Jason Wright: Kids need to get hands dirty this summer

Jason Wright

Jason Wright

Light up those power strips, kids. Summer’s here! It’s time to play on the iPad, Xbox and Wii U. Woohoo.

Wait, don’t forget Netflix. Those four seasons of Disney’s “Good Luck Charlie” aren’t going to binge watch themselves.

What in the name of Stretch Armstrong is happening? Everywhere I go, I hear kids talking about their big summer plans, and, more often than not, they involve virtual reality instead of, well, you know, reality.

I’ve always said that I’d never begin a sentence with these five words. I mean really promised, as in on a stack of Pop-Tarts. But sometimes, they just come. Here goes: when I was a kid.

We couldn’t wait until the last day of school so my pal and I could stay outside until my mother called me from our deck to dinner. He and I invented a sport called creek jumping which involved, believe it or not, jumping a creek. We had one that sliced through our mostly wooded property and, at various points, one bank was as much as 8 feet higher than the other. We numbered prime points along the way and launched ourselves across like we were wearing jet packs. Somehow we never ran out of batteries.

When I was a kid growing up in Charlottesville, I made a high jump in my backyard. I learned to jump higher and higher until I broke my arm. When I couldn’t jump, I ran. Later I created my own Olympics complete with gargantuan paper plate medals. One summer I strung up a net and my sister and I played badminton until we had blisters. Yes, blisters.

When I was a kid, I walked to a neighbor’s house across the street and learned to play tennis by hitting against a short wall built into her tennis court. If I mis-hit, the ball sailed over a fence and into a patch of weeds from a Stephen King novel.

At this same neighbor’s, I fished early in the morning and late at night in a farm pond. I camped with buddies on banks with names like “bass country,” “catfish corner” and “bluegill hill.” You get the idea.

When I was a kid, I made a trash bag parachute and jumped off the lowest part of our roof. (It didn’t work.)

I sold vegetables at the bottom of our driveway. I wrote short stories and plays. I created “Jason’s Find and Do Agency” and made a few bucks doing extra things for my mother and looking for things I’d lost the day before.

I played in the rain. I tore my pants. I got my hands dirty.

Sure, I watched some movies and logged Pac-Man time on our cutting-edge Atari 2600. But those were short breaks when the Virginia humidity and pollen were so thick I couldn’t see straight. We didn’t play outside when it was time to take a break from technology, we took a break when we were out of clean clothes.

When I was a kid, there was nothing sweeter than popsicles in an ice-tray made with Kool-Aid, plastic wrap and toothpicks. When our fingers weren’t sticky, they were sore from whittling and climbing trees, not from pressing buttons on a remote.

It’s possible I’m just an old fuddy-duddy. (Exhibit A: Use of the word “fuddy-duddy.) Perhaps it’s not realistic to expect my four kids ranging from 19 to 8 to go outside, build a fort, play ball, make a kite and catch lightening bugs.

But isn’t that the very point? Don’t children need a little more reality? Couldn’t they benefit from more time in the real world and less time in worlds that only exist on hard drives?

Technology is great, but it can’t replace imagination. And it shouldn’t take a USB adapter or remote control to fire it up.

It’s summertime, kids. Go get dirty. We’ll call you when dinner’s ready.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com

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