Originally published March 19, 2020
So, What Should I Do With My Last Summer Before High School?
Here you are. You’ve almost made it. Middle school will very shortly be in your rearview mirror. Just beyond the end of the school year lies another summer, then, at last, high school. Of course, it is not just another summer. This summer, more than most you have experienced, will mark a significant transition in your life.
You will be preparing to join a new environment, one with new expectations and new norms. The changes won’t be only external. Your knowledge and understanding about the world and yourself will change, as will some of your likes and dislikes. So, ask yourself this: what should you do with these several weeks leading up to this transition? As the old axiom goes, time is either spent or invested. How might you invest this time to put yourself in the best position for when this last summer before the beginning of high school finally comes to an end?
Set Up a Plan
After you have had a chance to put the year behind you and let yourself breathe a bit, you can turn to preparing yourself for the upcoming academic year. The first couple of steps are to ask yourself about your goals and identify what you want for yourself. Think about how you can use your summer time to make progress in areas you choose, and write that down. Putting a plan and some goals together for the rest of the summer will help ensure that you make good use of this gift of time.
This is not a suggestion to stuff your summer (or your résumé). Rather, it’s a suggestion to sketch out your ideal summer in order to give yourself a sense of what you hope to accomplish or how you’ll go about doing it, whether the goal is simply one of reading or balancing a number of activities. Think about where you want to be when the school year starts. What skills do you want to sharpen? What experiences would you like to have? What is something new you would like to try?
Brainstorm with others about these activities, then lay out a plan. You do not have to schedule every minute in order for the plan, and your summer, to be very successful. Indeed, having a little slack or breathing room may make it easier to switch between activities and take a moment to fully evaluate one pursuit before diving into the next.
Feeding Your Intellect and Your Imagination
Summers give the opportunity to work on goal setting and to identify good habits that you hope to bring with you to high school. These are important skills to keep in view, because the lack of the school-year structure might also include a lack of intellectual engagement. It can be easy to fall into a routine that isn’t necessarily the best for keeping your brain sharp. Of course, it’s fine to catch up with some of your Netflix, but you might also carve out some time to take advantage of your new availability to pursue new intellectual interests and develop a plan to avoid “summer brain drain.”
At the top of the list should be – you guessed it – reading, reading as much as you can. Now that summer is here, you have far fewer reading requirements from the school (although be sure to check if next year’s classes have a reading or writing requirement due in the fall). Use this independent time to seek out and read about topics that interest you. It is also the time to stretch your capabilities. Read some topics you might otherwise overlook. Try a different genre. Definitely find time to read newspapers and news magazines each week, too. This will not only keep your reading skills sharp but also keep you updated on current events. It’s not a bad idea to keep a reading log or journal, which will help you remember all that you covered.
You will be surprised at your progress as you start noticing your reading fluency and information processing increase and as you start relating what you read to other areas of your life. Reading is often more fun when others are going along for the ride with you. Ask your friends or family to read the same book as you and form a sort of book club. That way, you can actually discuss your ideas and impressions and learn from others at the same time.
Summer Program Opportunities
Just because school is out doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to understand more about yourself and the world. Summer offers you the opportunity to practice a useful skill, dig into a new concept, and broaden your personal capabilities. There are many formal summer programs – some residential and some day-only – that offer experiences in myriad fields: debate, performing arts, fine arts, writing, math and science, robotics, and various academic or professional topics not available in high school, including cybersecurity, international relations, and biotechnology.
These programs also provide an opportunity to meet and interact with students who hail from across the country and who have similar interests and goals. You can bolster your social skills while gaining confidence in a new area. Ask a teacher or counselor for ideas so that you can know your options. It may also be possible for you to create your own experiences by looking into opportunities with people who are already a part of your social network. Your parents’ friends and your friends’ parents may be involved in organizations and professions that are of interest to you. Find out more by communicating with these people. You can learn a lot from these interactions, and they might also turn into opportunities for a unique and wonderful on-site experience.
Stay Active Physically
Summer frees you to focus on both your mental fitness and physical fitness. Because you’re no longer in PE class or perhaps out of season for organized sport commitments, it can be easy to fall into a sedentary routine that isn’t necessarily the best for your health. Create an activity plan to give you something positive to look forward to each day. Choose something that’s both fun and challenging, such as jogging, swimming, aerobics, or weightlifting. The freedom of summer is also a great opportunity to try out some new sports. It may allow you to design a program that is tailored to what you want to do. Set goals and monitor your progress. If you don’t stick with the plan or meet your goals in that first week, then consider changing your plan – or just try again.
Pre-Season – Academic and Athletic
As the calendar moves toward the end of summer, it is time to get into preseason mode. Athletes are aware of the importance of getting into shape long before the first game is played. They have to start running, lifting, or conditioning several weeks out in order to begin to approach the level of fitness they will need for a successful season. Unsurprisingly, our brains also need extra time to get up to “game speed.” The last month of summer is a great opportunity to work on your fundamentals, especially in math. You’ll have new classes next year, and some of those subjects will be totally new to you. Think about setting aside a little time closer to the beginning of the school year to review what you learned the year before and perhaps get a primer that covers what’s to come.
For example, you probably will not have been graphing functions or solving too many systems of equations since late May or early June. If you finished algebra in eighth grade and are moving on to geometry, it’s not a bad idea to look at surviving notes or old quizzes and tests to shine up any rusty parts. You also might want to get a sense of what’s coming your way in ninth grade. To do that, decide what works best for you: self-study, online resources, study groups, or working with a tutor. You can do this for any subject. That way, you’ll arrive at high school, ready to navigate your first marking period and bolstered by academic confidence.
Perfecting the Art of Hanging Out
Despite the large changes on the horizon, it is still important to give yourself a chance to unwind from last year and begin to recharge for the new school year. This means this it is OK to relax. You are allowed to downshift before kicking things back up for a fun summer and a strong first year in high school. Catch up with friends you haven’t seen as often as you would have liked. Catch up on your sleep, too (though it’s better to establish sustainable sleep habits throughout the entire year). Take some days off. Go to the beach, see some summer blockbusters, or just hang out with your friends. This is the time when it is not only allowed but encouraged to enjoy some spontaneous, unstructured fun time.
Evaluating the New You
After you have had a few weeks of your new routine, check in on the plan you created at the beginning of the summer. How have you changed? Your efforts to improve yourself will likely bring about changes in your personality, knowledge, and outlook. Of course, you will still be you; there will just be some new dimensions to who you are. Since you have had some new experiences, it may be helpful to weigh them against what you already knew. What did you like? What was less pleasant? What are you interested in continuing to pursue? Later in the summer is a great time to take a personal assessment and inventory of your skills and interests. PrepMatters offers personal inventory tests, as do other organizations. Take some time to really home in on what you enjoy, who you are, and what’s important to you.
If you can engage in the above activities, you will go into a new grade and a new school better prepared than most of your classmates and definitely the better for it. You will put yourself in the best position to succeed as you start high school. Good luck on your journey and have a great summer!