Backyard Play Spaces: Dirt Pile


Welcome to the latest addition to our summer backyard play spaces, the dirt pile. I consider this The Explorers’ answer to the mud pie kitchen. Not that they don’t like making the occasional mud pie; they just much prefer running cars and trucks through a pile of dirt.

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How we made it:
Last fall, the hubby did some serious digging in our backyard to replace a space of grass with pavers for a seating area. The dug-up dirt has been sitting in a far-off corner of our yard ever since. All it took to make our magical dirt pile was some elbow grease – shoveling the dirt via wheelbarrow from one part of the yard to the other.

The Explorers helped select a good spot and oversaw the “building up” of the dirt pile to just the right specifications. They also wanted to add a few of the tree stumps we inherited last fall. The “ladder” leaning against the stump in the back here was a find on one of our nightly neighborhood walks.

If you don’t have unused dirt of your own, consider buying some at a local garden supply store. You don’t need much – even a small mound will do the trick.

How it’s used for nature play:
A dirt pile is a mound of possibility. Just a few ways to use it for nature play:

  • Dig in the dirt with shovels & sifters
  • Bury rocks, fossils & other treasures
  • Add water to make rivers, puddles & mud
  • Use toy dump trucks, bulldozers and such to create a “work site”
  • Add other elements like tree stumps & wood boards to make bridges & planks
  • Climb to the top and run down (or just run around the entire pile, depending on its size)

What the kids think:
The dirt pile is popular around here. Really popular. The Explorers love pushing their large-size trucks through the dirt, racing each other to the top of the pile. And they’re dreaming up all sorts of things they want to try this summer. I’ll keep you posted.

On a side note: These days, the kids seem to get on each others’ nerves. A lot. But I’ve noticed that they set aside their differences when they get to the dirt pile. Here they work together to play, explore and dream up new ideas.

All that from a pile of dirt.

How about you – would you consider building a dirt pile in your backyard?

It's always nice to share.
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  1. says

    Yay, Katie, that sounds awesome. I can't believe it took me so long to create such a simple area. Hope yours brings you as much fun as ours has.

  2. Katie says

    We are starting to really think about our outdoor space as well. We have added a small garden and a tent pad for the backyard campout, but we are still looking to redefine some areas for play. This is the perfect solution and we have just the spot! Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing your story. When I was a kid, my brother & I spent hours in the backyard playing in the dirt (among other grand parent-free adventures). Our yard was much bigger & less developed than the yards of today. I'm embarrassed it took me this long to realize that a dirt pile should be the first addition to any outdoor kid space.

  4. says

    That is something I hear from a lot of parents, Jean – and certainly another way to get kids playing in the dirt.

  5. says

    Yeah, we don't either. Although these days I find that a good hosing down outside helps greatly reduce the dirt showing up in the bath or shower.

  6. Anonymous says

    It sorrows me that some parents have to discover this as adults…did they never play in dirt as children? And that some kids appear to need grown-ups to teach them how to play outside. I have two sons, now happy and successful-enough 25-year-olds. They spent a lot of time digging holes in the yard, back under the trees along the alley fence. Sometimes they were pioneers, other times generic &

  7. says

    Yep! Our kids LOVE dirt. The wetter, and the muddier the better! Our bathtub HATES that our kids love dirt, though. But we don't consider our bathtubs's's feelings in most of our decision making.