After years of frustration generated from hearing students bemoan the boredom and lassitude of their summer vacations, I have developed a new mantra which I deliver to anyone who will listen as the academic year comes to a close:

“Pursue your passions. Summers are for learning. Start your life now.”

Express Yourself!

I guess you could say I was already a self-directed learner way back in the late sixties when I used the “recommended reading” section at the back of my junior high literature textbook to map out my summer reading plans.  My goal: to read as far into the list as I could before school started in September.  I would pedal my bike down to the local library, gather my books like so many secret friends, head home, and dig in.  But the truth is I was incredibly lonely.  Even as I lost myself in the imaginary worlds of The Red Pony and Wuthering Heights, I longed for someone to talk to and to share my reading experiences with.

Nowadays, you can join an online book group to suit your reading taste on Goodreads, or you can create a group of your own.  Choose from, for example, 154 groups on Graphic Novels, 1162 on Science Fiction and Fantasy, and 2745 on reading for Young Adults. Peruse reviews by friends and share your own.  You can also post your own writing projects and find writing groups and other readers to give you feedback on your work. Just poking around, I found this one from the United Kingdom that sponsors themed writing, contests, and group reads: ☀☁♛☆Ignite Your Creativity☆☀☁♛

When I need a kickstart for my own creative process, I wander over to DS106 for “The Daily Create.”  Today’s spark: “Take a picture that represents quickness or motion.”   My favorite response so far is “Time Flying.”  DS106 is an “open online course on digital storytelling that began at the University of Mary Washington and continues as a community of learners across the globe.”  The site offers “assignments” – some may refer to these as inspirations – in visual, audio, video, design, web and mash-up categories; it provides links to other digital storytelling e-courses and even broadcasts its own radio station.

Who doesn’t take pictures of their summer vacation activities? If you are looking for ways to share your photo-stories and connect with other photographers, check out the groups on flickr100 Strangers encourages its members to build their skills as street portraitists by capturing strangers’ images and stories (with their permission) on the spot.  Flickr-Instagram taps into the vintage filter craze.  If you like a challenge, try the Flickr Weekly Theme Contest.

Learn a New Skill

Had I grown up in the early part of the 21st century, I believe I would have gravitated toward learning how to code.  I liked math, and I liked solving problems. Maybe I would have found the wherewithal to apply for a grant to study with Girls Who Code, which was founded to reach under-served girls interested in STEM. Maybe I would have been like two of my young teachers friends who have signed on with Code Academy, a social learning community that allows potential geeks to share their learning and track one another’s progress.  Even creating an account provides a first encounter with coding. I might have by-passed my school’s prejudice against encouraging girls to study physics and engineering by signing up for one of the courses  listed under “Build Stuff” at MITOpenCourseware:  “Practical Electronics,” “Furniture Making,” or “Toy Product Design.” And who knows what I might have done after that?

Serve Others

Look around, I tell my students.  What does your community need? Where can you do some good where it is most needed over the summer? How can you make a difference?

If you have a big heart and some time on your hands, but don’t know where to start, try the volunteer listings at Idealist.org. I recently searched under “volunteer” and “Houston” to find opportunities to work with the elderly at the Chinese Community Center, to become a crisis hotline volunteer, and to collect sneakers for a fundraising event called a “Mud Run.” If your interests already tend towards a particular cause, see what a Google search will turn up. Envirolink provides volunteer opportunities for the environmentally conscious sorted by category, from “agriculture” to “working animals.” Help Portrait organizes photographers to shoot pictures of “people in need.” STREAM, sponsored by EarthEcho, is just one of many citizen journalist sites providing an avenue for young people to report on the issues that matter most to them.  If you can’t find a site that addresses the causes that matters most to you, you can always build it yourself.

Start Your Life Now

Summers are for learning.  On your own.  At your own pace.  In the company of friends.  In the company of strangers.

Summer is too precious to waste on Hulu reruns. Summer is a time to discover your passions and pursue your interests, to find like-minded learners on the web, and to settle in for several weeks of deep exploration. Students and learners everywhere, start your life now.

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