Dirt Pile

3 Ways A Dirt Pile Is Better Than Toys

Dirt PileI just spent 45 minutes sitting on an electric meter watching my boys play on a big dirt pile.

I had plenty of time to think about all the toys that my boys received for birthdays and holidays and special occasions and how none of them have come close to absorbing, engaging and entertaining them the way that this gigantic pile of dirt has done for the last 45 minutes.

As with all of the anecdotal evidence I use to recommend activities, your mileage may vary with your kids. But I would encourage you to take your child to a dirt pile this weekend. The one that we found was down the street where a new house is being built.

The only reason my boys stopped playing on the dirt pile is because I forced them to stop playing on the dirt pile so that we could go inside to eat dinner. Otherwise they would probably still be playing on it.

When I consider the 18 billion dollars that Americans spent on toys for children in 2014 (yes, that’s just one year’s spending on toys) I find I can’t even begin to fathom how wasteful it is, both in terms of dollars wasted and in terms of quality play time wasted on toys that only deliver very limited absorption, engagement and entertainment to kids. I’m betting that if you put your kids on a big pile of dirt this weekend you’ll see just what I’m talking about.

After careful observation I noticed 3 primary activities which my boys engaged in while playing on the dirt pile. What follows is a list of those 3 activities along with the expensive, wasteful toys that they replace.

1. Throwing Stuff

Little boys love throwing stuff and many little girls love throwing stuff, too. Throwing stuff is emotionally cathartic, it builds dexterity, accuracy and hand-eye coordination and it’s good exercise.

Most dirt piles are composed of big clods of dirt. These are great for throwing.

A big bonus is that when you throw them fast enough at something hard, they explode in a satisfying shower of chunks. This discovery hooked my boys hard. If throwing the dirt clods were the steak, the explosion was the sizzle. Mr. B and Mr. C couldn’t get enough.

At some point you might want to buy your kid a baseball, or a football, or a basketball, or a golf ball, or a racquetball or some other kind of sports ball. Until that time, rest assured that your kids would be very satisfied with dirt clods. Very, very satisfied.

Additionally, you can hold off on purchasing all manner of Nerf gun, dart guns, disk shooters, or any sort of toy that actually shoots some kind of projectile. At one point Mr. B pretended like throwing the dirt clod was “shooting a shooter gun,” as he called it.

2. Action Figures

They discovered some dirt clods with sticks embedded in them.

This finding gave them both pause; somehow these were not dirt clods but Dirt Clods, and were seamlessly transformed into creatures to which the boys imparted voices, personality and an unfolding adventure.  

I watched in rapt attention, feeling like a suburban Jane Goodall, as my boys instantly transformed some dirt clods with sticks in them into something as good or better than the $13 alternative.

One of the dirt clods with especially odd roots sticking out of it became a “bad guy.” He was quickly subdued in a breathtaking action sequence. When the “bad guy” began to fall apart the boys took their time dismantling the “hero” dirt clods. 

Throwing the sticks and roots as far as they could was only the next logical step.

I didn’t time it with a clock but my guess is this activity consumed 15-17 fully engaged minutes. And what were the outcomes?

No action figures purchased; that’s money saved and space saved in a landfill down the road. No toys to clean up after playtime ended; all action figures were destroyed, rendered gleeful casualties of playtime. Imagination was exercised while bodies were exercised; fresh air, sunshine and creativity.

3. Jungle Gym

Hey guys, look at this thing. Can you believe that it only costs $40 to own? Are you thinking about what an amazing deal it is?

Not me. I’m thinking about how I can’t believe this is an actual thing that actually, you know, exists.

I’m all for playground equipment and jungle gyms, especially the public kind. Not only are they free of charge, they offer great opportunities for kids to practice socializing, setting boundaries and learning how to share with others.

But I think my boys would take a dirt pile over a public playground any day.

Climbing up to the top is a fun challenge. Sliding down to the bottom is a fun mix of slippery and fast, allowing for a feeling of being just out-of-control enough to be exciting. 

This activity was the backdrop and the unifying theme of all the other activities. Even while throwing dirt clods, the dirt pile must be ascended. Even while chasing the “bad guy” Dirt Clod with the “good guy” Dirt Clod, the pile must be descended.

But the ascent is enough, and the descent is enough; both are activities sufficient enough to entertain and engage all on their own. I can’t say how many times they climbed up and down, up and down in a 45 minute period. 

Each ascent caused drastic changes to the geography and the landscape of the pile. Which made each descent a little different, a little bit challenging and engaging in a new way. 

Each descent spread seismic shifts in the features of the pile. New sinkholes had to be explored and mitigated, new sub-surface features were unearthed and added to the escarpment.

There were sub-cycles within cycles, tiny dramas that lasted mere moments, wild-eyed wars against the laws of physics, all unspoken, all unscripted, all in 45 minutes on a dirt pile.

In Conclusion

When you write 1,000 words about your kids enjoying the sublime wonders of a dirt pile, it feels a little bit silly trying to sum up.

Suffice to say, that our best intentions and our best inventions still pale in comparison to the wonders just outside of our window, just underneath our hat, just down the street in a vacant lot.

Your kids know this better than you do and they will be happy to show you if you give them a chance.

Put your kid on a dirt pile this weekend and learn all over again what you already know.

And please comment on this post or drop us a note at info@parentswho.com after you do.

We would love to hear about how it turns out!

I Don't have Enough Time

I Don’t Have Enough Time

19109447_s_optI was just in Chris’s office having a chat with him.  We were struggling with an issue and decided to brainstorm some ideas on a piece of paper.

I reached behind me for a paper and pen and what I found saddened me quite a bit.

I found some paper, a spiral notebook in fact, and in it I had scribbled about half a page in black pen a very clear brain dump during a very difficult moment.

The page isn’t dated, but it’s clear when I wrote it that I just reached for the closest piece of paper I could find as it’s a wide-ruled notebook circa 4th grade and it has random scribblings in it.

“I feel so overwhelmed.  I can not make all this happen with the time I have available to me.  There is meeting up with friends, seeing family, playing with the boys, printing the boys preschool photos, exercising, sleeping, making healthy dinners, uploading photos, my b-day, …what is supposed to come 1st and when do I get to just do nothing and relax?!”

The reason it made me sad is this – what I wrote then is almost exactly what I could have written yesterday.  The only reason I know I didn’t write it yesterday is because it mentions my b-day, which is in October.

As parents, and really just as people, I think we are constantly battling a lack of time and energy.  We struggle to make enough time for the things we “have” to do, not to mention the things we really want to do.

This month I have been researching how to make some improvements to my prioritization and some time management skills.

I have read several books, listened to several podcasts and talked to several different people.

I know that many of you have the same feelings of overwhelm and frustration that you’re not getting done all the things you want to get done.

I don’t believe there is a one size fits all for everyone, but I’d like to share a few resources that are working for me this month.

1. The Miracle Morning

miracle morning, parenting, time management
I first heard about this book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod on Pat Flynn’s podcast episode about morning routines.

After reading the book’s summary I didn’t feel like buying it and reading it was going to tell me anything new.  Basically, “hey lady, wake up earlier!”

But I bought it anyways, and for some reason, this book really worked for me.

I read the book in one day.

The day after, I woke at 6 am.

And I accomplished 6 things I have been putting off since we moved.  Two months ago.

I like the book because it provides a framework for what TO do in the morning after you wake.  It doesn’t just tell you to wake up early.

I also like that it gives tips for how to actually physically and mentally get yourself out of bed early, especially when nothing you’ve ever tried before has worked.

It’s as specific as “put your alarm on the other side of the room, when it goes off, turn it off, walk to the bathroom, brush your teeth…”

I like that I woke up today on my terms and not my kids.

Granted, it’s only been one day, but so far it’s very empowering and very productive.

If you try it please let me know if it works for you.

2. Pat Flynn’s Episode #150

pat flynn, day in the life, habits, parenting, time management

I don’t listen to every episode of Pat Flynn’s, but this one struck me as one worth listening to.

The episode is titled “A Day in the Life of Pat – My (New) Routine, Schedule and Habits Shared”.

I can relate to Pat because like myself, he has a business and he has kids and a spouse.

Anything about routines or habits that he wants to talk about, I’m ready to listen to.

And I was not disappointed.

He talks about how his habits and routines have had to change since going from a married man, to a married man with one kid, to a married man with two kids.

He lays out very specifically what he used to do, what he does now, and analyzes what changes have made the most significant improvements in his life.

Even if you don’t have time to listen to the episode, you should definitely check out the show notes.  There are links to meditation resources, sleep resources, journal suggestions, etc.

Some of the items, like the Muse headband, which helps you monitor your brain waves and aids in meditation, are a little too expensive for me right now, but others, like The Five Minute Journal, are within my budget.

I ordered my Five Minute Journal today and am eager to see how I like it using it in the morning.

3. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

parenting, time management, habits, better than before

The book Better Than Before is a book about habits.  Why we keep them and why we break them.

What I like about Gretchen’s take is that she discusses how different sorts of personalities approach habit-keeping in different ways.

For example, Chris and I have almost completely opposite systems for holding ourselves accountable to our goals and habits.

Understanding what makes me tick has been monumentally helpful in figuring out ways that I can maintain new habits I create.

I also like that she covers very specifically different ways we can hold ourselves accountable.  Everything from Fit Bits to friends.

I am always looking for new ways to maximize my time.

I want to be efficient in my use of time but also flexible enough to allow for new ideas and experiences to take hold.

It’s hard as as parent when you want to have a clean house, homemade meals, low screen time, one on one time, date nights, etc.

I hope that some of these resources can help you as they have helped me.

Please leave a comment and let us know if you have tried any of the above ideas, or if you have any resources to add!

3 Intros to Money For Kids

3 Introductions to MoneyThere’s nothing like tax season to get you ready to think about your finances.

Taking a good hard look at finances makes me think back to how little I knew what was going on with my parents finances when I was kid. I think my parents kept me from knowing anything about our financial situation because they didn’t want me to worry about it.

The truth is we weren’t always in the best shape while I was growing up. My dad was laid off from his job and he was embarking on a brand-new entrepreneurial adventure starting a construction company. We went through lean times but I was blissfully unaware of it. Tax season got me thinking about this and asking myself questions about money and my own boys Mr. B and Mr. C.

How much should I let them know?

How much should I keep secret?

How can I arm them with crucial information and experience without causing worry?

What follows are some ideas that I’ve put into practice. to answer these questions.

1. Talk About Cost

I found that my boys understand the concept of cost far better than I expected them to.

They especially understand the concept of opportunity cost, which is a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else.

We try to give our boys a reasonable number of choices throughout their day. This definitely leads to an understanding that when they choose to spend time upstairs with me building something out of cardboard, it’s at the expense of going downstairs and playing in the yard.

So highlighting this cost to them has been easy, but what about the cost of going out to eat dinner? I’ve tried a few times to talk to my boys about what I’m doing when the check comes, what it means, what the card is that I’m using to pay for everything, what it represents; but money seems like too big of a concept for them to grasp at 4 years old. This is fine for now, because although they don’t seem to grasp the idea of where money comes from, they already have an understanding of…

2. Get Them Saving

Mr. B and Mr. C were gifted with two beautiful piggy banks when they were babies and they love these piggy banks.

Any time a friend or relative gives them a little bit of money for birthday or a holiday the boys are excited and eager to put that money in their piggy banks. There have been a handful of times when I’ve been out shopping with the boys and they’ve asked me to buy them a toy.

I’ve offered that if they they could pay for the item using money from their piggy banks and each time they drop it. Mr. C’s reaction has been open disgust at the idea of spending money out of his precious piggy bank. To him it only has one use: saving.

Despite the historically low saving rate in America we do seem to be inborn with a instinct for conserving limited resources. Somewhere between this inborn instinct and a steady diet of an hour’s worth of TV ads per day the average American’s perspective changes.


I never had a class in all my years of school about the need or importance of saving money but I did learn from my parents that saving was important. I can remember at an early age my dad imparted the wisdom to always pay yourself first. I don’t do as good a job of it in my own life as he does in his,  but I’d like to give my kids a good example to follow so that when they become adults, they’ll have a better chance of being savers.

3. Find Treasure

I still get a thrill when I find a penny or a nickel or a dime or a quarter on the ground. I’ve always thought there was something kind of neat about currency but not necessarily for its purchasing power.

To me, it’s fun to imagine the story behind a given piece of money. What’s it been doing all these years, how long has it been sitting on this dusty floor, how many hands it has passed through, were any of them famous hands?

Is this 1925 wheat penny I found in the dog park the very same penny that was in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pocket while he wrote the great Gatsby? Silly questions like that capture my imagination.

When my boys and I go outside we like to hunt for treasure. I think because of my own excitement when I find a coin, the boys share this excitement. We like to talk about where the coin came from. We like to make up stories about who might’ve lost it and under what circumstances.

Did it fall out of the pocket of a delivery driver who was dodging out of the way of a runaway dump truck? Did it drop out of the cabin of a passing airplane? Is there a secret underground bank around here somewhere and the money came from the secret underground vault?

I hope that I am helping to steer my boys towards an understanding that it’s not money itself that’s important; that money is just a means to an end.

I’m also hopeful to imbue in them a sense that the accumulation of money is not a valid path to happiness, that happiness is the result of leading a well-lived life full of love, friendships, growth and amazing experiences.

I want them to know no matter how excited we get about finding a quarter under a rock in the park, we should never make it our life’s pursuit to accumulate as many quarters as possible.

 In conclusion

I hope this post can serve as an encouragement to you to begin the lifelong discussion about money with your kids ASAP. It’s truly never too early to begin.

We talk to our kids about money but we balance that with a desire to prevent them from worrying or from being too focused on money. It’s likely that your children are just as curious as ours are about this most important resource.

How do you talk to your kids about money, what methods have you found to be effective to introduce money to your children?  Please leave us your responses in the comments below.

children's audio stories, parents who, parenting, audio books

The Sparkle Kickstarter

children's audio stories, parents who, parenting, audio booksAs parents, and human beings in general, it’s super important that we are intentionally and consciously sharing resources with one another.

Be that time, money, a great book you know a friend would love, a homemade meal, advice, or jump when a stranger’s car battery dies.

We try here at Parents Who to always let you know when there’s an awesome article, joke, product, book, person, etc… that could improve your life somehow.

We wrote a post earlier this year about Sparkle Stories and how much we believe in their mission and their product.

David and Lisabeth were part of the inspiration for us starting Imagining Aloud, and their stories enhance our family quality time.

Sparkle Stories produces original audio stories for children and families around the world.  Their stories are simple, delightful and filled with a sense of wonder – they inspire children to play, to marvel, to laugh, and to be kind.

David and Lisabeth, parents themselves, know and understand how to provide high-quality entertainment that is just perfect for family time, or quiet time.

We are so excited to announce that they just launched a Kickstarter Campaign to build a Story App – a much needed story app!  And we really want them to succeed.sparkle stories, audio stories, parenting, children
They have lots of wonderful rewards.  To start, for $2 or more you can enjoy a free story — and you’ll be helping Sparkle bring their stories to more and more families!  (And you’ll be making the world a better place, as they are changing the face of children’s media, by creating kinder, gentler stories for children.)

Follow the link here to watch their Kickstarter video and to back them.  They don’t care if it’s $2 or $200 – they just want you to be a part.

You can also subscribe to any of their twelve original Story Series, try one of their many Audio Books or a free story on the Sparkle iTunes Podcast!  Just visit their website www.sparklestories.com for more information.

Chris and I are committed to helping others achieve their goals, especially when it’s for the betterment of all.

Sparkle Stories is a huge force of good and we hope you’ll check them out and let us know what you think.

What about you?  Any resources you’re loving right now that you want to share?  Please let us know in the comments below!

Fast is Slow With Kids

Fast is Slow with KidsSteven Covey likely needs very little introduction to many of our readers. His book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of the most popular and influential business and self-help books ever written.

One of the big takeaways for me was the edict that “with people, slow is fast and fast is slow.” Before reading this a decade ago, I had fallen into the bad habit of only skimming through the daily interactions in my life, instead spending the majority of my mental processing cycles crafting and refining what I was going to say next.

Since incorporating this practice into my daily life a decade ago, I always find that when I slow down to truly listen and take time to think carefully before responding, every interaction in my world becomes richer, more productive and (paradoxically), more efficient. It’s my go-to conversational tactic in my career, in my interpersonal relationships and in my daily interactions with my community.

But with my kids? Sometimes I end up feeling like such a jerk.

While trying to focus on a rambling, interminable story from Mr. B I catch myself checking my watch. I don’t wear a watch.

While trying to last through the ceaseless string of “um’s” Mr. C uses while he cogitates a path through describing a dump truck, each “um” feels like another drop of water. During Chinese water torture.

While attempting to teach my boys a new skill I find myself rushing through the explanation, then rushing through their questions, then feeling disappointed when they flounder.

I love them both more than I can describe! But sometimes I struggle mightily to give them my undivided attention as they wrestle with mastering language, expression and communication. It’s so hard to stop myself from finishing their sentences for them, to prevent myself from “cutting to the chase,” to keep myself dialed into the point (or total lack thereof).

It can feel like running a marathon through an endless sea of waist-deep oatmeal, is what I’m saying.

But recently, I netted a win. What follows is a description of that success.

It’s my hope that this parenting success will instruct you, inform you, or just remind you that fast is slow and slow is fast with your kids.

Seizing The Teachable Moment

Quick backstory first. Last year in the months before Xmas Mr. B and Mr. C were united in their mutual desire to get something they could drive. We decided to get them a little 2-seater battery-powered dune buggy and when they saw it on Xmas morning it was a big hit.

But a few days later, it didn’t drive forward anymore it only drove in reverse. I spent an hour trying to fix it with no success. After a call to the retailer, I was told a new one would arrive that week and the delivery guy would pick up the old one.

The delivery guy came and went. A new box complete with a new dune buggy to assemble was dropped off; nothing was picked up.

After a second call to the retailer I learned that, in fact, the delivery guy was never going to pick up the old one. That it is, in fact, illegal to pick up the already assembled dune buggy due to laws which restrict interstate transport of already opened batteries of this type. During the second call I inquired of the rep what I should do with the broken dune buggy.

“You could donate it,” he said. “That’s what most people do.”

“But…it’s broken. It doesn’t drive forward,” I replied.

“Well… they could push it around,” he replied, somewhat sheepishly.

I pictured an unfortunate kid trying in vain to push the bulky, immobile dune buggy around. I pictured the brand-new dune buggy deteriorating in the local landfill. I resolved to fix it.

Fast forward to last week. After a month and a half in our new house you would think everything is unpacked and squared away, but the truth is we are only now beginning to get some sense of organization and routine back into place for our family. The boys have asked me when am I going to fix the other gator (they call the dune buggies ‘gators’) approximately eleventy billion times.

I finally made some time and began tinkering. I popped the freshly charged battery in, poked and prodded some wires and connectors, gave some parts that needed whacking some educated whacks. 15 minutes later the broken dune buggy was broken no more, it’s a miracle. The boys are ecstatic. They are clamoring for me to get the gators down in the front yard and get them ready to drive.

Inspiration strikes.

“Guys,” I announce, “I am going to show you how to do this for yourselves. And I’m going to show you how to plug the batteries into the battery compartments. And I’m going to set up a little charging station for you over here in the corner of the garage and show you how to remove the batteries from the gators when you are done playing with them and show you how to plug them into the chargers, too.”

Their response is even more excited than before. It makes me feel excited too, and kind of proud that they are enthusiastic about this. I realize that Sarah will be proud of them and proud of me for taking this initiative.

In my excitement, I launch into action. I’m describing things to them as I move, opening compartments, plugging and unplugging batteries, searching for a power strip, arranging charger cords, demonstrating plugging and unplugging a charger into the battery, Words like easy, simple and piece of cake are peppering my instructions.

Mr. C tries to pick up a battery and I freeze mid-sentence. I can see the storm cloud gathering in his eyes. He is struggling to lift the battery. It’s too heavy for him, he’s not picking it up by the handles, he’s close to dropping it on his foot.

His expression brings me back to earth, I’m coming to my senses, I realize I’m setting my boys up for failure, I realize I’m going way, way, way too fast and my expectations have gotten away from me again.

This was the turning point for me, the point where I feel like I turned what would have been a Dad fail into a Dad win.

I took a deep breath in, sat down on the garage floor next to Mr. C, and exhaled slowly. I forced myself to count to 20 in my head.

“Hey,” I said. “Let’s look a little more closely at this battery here.”

He ceased struggling to lift it and joined me on the floor to look at the battery and Mr. B joined us. I talked slowly and clearly. I talked about the battery, just the battery. I talked about the little handles, how I noticed that the handles on the battery were just like the little handle on their toolbox.

At my mention of their toolbox, Mr. B excitedly piped up, “Dada, I’ll go get our toolbox, we can put it in the gator!”

“Great idea!” agreed Mr. C, and they both stood up to leave.

I had to physically bite my lower lip to stop myself from stopping them. I wanted to redirect them back to the battery so bad. My mouth stayed shut, I sat on the garage floor and waited.

They returned with their toolbox and set it in one of the gators. I held up the battery and asked Mr. B what the power port on the battery reminded him of. He trotted over to look.

“It looks like a little mouth, dada.” I told him I thought so too. I told him that it kind of worked like a mouth, too, because the power cord goes inside the mouth and feeds the battery with electricity. Mr. C became interested in the battery again.

I then proceeded to run a marathon through a sea of oatmeal for 45 minutes.

Their interest waxed and waned throughout. There were times where my patience felt at its end, and each time I reminded myself to lower my expectations of them and my expectations of me. With each step I forced myself to go much slower than I thought necessary. And it worked.

At each step, Mr. B and Mr. C succeeded in the task set before them. They beamed with pride and pleasure. By the end, they were the loving ‘owners’ of this process from start to finish.

In Conclusion

I am not exaggerating. Slowing down so consciously and slowly felt like a monumental act of will; it felt like I was taking a year off of my life.

But the results have been speaking for themselves ever since. Mr. B and Mr. C love driving their gators and they love being in charge of their maintenance and upkeep. It would have been so easy for them to come away hating it, thinking of it as a distasteful chore, a joyless interruption of the real fun.

I come into contact with the limits of my parenting patience more than I would like to acknowledge. I am constantly humbled by the deep reserves of patience which so many good people in my life seem to posses.

That’s why it’s doubly refreshing when I can flex those muscles in a new way; when I can live up to my potential as a father, however briefly.

If any of this post speaks to you, if you have been nodding your head along as you’ve read, I encourage you to consciously choose to have a much slower than usual interaction with your child this week.

Let it feel comically, ridiculously slow if that’s what it feels like to you. Whatever it takes for you to decelerate. Linger over all the important details. Answer questions in depth, with context, by sharing emotional components.