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Summer Activities for Students: 11 Ways to Improve Skills and Productivity

summer activities for students

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

Most students have seven summers to prepare for life after college. And as you know, these 10-week summer breaks go by quickly.

Where do I get the number seven? There are three summer vacations between grades nine and 12 and four summer vacations between grade 12 and college graduation. 3+4=7.

While summer breaks are certainly a time to lower the academic intensity and enjoy what life has to offer outside the classroom (so much!), these 10 weeks are also the perfect time to develop some life-long skills. Yes, I’m aware of how cheesy that sounds, but I’m so serious.

In this blog post, I’m sharing a list of summer activities for students — specifically 11 ways to improve your skills and productivity — which will make you a better student. My goal is that you’ll consider the ideas and implement at least three or four of them into your summer plan. The payoff will be huge: trust me.

11 Summer Activities for Students That Will Improve Skills and Productivity

The ideas below will not only make you a better student, but they will eventually make you a better professional. Why? Skills. Each of the ideas below builds at least one core skill that will never expire. In other words, develop the skill over the summer and you’ll have it forever.

1. Stick to a Schedule.

Time can feel weird (slow? fast? both?) over summer break. And while the slower pace is enjoyable (and sometimes necessary), it’s never a good idea to abandon time management altogether.

Sticking to some kind of schedule over the summer can give your days structure and can prevent you from wasting time and regretting that you didn’t use it better.

Here are a few ideas to help you create and stick to a schedule:

  • Use a calendar. Here’s my complete tutorial about how to use a calendar over the summer (and why you need to be doing that)
  • Wake up at the same time most days, even if you have nowhere to be.
  • If you have a summer job, track your time and hours in a calendar.
  • Plan at least one key event every day. A key event can be anything from running errands, meeting a friend, working on a project, cleaning your room, etc. A key event is something specific that you say you will do each day – and you do it.

How time management makes you a better student: 

Practicing basic time management over the summer improves your ability to manage time during the school year. It helps you build the habit of thinking about time, using your calendar, and making time visible.

2. Read.

I understand that not everyone likes to read. You might hate it. But this is one of those things that you do anyway because the benefit is undeniable.

Reading not only makes you better at reading, which is obviously a core school skill, but it also makes you better at thinking, writing and processing information.

If you’re a non-reader, the trick is to find a book that is relevant. Relevance is the magic ingredient when we’re trying to get ourselves to do something that we normally don’t enjoy doing. Interested in business? Read Josh Kaufman’s The Personal MBA. Interested in finance? Read Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money or Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. If you’re into self-help books, I recommend Brianna Wiest’s 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think.

How reading makes you a better student:

I said this already, but it’s worth repeating: Reading makes us better at thinking, writing and processing information. If I were to name the top three skills required for learning, it would be those three.  

3. Get a Job.

Working over the summer can absolutely make you a better student. Whether you get a job in retail, at an ice cream shop, or in a laboratory, jobs of all kinds will help you in the long run.

There are so many benefits to having a summer job – beyond earning money. Jobs are excellent resume-builders, they provide opportunities to meet and network with people, and they develop a wide variety of skills. Speaking of resumes, here are 3 ways to boost your resume over the summer.

How having a summer job makes you a better student:

Working over the summer teaches some of the most critical skills you need for school and work: time management, communication, discipline, task initiation, and organization.

4. Volunteer Somewhere.

Volunteering in any capacity, even if it’s just a few days over the summer, is arguably one of the most meaningful experiences you can give yourself. You can volunteer at an elder-care home, youth program, town library, or non-profit organization like the YMCA or Boys and Girls Club. 

Where do you find volunteering opportunities? Google “where can I volunteer in [name of your town]” for ideas, or call your local town hall or library. Another idea is to call a company you would like to volunteer at and simply ask them if they have any community service opportunities.

How volunteering makes you a better student:

Adding volunteer experience to your student resume enhances your school or job application and makes it stand out from other applicants who don’t have volunteering experience. And beyond the resume, volunteering teaches you many of the same life skills as having a paying job does: time management, communication, discipline, task initiation, and organization.

5. Exercise.

Unless you are physically incapable of exercising, you need to be exercising regularly – not only over the summer but year-round. We’ve got to get past the “but it’s hard and I don’t like it” rhetoric, because that’s not really relevant when it comes to taking care of our bodies. (Can you tell I’m passionate about this?)

I’m not arguing that we all need to pay for gym memberships or run road races, but every physically capable body should be engaging in some kind of semi-robust physical movement on most days of the week. 

How exercise makes you a better student:

The science behind the cognitive benefits of exercise is massive. Exercise increases focus, cognitive performance, memory, mood, and emotional regulation. It also keeps your physical body healthy. And without physical or mental health, learning can’t happen.

Exercise also teaches discipline, which is a driving factor behind academic success.

6. Get Organized.

The summer is the perfect time to get organized and tackle some of the disorganized areas that are holding you back. Here are some ideas for how to get organized over the summer:

  • Clean up your digital storage space (Google Drive, OneDrive, your downloads folder, your desktop, etc.)
  • Clean and clear your workspace
  • Declutter your school supplies
  • Go through your school papers and declutter/organize them according to these tips
  • Clear out your email inbox
  • Clean your car
  • Clean your room
  • Clear and declutter your clothes

How getting organized makes you a better student:

When you’re disorganized in school, these 5 things become SO much harder than they need to be. On the other hand, when you’re organized in terms of your time, materials and tasks, you can focus on your most important job, which is learning. 

7. Master task management.

Task management refers to the system we use to keep track of all the things we need to do – whether those are assignments or things we want to do for ourselves.

During the school year, task management essentially involves using some kind of planner or app to track your homework assignments and academic tasks. Unless you’re taking a summer course, your tasks over the summer won’t be academic in nature, but they still need to be managed.

In one of my most popular episodes on my Learn and Work Smarter podcast, I teach students and professionals how to create the ultimate task management system. You can listen to that episode below.

he Learn and Work Smarter Podcast: Secrets of a Good Task Management System | Episode 05

The summer can be a great time to improve your task management skills by getting in the habit of creating some kind of intentional plan for each day. This is related to tip number one because I’m suggesting that you don’t just live out your summer days by the seat of your pants.

If you’re new to task management, you can start by writing out a simple to-do list each morning. On this list, you would write five things you want to accomplish that day.

If you’re not totally new to task management, and you want to take your task management skills up a level, the summer can be a great time to experiment with different kinds of planners and task management systems. I like this simple one here and this one here.

Task management is a habit. And like other habits, we build it by doing it on the days we don’t need to. In other words, even if there’s a day you have nothing going on, take out your piece of paper and write a to-do list. Building habits happens when we do things on the days we don’t need to.

How task management makes you a better student:

The most fundamental characteristic of a student is completing assignments on time. If you complete your assignments on time, you’re halfway to victory. Getting good at managing your tasks over the summer will make you better at managing them during the school year, which in the end will lower your stress and tendencies to procrastinate.

8. Take a Class.

The most obvious thing to do over the summer that will make you a better student is to take a class. Why? Because doing something is the best way to get better at it. So if you want to get better at school, do more school.

I’m not suggesting students take molecular biology over the summer – not at all. A summer course in knitting or marketing or personal finance is just as important to building your résumé and your skills as any academic class. (Here are 4 tips for taking intensive summer courses.)

Speaking of skills, the most valuable course you could ever take as a student is SchoolHabits University. That’s a big claim, but sSchoolHabits University is the only course of its kind that teaches students how to learn.

How taking a class makes you better a better student:

Taking a summer course makes you a better student because it provides you the opportunity to practice the skills you need for school. Specifically, SchoolHabits University teaches you the exact skills that you need for school and work, including task management, time management, note-taking, annotating, study strategies and organization.

9. Figure Out What You Want.

I debated putting this on the list because it’s a big one, and it’s not something that can be done in a day or even in a 10-week summer break.

At some point in high school (or college at the latest), students need to do some thinking about what they want for the future.

You don’t need to have it all figured out, and decisions aren’t permanent, but considering your life is the most important thing you have and time is your most valuable resource, I argue we should spend some significant time thinking about what we want to do.

If you’re in high school, it’s time to start thinking about what you do and don’t want to study. When I coach my students on this process, I almost always have them start by identifying what they think they don’t want. This is often easier than answering the question what do you want to do with your life?

 If you’re headed to college, you might start thinking about what programs you’re interested in, where you want to study and what majors you want to explore – and then start talking to people who might be able to give you more information.

If you’re in college, then you’re likely already Involved in a program of study, so the questions you need to ask yourself or more around employment. What are you going to do after college? What do you want to do after college? Who can you talk to to get some clarity? The sooner you figure out some answers to these questions, the sooner you can spend your summer break making choices that lead you in the right direction, such as internships and employment opportunities.

How figuring out what you want makes you better a better student:

When you take the time to figure out what you want or don’t want for the next phase of your life, you can start making decisions that will take you in the direction you want to go. And when you make decisions that are aligned with your future goals, you’ll be more motivated because those actions are relevant.

(The more relevant something is, the more motivation we feel to do it.)

10. Do Your Summer Work.

Many students have summer assignments, whether for AP courses or for a general summer reading program. I understand how these things are easy to put off, or in the case of summer reading, to ignore altogether. But if you’re serious about becoming a better student, you wouldn’t do that.

Doing the summer work that’s expected of you is literally the least you can do if you have any goals whatsoever. (Here are 3 tips for getting your AP work done over the summer.)

You might not like your summer reading, you might prefer to do something else, and you may have gotten away with avoiding it in the past. But if your goal is to make a change and not waste your time, then do the work.

Summer assignments only become stressful if you wait until the last minute, so if you combine some of the tips from this list (create a task management system and manage your time in the calendar), you’ll have plenty of time to get your summer assignments done by early August without any stress. Here are 12 summer reading tips for high school and college students.

How doing your summer work makes you better a better student:

When my students resist their summary assignments, I usually remind them that the assignment itself is not the point. In fact, I often agree that some assignments can be kind of lame. But again, that’s not the point. The entire point of assignments is to give you the opportunity to practice doing something when you don’t want to do it. And the better we get at doing things when we don’t feel like doing them, the easier school becomes. We learn to ignore the resistance and do the thing anyway.

Also, doing your summer work makes you a better student because you’ll be starting off the school year not behind in your work. This benefit is so obvious that I almost didn’t include it here.

11. Do Something Different.

We grow as people (and students) when we experience new situations where we have to respond to new stimuli. Novelty is literally the perfect environment for growth.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to reap the benefits of novelty. You don’t have to travel across the world or learn a new language to trigger your growth. Even just small daily interactions and moments that you haven’t encountered before are enough to expand your thinking patterns and skills.

Here are some ideas that could count as doing something different:

  • Hang out with a group of people you don’t normally hang out with
  • Say yes to opportunities and invitations that you’d usually say no to
  • Do your summer reading or AP work in a public library a few towns over
  • Try a new place for lunch
  • Ask a parent if you can go to work with them for a day
  • Get on a train and go somewhere for the day that you haven’t been to
  • Read a book from a genre you usually avoid
  • Rearrange your room

How doing something different makes you a better a better student:

The most successful students are those who take calculated academic risks. They challenge themselves with harder courses, they sign up for new and unfamiliar activities, and they say yes to opportunities just for the benefit of seeing what it’s like. The more comfortable you are with “the unknown,” the easier time you’ll have when things don’t go your way. If you get used to trying new things in the low-stakes environment of summer break, you’ll be more likely to take positive risks as a student, rather than stay complacent in your comfort zone.

More Resources for Students Who Want to Do Something Productive with Their Summer

The post Summer Activities for Students: 11 Ways to Improve Skills and Productivity appeared first on SchoolHabits.

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