Keeping Your Brain Fit Over Break

Summer’s here! Time to hit the beach, take a vacation, and set aside the books until the fall, right? Well, maybe not. While you should definitely have fun over your summer vacation, failing to give your brain a workout for months on end will mean that you’ll be coming back in the fall with an out-of-shape brain that will have to work a lot harder to learn new material (think the mental equivalent of huffing and puffing while climbing stairs). In fact, you may have to spend significant time relearning things you already covered last year. No one wants that. So how can you prevent summer brain drain?

Not to worry; you don’t have to stay a full-time student to keep your brain in shape over break. There are lots of free, easy, and even really fun ways to get your brain up and active.

Read a book.

When was the last time you read a book just for fun instead of for class? Use summer as a time to catch up on your pleasure reading. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a classic—any book will do. Not sure what to read?  Try tackling a summer reading list from a top college (this Berkley list is one example). To get more out of your summer reading, consider joining or starting a book club. You’ll be able to discuss the book with others, developing analytical skills that will prep you for heading back to class.

Work on a new skill or interest.

If reading’s not your thing, consider doing some more experiential learning by pursuing educational opportunities that get you up moving. Even better, this kind of learning can be based around your existing interests. You can work on boosting your skills in cooking, painting, woodworking, design, or spend time working in a community garden, practicing an instrument, or even watching the nighttime sky through a telescope.

Take a short class.

Park districts, colleges, community centers, and art centers are great places to look for short summer courses. The time investment is usually small, just a few weeks, but the payoff can be big as you’ll keep learning throughout the summer. Not only will you be better prepared for going back to class, but you may just learn some really valuable new skills in the process.

Exercise and get outside.

Body and brain fitness go hand in hand. The healthier you are, the happier your brain is, as it has the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function at peak potential. So while the weather is nice, do yoga, go for a run, or just take a walk and get some sunlight. Even better, you can combine fitness and education through hikes in natural parks, walks through new cities, or learning a new style of dance.

Flex your creativity.

Summer is a great time to get creative on your own terms. Try writing a short story (or go all out and pen a novel), painting a landscape en plein air, coding a game or application, building furniture, starting a business or whatever else gets your creative juices flowing. It’s all a great way to keep your brain in top gear while you’re away from class.

Play a game.

Games may sound like pure fun, but they can actually be a great way to learn and to flex your gray matter. Strategy games like Risk, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride or word-focused games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Scattergories can definitely get you thinking, but don’t be afraid to explore other choices, too. Crosswords and sodoku are fun brain boosters, and even puzzle-based video games can keep you mentally keen (think Portal not Call of Duty) .

Take a trip.

Whether you travel somewhere educational or have to test your navigation skills somewhere seriously outside of your comfort zone, travel is good for the brain. While heading to a foreign country can be great for getting you thinking (especially one where you don’t speak the native language), there are lots of options that fall into a smaller budget that can be beneficial, too like historical sites, national parks, museums, zoos, and aquariums.

Find a pen pal.

If you’re a language learner, don’t let your skills fall away over the summer. Find a pen pal you can keep in touch with over email, chat, or even through snail mail. No matter what you choose to chat about, it’s a great way to build real world language skills even when you’re not in class. Can’t find a pen pal? Look for local events, cultural centers, or restaurants where you may be able to practice your skills with native speakers.

Consider an internship.

While it’s not as fun as having the whole summer to yourself, getting an internship can not only help you keep  your skills sharp but can also help you get a leg up on your career by building your resume and professional connections.

Volunteer.

Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, but it offers you some personal gain, too. You’ll get a chance to meet new people, develop relationships, and perhaps even learn new skills (construction, leadership, fundraising) that you can use in your career or life for years to come.

Write a blog.

Use your summer to start a blog, either for personal or professional use. Personal blogs can be a great way to practice creative writing, share ideas, and to formulate strong persuasive arguments, while professional blogs will give you a chance to showcase your skills in a public forum and perhaps even to network with other bloggers in your field of interest.

How do you plan to keep your brain fit over the summer months?