It's important to keep in mind that summer break and learning are not mutually exclusive.


As the school year winds down, we're all thinking of the upcoming lengthy summer break. After their finals, most students will start in on their perennial 2-3 month hiatus. Some will go to camp; some will get a job or internship; some will spend time with family; some will stay in the air conditioning playing video games all day. Far too few, however, will continue to foster their own learning. 

A sharp divide between summer break and anything even hinting at the academic is firmly engrained in American culture. The thinking goes that students who have wracked their brains all year long and have endured assignments, deadlines, and stress while pent up in stuffy classrooms deserve a nice long break from it all. And that's true: students need time to catch up on sleep, explore their own interests, learn how to work jobs in the real world, and occasionally, do nothing whatsoever. All this is healthy. But the fact of the matter is that fervent opposition to keeping the brain engaged over the summer hurts students immensely. 


A quick Google search will reveal thousands of research and commentary articles citing "summer learning loss". Extensive research has shown that students who don't keep their minds going over the summer can lose the equivalent of months of reading comprehension and math skills. That's bad news, especially when it comes to the start of the next school year, when students have to play catch-up just to regain the intellectual skills they had at the end of the previous school year. There's evidence that this loss also hurts students on standardized tests. 


Before the eye-rolling begins (if it hasn't already begun), let me be clear that I am not recommending that students sit diligently with workbooks for three hours a day through the summer, completing math and grammar problems. (Unless your student(s) want to do this, in which case I won't complain.) That's both unrealistic and unnecessary. In fact, developing and challenging the mind need not be a formal or even particularly taxing enterprise. Here are a few easy ways students can prevent their brains from slowly oozing out of their ears over their lengthy summer break.

  • Read. Sure, some schools have summer reading programs, but I'm not referring to required books. Unfortunately, school English curricula can be stubbornly stuck to the "classics" of literature. I think about the summer between 9th and 10th grade, when I was made to read Charles Dickens's Great Expecations. By page 50, I was referring to it as Low Expectations, and in typical summer reading fashion, saved a cursory skim of the rest of it until three days before school started. Books like this can ruin student motivation to read. I'm talking about reading anything. Angsty young-adult novels; science fiction or fantasy; sports biographies; magazines. It doesn't matter. Provided the material isn't 100% fluff, reading of almost any form will engage the mind and cause students to think critically. 

  • YouTube. There are thousands upon thousands of high-quality educational videos on youtube. Does your student enjoy wildlife? Search for it, and you'll find hundreds of great nature documentaries. Math and science? Awesome series like Numberphile and Periodic Videos make numbers and chemistry interesting and entertaining. So much more is available –– just explore!

  • Acquire a Skill. Gaining new skills engages the brain and has the added benefit of making students more competent and interesting people. How about learning to cook, learning how to knit or crochet, learning how to code in a programming language, learning how to build and launch model rockets, how to play an instrument, or any of the other million skills out there?

  • Take Advantage of Work. Some students want or have to work over the summer. Their jobs can range from monotonous to exhilirating, but one thing is certain: they can learn from almost any of them. For example, students working as supermarket cashiers might build mental math skills by figuring out how to calculate change and percent off from coupons in their heads before looking at the register to confirm. Students working as secretaries or assistants in offices can learn how to become more efficient in handling data or processes, and can build their people skills on the phone and in person. Students who work outside as camp counselors or kayak guides can learn how to effectively communicate and teach people who are unfamiliar with activities. In all, student workers should try to extract all they can from their jobs, even if it isn't directly relevant to their future careers.

Did we miss anything? Use the comment section below to let us know what else students can do to continue learning during summer break.

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