Student Well-Being Opinion

What Should Students Do Over the Summer?

Summer reading lists, mental health breaks, and more
By Mary Hendrie — June 11, 2024 3 min read
Young girl reads a book with cat in the garden. Summer holidays illustration.
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There’s no shortage of commentary about what students shouldn’t be doing when school lets out—Playing video games! Scrolling social media! Decomposing on the couch!—but what should they do instead?

The perennial question became especially urgent for researcher Angela Duckworth when her own teenage daughters were holed up at home during the pandemic. Writing in 2020, she proposed a 10-minute activity to help high schoolers explore possible future careers from their bedrooms.

The following year, she revisited the question in “How to Help Students Take a Mental-Health Break This Summer.” Drawing on the research linking green space and mental well-being, Duckworth offered a call to action: “Don’t let the young people in your life spend this precious season glued to their devices.”

Several years earlier, Starr Sackstein was also seeking out strategies to engage students over the summer months. While marshaling her argument that “It’s Time to End Mandated Summer Assignments,” the New York educator took to social media to poll her peers for alternative ideas to required reading lists.

“Let’s make mandatory play assignments that count upon return to school,” suggested one commenter. “A checklist of things students have to do during the summer or else they start off the year in the hole right out of the gate. Things such as wade in a stream, play street stickball, and attend a pool party.”

But that play doesn’t have to come at the expense of keeping students’ minds sharp. “When we think of the summer months, we think of a happy carefree time when children can have fun and unwind,” observed education consultant and former teacher Matthew Lynch in a 2016 essay. “But we forget about the potential learning opportunities that we can engage our children in.”

Brush up on how to spot those potential learning opportunities with Lynch’s “9 Tips for Preventing the Summer Slide.”

Need more tips? Try these six recommendations to set students up for a summer of reading from language arts teacher Donalyn Miller. As the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Miller has given ample thought to how to engage the reluctant reader, a task that can be all the more difficult outside the structured school day.

For the particularly ambitious summer reader, Miller also laid down an annual summer vacation challenge: Read a book a day. Feel free to juice your numbers with picture books and graphic novels, though. After all, Miller explained, “It doesn’t matter what we read, or how much, or when. What matters is that we celebrate reading, share our book love with other readers, discover new titles, and enjoy ourselves.”

And just for good measure, here are a few more recommendations from the EdWeek archives on promoting summer reading, this time from Nashville teacher Leticia Skae: “Four Steps to Transform School Culture Through Summer Reading.”

For students who are returning to the classroom for summer school, now is the ideal time to focus on more than just content knowledge. That’s the message of special education instructional coach Elizabeth Stein, who lays out a four-step plan to embrace a growth mindset approach to summer learning in a 2017 opinion essay.

This year, teacher and EdWeek Opinion contributor Larry Ferlazzo also went deep on the question of engaging students in summer learning. In a two-part series, he spotlights actionable advice for making summer school a place students actually want to be: “Do I Really Have to Go to Summer School? How to Get Students to Change Their Minds” and “How to Make Summer School Effective and Engaging.”

Have your own opinions on how to keep kids engaged in the summer months? Consider writing an essay of your own.

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