One of the parts of being out of college (and not having returned to one as a teacher) is that I no longer have a summer. Sure, I will be returning to teaching at an annual theatre summer camp, but it's not the same thing as having months off, dedicated to doing something different than what I do nine months out of the year. There are summers I wasted and summers I didn't, and so I've put together this blog post of ways I'm glad I spent summers, with notes on things that might not apply to everyone. No one actually thinks doing nothing is the right idea unless they really, really need to.
Reading during the summer months. Now, it should not come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but I read a lot during my summers. When I was in high school, I'd read books that felt "smart" because I wanted to stay ahead of the curve; in college, especially after I changed my major to English, I tended to read books that were lighter and more fun during the summer, because school was all about thinking hard about books, and I wanted to nurture my enjoyment of them.
Camps of various kinds. When I was a child, it was sports; when I was a teenager, it was theatre camp (as a young adult, it's still theatre camp, but now I get paid). Some summers, I surfed a lot. Unless your life is physically active on a regular basis during the school year, do something that will make you work during the summer -- and I mean work, in the physical sense. Learn to enjoy the feeling of physical fatigue, because it contributes to mental clarity/health, and also because it's a habit that's easiest to build during the summer.
Learning things. Summer classes aren't always practical financially, but when they are, it's still a good idea to ask yourself if you need a formal class. Ask, "Will this actually, helpfully, lighten my schedule? Do I need an academic break?" If the answer is yes, I'd still encourage learning during the summer, but if you think learning requires a professor or official teacher in a classroom setting, you're a bit mistaken. Pick up an instrument! Pick books in a subject area!
Reorganizing. Reorganizing (of course) includes physical spaces, but it also includes priorities, relationships, religion, majors (if you're in college), school research (if you're in high school), budgeting, and a host of other things. Reorganizing anything takes time, but time spent making things flow and making sure Me from the Present is doing good things for Me from the Future has never been a waste of time. Summer is a great time to re-evaluate.
Examining. If you're old enough to read this blog post, you are old enough to get quiet with yourself and ask what you really need out of the next day, or the next week, or the next few months. Do that, and do it first. During the summer, especially if you have a fairly open schedule, you can possibly do this weekly. Maybe you need time with family, or with certain friends, or even to spend some time with a specific TV show. Get quiet, get a journal, and listen.
Making my future financially better. You'll notice this one isn't called "making money." There have been summers where I worked my butt off to save for the next semester and summers that I didn't, but all of the ones I spent wisely contributed to my financial future. If I had taken a summer job when I was sixteen and seventeen, rather than doing theatre camp, I wouldn't be an employee of that camp and also wouldn't know as much about theatre as I do (I have a lot to learn, by the way). If you can do things that will make getting scholarships easier, even if they don't pay, there's a good chance you'll save more than you could have possibly made (if I get a $5,000 scholarship that's good for 4 years, and part of the reason I got it is because the scholarship was for people who love animals and I spent a whole summer volunteering at the animal shelter, that's $20,000 that I can guarantee you will not earn or save at almost any job yo can get while in high school). Summer jobs are the right answer a lot of the time, but money is more complicated than having it in the moment; again, get quiet and listen.
Cherishing friendships. Spending time with friends in the summer is critical. Seriously, make time for people you don't see every day naturally, even if you see them during the school year. If you don't have friends that you want to see (we call these acquaintances and they can be lovely people - this is not a judgment on you) then try making some new, deep friends. You need them. You will always need other people. Congratulations, you are a human being.
Treating summer as me-growing time. Sometimes, that means re-enforcing the growth I made during the school year, rather than seeking out new experiences. Growing roots down into the earth is less interesting than growing taller, I'll admit, but it's important work. In any case, spend time growing.
Re-charging. This is the most important: spend the months you have away from school getting ready for school. That will mean different things for everyone (it will mean different things summer to summer) but spend time becoming the person you want to walk back into your school on the first day. Future You is reliant on Today You. Lean into the process of becoming who you are going to be. There is a Platonic version of You that is possible, an idea of God's that you can become. Spend this time getting closer to that, so that when you return to your current life-assignment (being a student or teaching in school) you are ready for it. Nothing prepares the heart for joy quite like genuine readiness. Sabbath, be, and become.