As I began to prepare for another summer of reading and developing summer work for my children, I was disheartened to see so many gloomy memes about summer reading made by students who view this summer tradition as a chore instead of a benefit. Or even worse, learning that some school districts are abandoning summer reading all together!

Granted, I was a book worm, I remember being excited at the end of the year when my language arts teacher assigned summer reading. I enjoyed going to the library or store to get the book, and I enjoyed sitting either in my backyard soaking up the heat, or in the crisp air-conditioning in my living room, reading.

Knowing the joy that summer reading has brought to me, I can only imagine that students who don’t enjoy it are not aware of how truly special and freeing it is to spend several, hot, lazy months learning through reading and reflecting on books and other sources of information.

Perhaps the process of summer reading needs to be reframed so that students and parents alike can see the benefit from both having a summer learning goal and documenting the path to accomplishing it. I present to everyone: The Summer Learning Journey!

This is a time that students are absolutely free to explore any topic they want without the demands of regular school dictating their research and study time. And while, yes, not everyone is privileged enough to attend an intensive educational summer camp, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t learning opportunities to be had for everyone else.

With that in mind, I whole heartedly encourage students to consciously embark on a Summer Learning Journey, where you focus your free time exploring a topic of choice. They will need certain tools to help them along the way. Those tools include:

  • A physical notebook to document the journey. It may make sense to use a multi-subject notebook, as there will be different facets of research.
  • Alternatively, if writing in an “old school” notebook is not preferable, an efficient note-taking application on a smart phone can be used.
  • If new to self-guided research, utilize graphic organizers or guiding questions to organize notes pertaining to one’s perspective on the topic, notes from the sources investigated, and how one’s perspective changes throughout the learning journey.
  • The next step is to identify the topic of study. What burning questions exist about one’s family, culture, neighborhood, country or world? Perhaps make a list of several topics, as many as can be thought of, but then narrow the list down by what makes the researcher feel the most curious.
  • After the study topic has been decided, locating sources for the topic is the next step.
    • Depending on your topic, it may make sense to go to your ELA teacher or school librarian.
    • If your topic is a highly specialized field, such as technology or some other science, it may make sense to reach out to those teachers, as they may know of more specialized resources.
    • You can google sources, but you want to be sure to select reputable and credible resources. A good place to start is with websites that end with .edu, .gov, and sometimes .org. I do recommend completing a deeper search on how to vet sources. This blog provides a great framework for researching credible sources.
    • Sources to consult that aren’t online articles include books, movies, shows, documentaries, podcasts, interviews, commercial or government organizations related to the topic and their newsletters, social media profiles of major personalities within the topic, press coverage, etc. The sky is the limit. Find any way to get answers to the determined research questions and to more deeply and fully understand the research topic.
  • Decide how you want to display your knowledge once your research is complete. How important is what you learned? Do you want to just tell your parents or best friend? Do you think your teacher from last year should know? Perhaps you should alert the town council. Or maybe you can just start a new Reddit or Discord thread and see what strangers think – with parent’s permission if you are under 18. Either way, figure out who you want to tell and how you want to tell them.
    • Write a letter?
    • Through a PowerPoint?
    • Write an Essay?
    • Write a blog?
    • Hold a zoom call? How will you organize the information dissemination?
    • The choice is up to you!

Once you finish putting together your research project and present it to a friend, you have completed your Summer Learning Journey!!

The real challenges with this journey, is getting started and seeing it through. With only yourself as your motivator, it is easy to decide to “do the project another day” when you wake up to see the sun shining on a beautiful summer day. However, there can only be positive outcomes waiting beyond a completed, self-directed, summer project.

So, get started today! Start brainstorming research ideas! Talk to your teachers now about resources while you still have time in school! Hone in on what you want to study and begin exploring and documenting.

Share your thoughts below! Have you completed your own Summer Reading Journey? What was it like for you? Or, are you motivated to study something after reading this post? If so, what?

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