“Practice makes permanent”—but any athlete will tell you that if you don’t keep practicing, your form gets shaky, your power decreases, and your muscle memory starts to fade.
Your brain works the same way, and lots of research has shown that students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer than they did at the beginning.
How to Make Your Summer Work for You
If you’re a big reader, your reading scores will probably stay the same or even improve a little (fellow bookworms, unite!). Math scores, however, are a different story, and if you don’t want to spend the first few weeks of next year playing catchup, here are some things you can do to retain all that knowledge you’ve worked so hard for—without spending your whole summer indoors. We pinky-promise.
1. Visit interesting places
If your family is planning a vacation (or stay-cation), research your destination for a cool museum, factory, science exhibit, or play. Downtime (or beach time) is important too, but learning about something in a new place can be really fun—and much more meaningful than reading about it in a textbook.
Summer camps can be another a great way to keep your brain busy, whether it’s a science camp or just a place where you get to try a bunch of new activities. Local universities and schools often have several options, so think about applying!
2. Focus on building good habits
If you’re headed to high school or college soon, summer can be the perfect time to step back and start figuring out what sleep, work, and study habits work for you (without actually doing any studying). Just pay attention to how you feel and what things make you feel more or less stressed.
Do you feel most alert and active in the mornings? At night? Do you sleep better when you go to bed at 10 or when you go to bed at 12? Pay attention to what helps you be the most focused, happy, and engaged, and then use that knowledge to your advantage—even if it just means knowing you need to plan for some downtime the next day if you need to stay up late.
You can also try things like meditation or deep-breathing exercises if you often feel stress or anxiety. The next time you’re cramming for a test, you’ll be really glad you have those tricks up your sleeve to keep you calm!
Physical activity is another great habit to get into that will set you up for success next year. What helps you move? What do you enjoy? What energizes you—dancing, playing sports, going for a run? The possibilities are endless. Try one this summer when there’s less pressure and see how it makes you feel.
3. Stay curious
Just because you’re not in school doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. You can spend time learning things YOU want to learn! (Check out this TEDx talk for some inspiration!) There are courses online for almost everything under the sun, from cooking to graphic design to programming and robotics. In just a couple of short weeks, you could learn to build websites, program in Java, take better photos and customize them in Photoshop, create video games, understand the basics of psychology, or even learn to bake French pastry. For real.
If tackling a big course doesn’t sound like your idea of fun in the sun, try learning something else. A new sport. Swimming. Magic tricks. Juggling. Art. Cooking (your friends and your health will thank you in college or when you’re on your own, even if you just learn a few ramen hacks or how to make scrambled eggs).
Think about what intrigues you, and follow that thread of passion, even if you know nothing about it at first. It may even guide you towards an unexpected career!
4. Build, write, draw, or create something every week—or every day, if you can.
If you want to make your summer truly memorable, try to do something worth remembering at least once a week, whether it’s building a giant fortress in Minecraft or a spectacular sand sculpture in your neighbor’s backyard. Plan a neighborhood-wide water fight or chili cook-off. Recruit your friends to act in a play. Find out how to sell your artwork at a local craft fair or online.
If you want your summer to be even more fulfilling, you can also look for a few simple ways to help others in your community. As far as life-long happiness goes, people who help others tend to be happier and even live longer. Why not start building those habits now?
Summer is a great time to volunteer with a non-profit organization, animal shelter, or foodbank. If you really want to combat summer learning loss, which tends to impact lower-income students more strongly, you could even volunteer to tutor or collect books at a local school.
If you practice thinking like a creator—and a giver—and not just a consumer, your opportunities in life will multiply, your brain will stay more active, and your summer will be one you’ll never forget!
5. Do a little research
When the weather starts to get a little cooler and everyone starts to think about the new school year, consider spending a little time familiarizing yourself with some of the topics you’re going to learn, especially if it’s a big subject like precalculus or chemistry.
You don’t have to spend hours hunched over textbooks, but even browsing the Wikipedia page or watching an overview video to identify the big terms (like derivatives and integrals for calculus) and some of the general concepts will make it feel less foreign when class starts. Sometimes, it just takes repetition for a topic to click, and if you seen the words even once, you’ll be well on your way.
Plus, if you take a week or two to read up on a couple of things or watch a few videos before school starts, there’s less pressure, which makes it WAY easier to learn than when that subject is competing with everything else during the school year!
Set yourself up for the best school year ever
[box type=”success” align=”” class=”” width=””]We hope this summer is your best yet—and we want to help you make next year even better. If you want to get ahead on AP courses, SAT prep, or college courses from biology to film studies, check out Educator.com and watch a few free videos, taught by some of the top professors in the country. If you like it, think about using it as a resource next year, too![/box]