they found in the woods where they could quietly reflect) and others still sat in groups quietly sharing more stories and working on wood projects.

 This was a story I would happily listen to again. I am sure if I heard it a few times, the details of the birds, their names and their characteristics would also remain.  Regardless, even after hearing it once the story concept and experience are etched in my memory forever.

 This, for me, is the heart of Forest School learning. Learning through experiences that, like sap on a tree, stick with us. A kind of natural learning that provides self-directed opportunities to expand our way of knowing and understanding, time to reflect and wonder and time to create.

This kind of learning is meaningful, it becomes a part of us and helps to define and shape who we are and who we become. There are many research studies that support the physical, intellectual, emotional and social benefits for children given regularly occurring learning opportunities in woodland, but simply as I recall Jon putting it, “It’s something about the trees”. Learning in a woodland environment engages our minds, strengthens our bodies and feeds our spirits. Kids, given the opportunity, usually can’t wait to go back to Forest School. ~ Lisa

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AuthorLisa Menzies
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What it is in a name? Alot basically.  I have spent many years in marketing developing names for products and services. But none was more personal and more painful than when we began to think about a name for our company. We wanted a name that stood for who we are and what we are trying to be. A name that spoke to values and wore it’s heart on it’s sleeve.

Gary Snyder, in “The Practice of the Wild describes the commons as “the contract people make with their local natural systems.”

Our company name, Common Digs emerged in part from this idea. Not specifically, exactly or literally the commons, but more an idea, feeling or desire of the idea of people working together in an unwritten contract that honours and protects but also uses, benefits and learns from it’s natural systems. The give and take relationship that provides service while respecting and caring for the space we are in.

We want for a commons for our children, for our future - a place where they are free to forage and go off the path; a place where they are free to explore, play, dig, build forts, climb trees, trees they will come to know, not by name but by their character; a safe place to be still and take refuge from the busyness of the real world; a space they will come to love, appreciate and be driven to take care of; a space that will become a part of them. We want for a community of people that embrace these ideals as well.

It is a romantic idea. It’s an idea that we can try to live up to. It’s an idea that begs for social justice, for equality and creates a space, an opening that allows for and encourages diversity and multiple perspectives.

And Digs. Well that’s just fun isn’t it? Kids love to dig in the dirt. Dirt and kids digging is common across all countries, religions and ways of life. Digs has slang for place or home. Dig is quintessential in agriculture, anthropology and archaeology - unearthing history in a way. It’s also a verb – a taking action word.

That’s what we’re doing. We’re digging in. We’re taking action. There’s no big business plan. No huge capital or overhead. It’s an organic endeavor. We are just finding ways to take meaningful, spirited action to connect ourselves and others with their natural world - to dig in and see what comes up.

We hope you will dig it and dig in too.  Join us in our endeavor, or in an endeavor of your own that strives to create a more beautiful, more generous of spirit, more equal place for ourselves and for our children to grow and to be. ~ Lisa

Posted
AuthorLisa Menzies