Lazy Saturdays spent lounging at the pool, Sunday brunch with friends, and mindlessly watching the latest BuzzFeed videos all seem to point with neon signs to a specific time of the year: summer.
Often times it’s easy to get carried away in summer fun only to find that when the next school year rolls around everything you’ve learned has been cleaned right out of your brain.
According to The Washington Post, students can lose up to three months’ worth of math and reading skills over the summer. Although you may blame your summer memory loss on synaptic pruning, the kind of spring cleaning your microglial cells do to get rid of the synaptic connections you don’t use much anymore, it’s wise to take the initiative to prevent a complete summer brain drain so you can hit the ground running the next school year.
Read, read, read
Ever since we were little, it seems that all the adults in our lives were always bugging us to read. Why? Because the benefits of reading are endless. Reading exposes us to 50 percent more words than TV (sorry Netflix addicts), results in higher scores on tests and boosts intelligence, according to Real Simple. Reading regularly also improves memory by giving your brain a good work out, much like how going on daily runs strengthens your cardiovascular endurance. “I try to read as much as I can,” English teacher Nicholas Hitchens said. “I try to read for fun [during the summer], which is something I don’t always get to do during the school year because I’m teaching or in classes myself.”
Those who prefer to read only fiction books need not worry about having to tolerate non-fiction to reap the benefits of reading either. Research published in Science has revealed how reading literary fiction makes one more empathetic, helping readers become more skilled at reading people’s emotions, which leads to an increased understanding of what others are thinking.
Furthermore, reading can help you unwind after a long school year of hard work, as it’s proven to reduce stress by as much as 68 percent. Sticking with print books will make your reading even more beneficial, according to Wired. Physically feeling pages as you turn them gives your brain context for remembering the information you just read, leading to a deeper understanding and superior comprehension of what you just read, compared to when you read an eBook.
Reading before bed can also help you unwind by keeping your eyes off of a screen, which actually keeps you awake longer and can destroy the chances of a good night’s sleep. Consider reaching for a good old print book the next time you need a little help falling asleep or something to stave off summer boredom. It’s bound to help you more than another episode of your favorite TV show.
With multiple tests and quizzes every week during the school year, we could all use a brain power boost, so the next time you’re about to go on vacation, don’t forget to pack a book that will improve your intelligence and prevent brain drain, all while you’re hanging out with elves in Middle Earth.
Find educational ways to have fun
Living in the Metropolitan D.C. area offers us myriad opportunities to have fun while keeping our brains thinking and making connections to the material we learn at school. Consider visiting D.C. museums, monuments or just taking a stroll along Capitol Hill and allow the sights to help you recollect what you learned in school – perhaps how long an executive order actually lasts or who John Eaton was and why there’s a school named after him by the Smithsonian Zoo.
If politics and U.S. History makes you tremble in fear and bring up painful memories, consider going on a day trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, taking a look at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum or the National Museum of Health and Medicine nearby in Silver Spring.
Even with tons of museums nearby, you don’t have to be limited to the indoors to find educational ways to have fun. Visiting a nearby national park can boost your physical well-being with fresh air, while helping you recall from AP Biology why ferns have their seeds on the underside of their leaves. According to Business Insider, being outdoors improves short-term memory, restores mental energy, relives stress, prevents the development of nearsightedness, improves concentration, sharpens thinking and creativity boost the immune system, boosts mental health and even has possible anti-cancer effects. After a busy school year, taking advantage of what the outdoors have to offer mentally and physically might not be a bad idea.
Volunteer or get a job
Not only is the summer a great time to knock out those SSL hours or make some cash, but studies have proven that volunteering or getting a job over the summer can keep your brain active as you learn new skills while on the job. According to Stanford researcher Jacob Leos-Urbel, having a summer job can boost academic performance in the classroom and can foster useful skills such as time management, perseverance and self-confidence. So the next time you’re getting frustrated with your summer gig, try thinking of it as a way to prepare for that club officer speech next year and you’ll feel better – maybe.
Immerse yourself in world language media
Although we can’t even begin to count the endless hours we’ve spent slaving over memorizing endless conjugations, grammatical functions English doesn’t have and reviewing Quizlet vocabulary lists for our world language classes, summer is the perfect time to make sure all that hard work pays off and doesn’t just dissipate into thin air.
The tricky thing with world languages is that if you don’t find a practical application for it, you’ll lose it eventually as your brain will naturally throw out that information when it declutters your memory, thinking that it’s useless. Being an English speaker gives us some excuse as we have to go out of our way to expose ourselves to media that’s in the world language we’re learning. With books, TV, movies and the Internet mainly in English, it’s easy for all of the world language skills we learned during the year to disappear by the end of the summer.
Latin teacher Eric Sasse has always had an interest in linguistics, which requires knowing multiple languages well enough to be able to compare word origins across the languages. Sasse knows just how hard it is to maintain world language skills, especially in languages that aren’t as common such as Icelandic and has some basic tips to prevent the loss of a foreign language over the summer, or other periods of time when you’re not currently learning it. “If you want to have fun, just listen to music of TV shows in the language,” Sasse said. “Expose yourself to foreign language media.”
Find a new hobby
With little time during the hectic school year to learn something for fun, summertime is a great opportunity to find a new hobby and keep your brain learning new skills, while making use of skills you’ve already learned in school.
According to Psychology Today, hobbies help us structure our day better and increase efficiency. If you have nothing to do one summer evening, chances are you’ll just mindlessly watch TV or unnecessarily stress about your college applications or future. Having a hobby that fills time prevents the wasting of endless hours on unbeneficial activities like binge watching TV or endless stressing over future uncertainties. Engaging in a hobby can keep your brain flowing in a way zoning out while scrolling down your Instagram feed doesn’t. “Find a hobby or build something or create something that lets you use some of the skills that you’ve learned,” math teacher Cecilia Rajter said.
She suggests engaging in “active hands on, play with what you’ve learned” activities to foster continued learning over the summer.
Furthermore, in an increasingly digital age, hobbies can help foster new social connections by allowing you to meet and connect with people you would not have otherwise. Finding a hobby you’re passionate about can encourage you to get out into your community in search of others who share your passion, bring new excitement into other areas of our life, such as school, help you de-stress and make you a well-rounded, active, interesting person. Nurturing a new hobby this summer will bring a new breath of fresh air and joy into your life, and also give you something to put in your college application that you’ll actually be able to write passionately about.
So with summer just around the corner, consider doing one or more of the above to prevent a complete summer brain drain that’ll hamper your ability to start off the next school year strong. With infinite possibilities to have fun while still keeping yourself learning and thinking, don’t just let the summer pass—use it.