"I want to touch the earth, I want to break it in my hands, I want to grow something wild and unruly," croon the women of one of my favorite singing groups, the Dixie Chicks. I hum this song to myself often as I watch my young kids scooping up piles of dark earth, just for the fun of it.
One of my kids' favorite activities is playing in the dirt. They love it so much that we have yet to actually landscape the section of our front yard specifically meant for landscaping – that little island of dirt nestled between the driveway, the sidewalk leading to the front door, and the house. We meant to fill it with bushes and flowers a few years ago, but our little ones just had so much fun playing in it as we landscaped the opposite side of the front yard that we just decided to leave the dirt alone for the rest of that year. And then the next.
When we got an awesome, large sandbox for the back yard, the intent was to landscape the remainder of the front yard since the kids now had a nice replacement digging area. But although they do love the sandbox and play in it regularly, they still love to play in the front dirt-area even more. And so it remains.
Some days they haul the trucks out from the sandbox and do all sorts of construction projects and road building in the dirt. Other days, they mess around with the small pile of leftover bricks, stacking them or arranging them. Other times they pretend to plant gardens or put in landscaping.
But most days, they just prefer to dig in the dirt. We used to have a few kid-sized metal garden-shovels but only one is still in working order, so my two kids take turns with that and alternatively a snow shovel, which they like for smoothing out the dirt. They also have some smaller shovels and tools for digging, too. They simply love making – and then moving – piles of dirt. And sometimes they just prefer to take turns diving into the dirt – full body flops designed to make mom exclaim, "You are filthy from head to toe!"
For whatever reason, they love to connect with the dirt. I think that a large part of it is the chance to use their muscles. It is nice, hard work to dig down and scoop up and move around that dirt. I've noticed that in the winter months when we are more cooped up indoors, they love to simply move around furniture or toys. Just continuously move it around - they seem to need to keep their muscles in motion.
I also think that it feels genuine to them. They see their parents and other adults working in the yard, in the garden, in the dirt. When they dig in the dirt, they are participating in those activities, too.
Finally, I think they just plain like the feel of dirt. They like to break it in their hands and feel the “wild and unruly” energy of the earth course into them.
And so, I share their love of dirt with all of you, in the hopes that you will be inspired to help your own little ones find a plot of dirt (either at home or somewhere else) that they can dig their hands into.
Rachel Engelhardt is a former high school English and speech teacher who lives in Yorkville with her husband, 5-year-old son and 2 ½-year-old daughter (with No. 3 on the way). She's the owner of A Closet of Her Own, an online business that features t-shirts in girly colors and styles decorated with images usually reserved for boys' clothing. You can read more of her columns on her blog.