“Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off.” –Charles Sykes
I know the last thing most students wants to do over the summer is schoolwork. It’s called summer break for a reason!
But working over the summer is completely normal. It’s what you’ll do for most of your adult life. Summer break, in fact, is a remnant of our agricultural past: Families needed their children home from school so they could work on the farm. Only as we’ve shifted away from that agricultural lifestyle has summer break really become a vacation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved summer vacation when I was a student. I think there is a great deal of value in resting, playing, spending time outdoors, and experiencing the freedom of summer vacation. But while we’re embracing the fun side of summer break, let’s not lose sight of the opportunity that it presents. Let’s strive for a balanced approach to summer.
From the standpoint of academics, summer is the time to plan for next year. Would you rather think ahead now and realize there’s work to do over the summer, or have that realization a week before school starts? A week after school starts?!
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill
Right now, you’ve got two months to use to your advantage. I know it’s hard to imagine, but your future self–that person who will be in school next fall–is you. By doing that future self favors over the summer, you’re making life easier on yourself.
Here at Northwest Educational Services, this is exactly the attitude we adopt during the summer. Every summer, we think back on the school year and look ahead to the future. Then we get to work on projects and self-education that will improve our work and our office for the coming school year. Since the school year is so busy for us, summer is our only catch-up time. Greg likes to joke–though he is actually serious–that whatever we don’t accomplish by September 1st won’t get done until next summer. We’re not perfect; you may have noticed the boxes in the waiting area :).
When you reflect on the school year, does it make you worried about next year? In all likelihood, next year will be harder than this year. That’s how school works, after all: The workload increases and the content advances. Will you be ready?
The summer is your chance to get ready. If you fell behind in some area during the past year, this summer is your chance to get caught up. If you’re taking an AP class next year, you can use this summer to start preparing for it. If you’re taking the SAT or the ACT next year, you can use this summer to practice. Of course you don’t want to spend part of your summer prepping for standardized exams, but you might think ahead to the coming school year. Would you rather be sweating those exams and your class load in March? Or would you prefer to be ahead of the game?
You don’t have to spend a significant portion of your summer on academics to make significant gains. If you were to work on school-related goals for 15 minutes per day during the summer, you would only spending 1.56% of your waking hours on the effort (assuming 8 hours of sleep), leaving 98.4% of your waking hours left over for, well, summer. You’d barely be losing anything in terms of time, but you’d be gaining a great deal in terms of learning. All told, that 15-minutes per day suggestion amounts to less than 20 total hours of work, or less than a single day. However, please do not cram all your effort into a single day or even a single week. Spreading it out is the ideal way to tap into the power of spaced repetition.
Aside from these very specific goals, there are numerous ways to stay academically engaged over the summer. Reading, writing, math practice, camps, puzzles, and strategy games are just a few examples of ways to sprinkle brain exercise into the summer. What all these activities have in common is that they keep your brain active. This is critical because the brain is like a bunch of muscles, and many students make the mistake of letting their brains fall out of shape over the summer. Learning and thinking shouldn’t stop just because school is over.
Although some students are self-motivated to work on their academic goals at home, many choose to work with our academic coaches for content support, accountability, and encouragement. In addition to one-on-one tutoring, we offer a variety of summer classes to support both specific and general academic goals.
Beyond academics, summer presents an excellent opportunity for personal growth. There is space to pursue passions and explore interests that, for lack of time, are difficult to engage with during the school year. Students can also use the summer to increase their executive function skills. Taking on chores, gardening, cooking, volunteering, or getting a job are all excellent ways to upgrade the power of the brain’s command center. Responsibilities force you to become more responsible, practice time management, and plan ahead. These are skills that, of course, have spill-over benefits during the next school year.
None of these suggested summer goals are all-or-nothing endeavors. You don’t have to get completely caught up for summer work to be beneficial. All growth–both personal and academic–is on a spectrum. Everything counts, so make at least some of your summer count.
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014. Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris also offers habit coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA, where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.
Title Image: Goge, Josué. “Lectura Playa.” March 30, 2013. https://www.flickr.com/. Creative Commons 2.0. Text added.