A Case for Summer Learning

Why do we love summer so much? That may sound rhetorical or so obvious that no answer need be voiced, but allow me the opportunity to answer my own question. It’s because it means fun and sleep! Our landscapes widen during the summer and our days may be spent exploring the great outdoors, enjoying more time with friends and family, and embracing new and unfamiliar opportunities such as camp, a lifeguard job, or summer work. The days are longer, and we leave behind the grind of too much schoolwork and too little sleep. (Hopefully!) In addition, we have the bandwidth to really enjoy whatever it is we are doing: an almost ideal state even for… learning! Present and unstressed? This is the perfect time to exercise your curiosity. I am not kidding. Summer learning can be productive, super engaging, and a lot of fun.

Consider the value of using downtime from school for learning. As we relax and go into the summer months, we have time to REALLY ponder our interests, read for pleasure, and investigate subjects that seem to beckon our attention. When we can daydream and mull ideas, we turn new thoughts over and over in our heads in order to fully understand them and integrate the new with the old.

Think for a moment of learning as physical exercise where the model is to work hard and rest hard, a rhythm that is a wonderful dance for the brain. We understand well the “work hard” part of that, but the “rest hard” part is usually what is neglected during the school year. It’s very important, however, to the process of acquiring and holding onto knowledge. The principal value of sleep is the consolidation of learning. During sleep, our brains prune away what is not necessary and put recently acquired concepts into more permanent storage. Our brains connect new information to what we’ve already learned, building ever stronger and more useful connections of knowledge and skills.

Regrettably, much of what happens during the academic year is just the opposite. The relentless pace of the school schedule often allows precious little time to digest and integrate information. The reward system is based on the short term mastery of material. The objective is centered on earning an A on chapter 7 and seems to ignore whether or not we integrate our new knowledge with material in chapters 1-6. Are we likely then to hold onto it long enough to apply it to chapter 8? The approach appears to be station to station, and too often we’ve forgotten 90% of what we’ve learned within mere weeks. With such an experience, no wonder so many equate learning to a grind and want OFF that conveyor belt.

Learning, however, can be play – and should be during the summer months. This is the time to savor your choices in books, learn what you want to learn, and do something completely different – so that you know more about what you like and dislike in life. Read science fiction, take a coding class, go kayaking, plan a service project with friends….

Consider the “play” version of what you do or did during the school year. Like studying Spanish? Tune into Telemundo to watch your favorite soccer matches, or re-watch your favorite movie…in Spanish! Do you already know that you could use more writing practice but hate writing about the books you are assigned in school? Try building on what you already like. Take a class online about writing film or food reviews or some other subject you truly enjoy. Most any skill can be part of a pastime or a job. When people are lucky, they find jobs they like so much that it almost feels like fun. Be a little creative and look for an opportunity over the summer that allows you to work hard on something you want to do.

So, as you think about the months ahead, be thoughtful and adventurous. By taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by your summer schedule, you can gain the benefits of both working hard and resting hard!