Thursday, June 9, 2016

10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Summer Break

Pin It Now! Pin It Now!

The sun is shining more hours than I'm awake. Chirping birds have become an alarm clock. Lawnmowers are humming all around all day everyday. The dress code has changed to strictly shorts and flip-flops. Summer break is here! 

So now what? 

Going from a daily schedule where literally every minute is accounted for, tasks are numbered in the dozens, and sitting down is a luxury afforded only at lunchtime and bathroom breaks (if you're lucky) to one where the world is your oyster everyday can be a difficult adjustment for some. As much as I love breaks and vacations, at some point, I start to feel anxious--even guilty--that I'm not using my time wisely. It took many inner conversations between the workaholic me and the mentally & physically exhausted me to agree that rest, relaxation, and days of doing something other than thinking about school during summer break was actually good for me. 

Some teachers can drop their bags and boxes at the door once school is over and not touch them until August. I can't do that.

Other teachers plan for next year all summer long. I can't do that either.

I've realized that my personality is such that while I do thrive on schedules and planning, having a few days of freedom every now and then not only keeps me balanced but also refreshes me. 

After a lot of trial and error, here are my tips for enjoying a balanced and productive summer: 

1. Allow yourself time to rest (and be a little lazy).

The first week after school let out, I let myself rest. A lot. I slept in. I napped. I intentionally made few or no plans with anyone or to do anything. My feet were up on my bed, my couch, or my recliner a good deal of the day. My body and brain thanked me for this break. 

So go ahead. Give yourself a permission to be a little lazy, if you can. 
2. Create a weekly schedule of tasks.

Okay, okay. Don't hurt yourself. But seriously. Adding some structure to my days helped with the transition from jam-packed days to tumbleweed-blowing-across-the-wide-open-desert-nothing-on-the-books days. While I thrive on schedules at work, I don't stick to rigid schedules of personal and household tasks at home very well. Still, I am happiest when I am accomplishing objectives, and a checklist of chores and tasks allowed me to do that. My summer break schedule contained just a few priorities that I had to get done each week, mostly consisting of laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out areas of the house that hadn't been touched more than a few times during the school year. After about a month of being out of school and having had a sufficient amount of time to recharge, I started adding 1-2 school tasks per week as well. 

3. Make time to interact with others.

For some of you, this isn't a problem at all. However, I am a MAJOR introvert. I crave time to myself, and once summer rolled around, if I didn't force myself to go out to see and talk to people, I could have made myself invisible for two months with no problems. I made sure to add some short trips out and about--sometimes alone and sometimes with friends or family. I also tried to catch up with friends whom I didn't get to see much during the school year. I didn't pack my days and weeks full of activities, mind you. Still no matter how much energy I had to exert, it was good for me to have interaction with people outside of e-mail and texting. 

4. Read for pleasure. 

It's ironic that pleasure reading for ourselves sort of falls off the radar during the school year even though we encourage our students to do it. In the summer, I visited the library just about every other week to check out books for no other reason than they looked interesting to me. And for whatever reason, I found that I really enjoyed reading children's and young adult fiction during the summer. Go figure.

5. Travel somewhere new.

Get away for a few days. See new scenery. Have fun. Learn something new. 

My husband and I are true multi-taskers when we vacation. We like to go to multiple destinations when we're in the neighborhood of a lot of different historical and natural sites. It's not unheard of for us to ride a roller coaster, snorkel, and visit a Civil War battlefield all within the span of a week! As a bonus, I often insert photos and information from our trips into my lessons, which my social studies students really enjoy. 

6. Increase your knowledge.

Once you're ready to dive back into the back-to-school pool, consider reading up on or taking a professional development course about a subject or area that you want to know more about. When I visited the library to get my pleasure reading books, I also picked up books about topics of study that I covered during the year. For example, I taught about American Indians in my social studies classes, and I wanted to know more about the regional groups and tribes that we learned about so I got some books about them. Psst...Want to know a secret? I LOVE to use children's nonfiction to help me understand topics in more detail! Seriously, there are so many outstanding informational books for children and young adults. They're shorter yet still packed with a ton of facts and are written in an easy-to-understand, uncomplicated way. Plus, I can add these books to my list of recommended resources if students want to know more about a topic.

Of course, summer is also a good time to take professional development courses. Traditional classroom courses have the benefit of interaction with the instructor, handouts, and a distraction-less  learning environment. However, I've also enrolled in online and video courses during the summer, and I highly recommend the convenience and independence that comes along with learning this way as well.


7. Gather ideas.

This makes me sound like a dinosaur, but when I was in the classroom just a few short years ago, Pinterest was a file folder I had labeled "Ideas." It was full of torn out magazine pages, Post-Its with notes scribbled on them, and lists of Web sites. Now, with a click of the mouse, you can search for and add tons of helpful, creative ideas for your curriculum and classroom to your virtual bulletin board folders within a matter of minutes. Combine Pinterest with a SmartPhone, and you can be adding ideas all day long. (Although I recommend exchanging the electronics screen for the sunscreen and getting out to get some Vitamin D!) You'll also actually have the time to create and implement some of these ideas during the summer, too. Also consider networking with other teachers locally and in cyberspace on blogs and other social media. Teachers love to share and exchange ideas (including me!). 

8. Clean out your files and resources.

Whether it's your Google Drive, your travel drive, or good old-fashioned file folders, do some clean up and purging of obsolete files and resources. It seems like this task was always in the important-but-not-urgent quadrant of my to do list during the school year. Summer is a great time to clean house, pare down, and get organized. Consider selling items you aren't using. Last summer, I had a garage sale with a table full of school and teaching supplies, and by the end of the sale, 90 percent of it was gone. One teacher's trash is another teacher's treasure!

9. Reflect on the year.

We only get better when we know what needs to be improved. One of the last activities I asked my students to do during the school year is to complete surveys about subject areas, themselves, the classroom, and me as their teacher. These surveys provided some invaluable feedback and was a springboard for revamping lessons, procedures, and other elements of classroom life. I also kept a running list of notes that I jotted down throughout the year about specific activities, lessons, assessments, and procedures. When it came time to evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum and classroom management, I could use these notes to make adjustments.

10. Look for unique opportunities for next year's students.

How many times have you seen some cool lesson or activity just a little too late to use it or be a part of it? Use your time off in the summer to research and sign up for unique learning opportunities that you can incorporate into your class. Look into field trips, contests, or special technology that would appeal to your students. In my case, I found an opportunity to stream real-time virtual field trips to Colonial Williamsburg and special presentations about colonial topics into the classroom as part of a year-long program. Knowing about it before the school year began, I was able to apply for a grant to cover the cost at the beginning of the school year so that I could take advantage of as many trips and presentations as possible.

I've also been on the coordinating end of a learning opportunity for which I advertised for participants during the summer. For several years, I put together a postcard exchange on my blog for classrooms around the US and Canada. I started recruiting and planning in July to have it up and running by September. (By the way, I'm thinking of doing this again so keep an eye out for news about that!) Whatever you are looking into, start checking for deadlines and application opportunities early!

What are some ideas that you have for making the summer productive both personally and professionally? Leave a comment!


  1. Great advice! Balance is definitely key. I took the first week off just to relax and catch up with family & friends (plus a little housework). This week, I started working on some school projects, but in a way that is as balanced as possible. Thank you for posting this!

    Elementary Engagement

    1. Good for you to for taking some time to relax! I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to think about all the free time I have and how much school stuff I could be doing--and then make the decision not to do it all. Like you said, balance is key!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...