Not all countries have three months of summer vacation like the U.S. and Australia do. In a global market, it’s best not to waste three months out of the year worrying about nothing more significant than getting a tan. Some experts say that summer break is a necessary time for students to recharge their brain-batteries, while others argue that math and science scores are suffering because of the long break. In an act of sheer genius, we’ve come up with ways to stay smart over the summer, without burying your nose in a book of Shakespeare’s plays or memorizing the periodic table of elements.
Here are six stress-free and fun ways to keep your mind sharp over summer vacation:
#1 Get Some Sleep
Yes, you read that right. To stay smart, you need your sleep. In a recent study at The University of Cincinnati, researchers found that only a quarter of college students are getting the recommended eight hours of sleep (although a good fifth of students are habitually skipping their 8AM Physics class and clocking in over eight hours of Zs per night).
According to neuroscientists—who need their sleep to stay so smart—sleep deprivation can lead to mental instability, stress, and other health problems. So during the summer months, take time to recharge your brain by the skipping all-night partying (at least don’t do that every night), and regularly getting your eight hours of shut-eye.
During the night your brain processes the information that it has absorbed during the day, keeping the good stuff and getting rid of the unnecessary stuff. Adequate sleep leads to better brain function and a smarter you.
Some researchers have found links between consistent (weekly or daily) meditation and an improvement in cognitive function. Meditation has also been shown to decrease stress levels and improve focus.
This summer, why don’t you get into the meditation habit by committing to a weekly session of meditation, and see how it helps you? If you find the habit leaves you more mentally alert and ready to take on life’s challenges, you can carry it forward into the next school year.
#3 Build Something Cool
Break out the potatoes, hairspray, and a hacksaw! It’s time to build a potato gun. Whether you’re a kinetic learner (you learn by doing), or prefer getting your smarts from a book, learning to make stuff or to do new activities, like juggling, can help you stretch and grow your brain.
Amazing inventions, like iPods and airplanes, were built by kinetic geniuses that started out in their basements building things like potato guns and rockets. Here’s a great step-by-step guide to making your own spud rocket. Just don’t break the neighbor’s window!
#4 Play Brain Games
In 2008, researchers at Columbia University endeavored to prove that playing “brain games” could improve fluid intelligence (the brain’s ability to solve new problems).
While some scientists claim that “Brain Games are Bogus”—and the abilities you master playing a game won’t transfer well to helping you write a better essay, for example—the study at Columbia University showed that test subjects significantly increased their fluid intelligent scores by playing the game that researchers developed (play it for yourself here).
The researchers behind Luminosity.com have likewise undertaken studies that show regular brain training can improve student test scores. And if spending time this summer playing tedious brain games doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, no worries!
Game designer Jane McGonigal says that playing smartphone games—like the popular game app Angry Birds—can make you a “more-resourceful problem solver, more collaborative, and less likely to give up when the going gets tough.” So this summer when your mom or girlfriend accuses you of wasting time on your iPad, tell her that you are exercising your brain!
#5 Use a Paper Road Map
Are you taking a road trip or visiting a new city in a foreign country this summer? We challenge you to put away your GPS system and break out a paper map to keep your brain sharp! Map reading is, by nature, a mental exercise; for example, you have to compare the real world landmarks around you with the icons on the map to figure out where the heck you are, and which direction you should be going.
Cartographers say that relying on GPS systems to get you from point A to point B is wiping out our ability to really take notice of our surroundings. As a tourist in a new city, you’re more likely to run across a gorgeous cathedral or fascinating museum by taking the time to run your finger across the lines of a paper map.Also, one of the best ways to meet the locals is the simple exercise of stopping and asking for directions.
Not sure how to read a paper map? Learn to read a map in six simple steps. Also, don’t miss out on the “Greatest Paper Map of the United States” ever. According to cartographers, this mapmaker didn’t skimp out on the details, and the maps shows the true personality of the U.S.
#6 Start a Blog
Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of the University of Southern California, says that the very act of writing makes you smarter! But, let’s be honest, you’re probably burnt out from writing all those thesis papers for your Mark Twain-obsessed English Literature professor this year, so we aren’t asking you to spend your summer months re-evaluating your battered copy of Huckleberry Finn.
A fun way to keep your writing skills honed, and your brain agile, is to write a blog. You can keep your friends and family updated on your awesome adventures in India, or you can show off your gluten-free cooking skills. The trick is to find a theme or topic you’re interested in and post a short entry a couple of times per week.
Who knows, maybe you’ll find you have a knack for blogging and will clock in on the top ten most successful bloggers list next year! Not sure how to start a blog? Here are some quick and dirty tips on how to get your blog rolling.
Don’t let your gray matter turn into mush. Practice these six fun and easy brain-strengthening tips to keep your synapses firing all summer long. When school picks up next year, you’ll be ahead of your game. Do you have other fun ideas for staying smart this summer? Let us know in the comments.