STEAM School parents know that outdoor time is a highlight of each day at co-op. Our kids employ sticks, rocks, hammocks, pallets and more to enhance their time outdoors. Whether they are building forts, playing capture the flag, or immersed in their own creative game or pretend play, nature, found items, and imagination are all that is needed to delight and learn!

With one self-proclaimed ‘indoor boy’ and one who would probably live with the fox family in our back yard if I (and they) would let her, I am a parent who is very interested in outdoor play.

My research started with Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play and more recently I have been learning about Adventure Playgrounds through lots of articles online. We love the idea of creating a backyard environment where the kids can play and create outside.

And we don’t want to spend thousands doing it.

As summer approaches my family has come up with an idea to set the scene in our backyard without breaking the bank.

A Dirt Pile. Because: mud pies, dirt stews, holes, excavating barbie mummies and the like.

I’m not sure how we don’t have this yet and I scolded myself when I discovered that our house is essentially a dirt-less destination. Sure we have dirt, but it isn’t easily accessible with the grass (weeds) growing on top. I’ve thought about an obstacle course, a maker space and other outdoor oasis (time consuming) ideas for the kids, but a dirt pile? That’s doable.

Next question: Where will the dirt come from?

If you have a project for the summer like a patio or other undertaking that will result in some extra/displaced dirt, you are all set! We are looking for a mini dirt mountain, so we are going to see if a couple of grading projects we are getting estimates on can relocate our valuable dirt for kid enjoyment. You can also check with construction sites or residential projects in your area if you have a truck and can haul away dirt and save them the trouble. If not, local garden supply and nurseries offer dirt in various amounts from bags to truck loads if paying for dirt doesn’t hurt you like it hurts me.

I’ve lived places where the HOA would have been all over me for a dirt pile. If you are in that situation, consider a dirt box. This is likely going to be smaller, so you might spring for the high quality dirt or ‘soil’ as us dirt snobs like to call it.

What goes with dirt? Here are some of the low budget accessories to add to your dirt pile:

  • Water What is dirt without water?
  • Rocks…and other ‘treasures’ to bury
  • Sticks and Boards for bridges
  • Digging Tools of course
  • Plastic Junk …that you already have. They will love the new dirt terrain, and If 15,000 Squinkies, Shopkins, and Num Noms from under my daughters bed disappear in a dirt pile, I won’t be sad about it.
  • Receptacles – Bowls, cups, empty spice shakers filled with sand, and pails are all key for outdoor kitchen soups, stews and mud pies. I once bought onion powder, ice cream sprinkles and a few other spices for $1 each at dollar tree once for the kids to make mud pies with, and it may as well have been gold. They loved it and ‘cooked’ for hours.

Looking for dirt pile inspiration? Try these articles:

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