By Tim Tibbitts
Welcome to summer! We made it! After what was most likely the most challenging school year in our collective memory, summer is here. While summer is a great time to relax and play, it’s also a great time to shore up some skills if you’re really behind in an area (reading is the number one thing that comes to mind), and of course many rising juniors will use it to get a jump start on ACT prep.
But in addition to all those standard ways to “use summer well,” summer can also provide a very special opportunity to follow one’s own interest and curiosity. If following your own interest and curiosity means to you just doing whatever you feel like doing at the moment day after day, then more power to you. This blog is about the opportunity to follow one’s interest and curiosity in a slightly more focused and intentional way. I like that word intentional. With intention, summer offers just enough time to do a deep dive in a narrow area and to come away having learned something meaningful that the busyness of the academic year does not allow. Here are a few suggestions, offered not because I know how you should choose to spend your precious time, but as examples to fire your imagination:
Learn a new language. Family vacation to Italy, but you study Spanish? Get the Duolingo app, get a few Pimsleur CDs from your local library, and work your way through an “Easy Reader” in your target language—you won’t be fluent by summer’s end, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in a short time!
Learn to identify 10 species of birds common to your locale. Last summer, while working my way through David George Haskell’s amazing The Forest Unseen, I located a podcast interview of him. At the end of the interview, the interviewer asked how listeners could follow this naturalist on social media, and Haskell answered, “Oh, don’t waste your time following me. Instead, learn to identity ten species of birds in your area. You’ll be amazed at much doing so changes the way you pay attention to the world around you.” What great advice! Get a copy of Nate Swick’s Beginner’s Guide to Birding as well as an introductory guide to bird in your area, and get outside! If birds don’t grab you, learn to identify ten species of trees native to your locale (by their leaves as well as by their bark), or the constellations in the night sky. You get the idea. Pick something and dive in!
Fall in love with opera. When things shut down last year, a bunch of opera companies started streaming free performances from the archives. Pick an opera you’ve heard of, one of the famous ones (Marriage of Figaro, Taviata, Carmen…). Read a little about it, go to YouTube and watch a few different famous singers do a couple of the famous arias, then make some popcorn and watch the full performance.
Read three (or five or ten) books in a completely new area for you. Fiction: Maybe you loved Harry Potter and read everything Stephen King puts out, but turn up your nose at the paperback westerns Grandpa loves. Why not ask him to recommend a favorite and then do a deep dive? Non-fiction: If you tend to like history and languages but less so science, why not read three books about planetary science and astronomy?
Take up a new sport or fitness related hobby. Take a hike in a different Metropark reservation each week for six weeks. Sign up for horseback riding lessons for six weeks. Take a handful of golf or tennis lessons.
Learn to cook or get better at cooking. If your greatest success in the kitchen to date it is pouring a bowl of cereal, start with some basics. If you’ve enjoyed cooking with your parents for years, maybe choose a narrow focus and explore in a deep way something specific. You could choose a particular cuisine (e.g., south Indian, northern Italian, Chilean.) or perfect a technique. (Michael Ruhlman has a wonderful series dedicated to learning to master techniques rather than recipes.)
Take advantage of the relative freedom of summer to follow a curiosity or interest that too often gets boxed out by the busyness of the school year. Being intentional allows you to narrow your focus in order to create some richly meaningful experiences for yourself. Here’s to a great summer!
TWK founder Tim Tibbitts, who started his career as an English teaching, is using this summer to dive deep into Anatomy & Physiology and Microbiology. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.235.3115.