Do try this at home! Help your kids be technology sleuths to beat the heat
Author: Richard Singleton

Summer is a time for kids’ imaginations and creativity to run wild

Whether it’s a particularly “exciting” episode of MythBusters or some Evel Knievel knockoff soaring through the sky, we all know the expression “don’t try this at home” means that kids will be drawn as if by gravity to do just the opposite. Hence the reason God created emergency rooms.

I often write about summers at my grandparents’ house, enjoying the great outdoors, popping firecrackers, and seeing what kind of mischief awaited me in old storm cellars, ancient barns, and broken-down chicken coops. I’d be lying if I said that my time there was always spent employing safety and wisdom.

One summer, boredom set in very quickly and inquisitiveness filled the vacuum; that was the summer my cousin and I discovered the wonders – some call them dangers – of gun powder. Let’s just say, my cousin and I were MythBustin’ long before MythBustin’ was cool. Well, at this point, I’ll plead the 5th and join the “don’t try this at home” chorus. Needless to say, that was an explosively fun summer and that no animals, structures, or people were hurt. We were curious…not crazy!
At this point, you may be asking, “why is he rambling on about summer at the farmhouse again?” I’m glad you asked.

Summer is a time for kids’ imaginations and creativity to run wild. And I use “wild” in the safe, academic sense, of course. Kids have been cooped up all school year and they’re brimming over with boredom. They have plenty of time on their hands and lest they have powder burns on them too, we parents should help our kiddos find safe, healthy outlets for intrigue.

Now, those of you who read my article back in January know that I encouraged you to teach your kids the value of recycling old electronics. And, since I’m pretty sure human nature hasn’t changed that much since Christmas break, I’m guessing that almost all of you read the article, thought it was Pulitzer worthy and recycled every last aging electronic device you owned. Only a tiny – I mean miniscule – fraction of you have any old electronics lying around anymore.

Reality is, you or your spouse have gone the way of the masses and have opted to not only go with a Jerry Jones’ size TV in your living room, but you’ve also wed it to a stunningly crisp Blu-Ray player, networked it to your netbook, notebook, iPad, iPhone, and new Wi-Fi toaster oven. One problem: your garage can only hold so much and even though you’ve thought about buying the empty house next door to store your extra stuff, you’re really not that into a second mortgage and a primetime, personalized episode of Hoarders being shot in your neighborhood. No worries. I’ve got another solution – an in-house science camp on the cheap.

Sure, ages ago, you protected the electronics tucked away in the garage with your life (you even used the I-used-to-have-to-walk-across-the-room-and-turn-the-dial sob story…come on…admit it, you used the speech). But now your old DVD player looks ancient, that space-age laptop looks more like age and takes up a lot of space, and let’s not even admit what kind of ancient technology you’re storing in the second or third layer of that Tel mound that you’re erecting for bug-eyed 30th century archeologists.

It’s Texas and there are gonna be roughly a 1,000 days this summer where the temperature will be something approaching five times the temperature of the sun. You’re going to want your kids to be inside the house during the hottest times of the day (okay, want is a strong word, but you know what I mean). Here’s a blueprint for beating boredom.

Gather several old electronic devices. Even little children can participate if you want to let them sacrifice a defunct Leap Frog or Playskool “computer.”

Designate a “lab” space in one of the lesser used rooms of the house or in the garage. If you have a nice shade tree or large patio, you can find a space to set up shop there as well.

Research. Help the kids to do a little online research about what they should expect to find inside a VCR; what makes clocks tick; where all the pictures were stored inside old laptops; what part of the old Nintendo provided all that processing power that fueled all school-night meltdowns.

Create a “reverse engineering” plan. This isn’t Smash Lab; that’s next summer. We aren’t looking to make a YouTube video of computer screens being dropped from two-story buildings and Fourth of July fireworks being set off inside the ancient Apple IIe. Have your child organize a plan for what to go looking for on their electronic scavenger hunt. Make a checklist. Have them download the actual schematics if they can find them. A little Google goes a long way.

Take it apart and take pictures!

Safely discard the pile of rubble left over. After the kids have wreaked their last sliver of havoc on whatever electronics you’re willing to sacrifice, it’s time to discard them once and for all – the electronics, not the kids – you don’t get off that easy. You might be able to recycle much of their forage. The other is curbside fodder.

Smile. You’ve just added a few more cubic feet to the garage. You’ve kept your child out of the heat just a little more than you thought possible. You’ve piqued your child’s interest. You’ve protected them from unleashing their curiosity of your newest of toys. And, you’ve given them lasting memories that will not collect dust like the junk they’ve just destroyed. Okay, in the spirit of keeping the house intact, the pets safe, and the fire department at bay let me throatily say “do try this at home.”

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