By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Ugh, I know that more thinking is the last thing you want to do as you wrap up your school year and head to the beach for two months straight. I know! Me too!
But while we all need the mental break that summer vacation promises us after slaaaaaying it in school for 10 months, it’s important not to let your brains turn to pudding either. And I know that “pudding” doesn’t sound really scientific, but summer learning loss is legit. According to the New York Times, “summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.” Oh … that’s not good.
So how do we balance beaches and books? Pools and the Pythagorean theorem? (It’s taking all my self control not to come up with a million more alliterations … okay… one more … campfires and cosines, lol.)
Here are five tips for how to stay smart over the summer
1. Read something. Anything.
Sure, you might have mandatory summer reading to do — and if you enjoy those books, then awesome! Here are some summer reading tips for you. But I’m talking about just reading anything over the summer, like news articles, magazines, funny books, the instruction manual to your Vitamix blender …anything is better than nothing! (Social media posts don’t count. Too many grammar errors in there that will definitely not help you stay smart over the summer.) Seriously though, the more words you read — even if they’re not super academic words — the more likely your language won’t melt in the sun.
2. Start a journal
What better way to document your summer than by writing it all down in a journal? You could go classic and use a paper version, or you could experiment with online versions like diary.com or even blogger.com. You can keep it private or make it public — whatever you want. Have fun with it! And as you do, you’ll be keeping your writing skills sharp.
3. Listen to podcasts
There are podcasts on every possible topic you could ever dream of. Like mystery? Listen to Serial. Like cool science? Listen to NPR’s The Hidden Brain. History? Try Stuff You Missed in History. Self improvement? Try Happier with Gretchen Ruben or The Art of Charm. Do a quick search from the podcast app on your phone and you’ll see just how many options there are. Listening to podcasts is an incredible and enjoyable way to keep your neurons firing without picking up a book.
4. Get a summer job or volunteer
Learning doesn’t only come from books. (Shocker!) It also comes from cool experiences. So find yourself a summer job that is a little outside your comfort zone. Do something you enjoy, of course, but stay away from the boring summer jobs that you could do with your eyes closed and brain off. I used to work at a local farm during the summer, and every season I would do something different: one year I was in the flower fields, another year I was coordinating the annual strawberry festival, another year I was baking pies in the farm kitchen (no joke). But there was always something new. And to boot, I learned so much Spanish that I ended up majoring in Spanish in college! My point is that it’s important to find a job or volunteering gig that will get you thinking and will challenge you.
5. Talk to people!
Oh this is my favorite. Every single person in the world knows something that we don’t know. So that means that every single person you know and don’t know has something to teach you. So talk to them! Talk to your customers at the store, ask people questions, ask people about their opinions … engage people in conversation whenever you possibly can. You could even ask the same series of questions to multiple people and see what types of different perspectives people give you. Just be sure to talk to people outside of your typical social circle; otherwise, you won’t learn anything really new. I always like to say to my family “Tell me one thing you learned today.” It’s simple, but it leads to some pretty cool and weird conversations.
So yeah, of course you should take some time off this summer to rest your brain and calm your nerves. You deserve a break, for goodness’ sake. But after a week or so of anti-thinking activities, try to ease your way back into some thought by considering a few of the above ideas for how to stay smart over the summer.
And one more thing. I certainly don’t want to rush away summer, but here’s what you need to know before September comes around again!