Winter Breaks: How You Can Use Them To Your Advantage
Winter breaks: The first days back can be a trying time. Trudging across campus or waiting for the doors to open in the morning while the temperatures are at their lowest. Getting in to a fresh groove only to have a week of school canceled due to winter storms. These are definitely not a few of our favorite things! But perhaps the toughest thing to prepare for is the transition from playing video games, watching movies, reading for enjoyment, and texting friends, to homework every night and long, droning lectures from our least favorite teachers.
Yes, it takes a lot to get back in the swing of things once the holidays are over and you have another five months of classes to “look forward to” (yeah right), but there are some things that you can do to make the switch easier.
One: Sound Off On A Current Issue That’s Important To You.
While getting in to Facebook or Twitter wars with people over your personal beliefs on a story or topic can definitely be a time-suck, there is a flip side to this pastime that can be quite beneficial. For one, it keeps you plugged in to current events and helps you to be a more informed individual capable of making connections between school knowledge and world knowledge. Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that it can teach you a lot about yourself and why you believe what you believe. Such activities help you formulate your own opinions and can either affirm old ideas or lead to changes of opinion that will make you the person you’re supposed to be instead of someone who lets others decide their beliefs for them.
Two: Be More Efficient With Your Tablet And Phone Time.
You may spend a lot of time on your smartphone or tablet, especially if you just got one for Christmas. Instead of playing your 500th straight game of Tetris Blitz or mastering The Room, take a break to hone some of the skills that would otherwise be dormant during the winter break. There are plenty of apps that you can switch to for a quick change of pace to enhance math or language skills. For instance, Apple’s 2013 pick for App of the Year is the free language app Duolingo, which allows you to hone your Spanish or German or French in a fun and interactive way that is sure to stay with you. For the geometry-impaired, there’s Geometry Pad+ (available for just $5.99 on the iPad). For $9.99 (also iTunes), you can tweak your algebra skills with the fun, interactive game DragonBox Algebra 12+. There’s also Prompts — For Writers ($2.99), Questimate! for math and logic (Free), and GED ($9.99) for some more well-rounded preparation.
Three: Physical Exertion.
While physical exertion may not seem, on the surface, like it has anything to do with battling mental sluggishness, it remains integral to the list if you’re not wanting your first day back to be the darkest day of horror the world has ever known. We could seriously write an entire article on the ways that working out can improve mental function, but here are some of the high points.
Working out helps to reduce stress: Worried about that first day back and perhaps taking the SAT or ACT in the second semester? By maintaining a physically active routine, you’ll be able to manage this stress more effectively by allowing your body a release of the pent-up mental pressures.
Boost endorphins: Endorphins help us to feel happy, alert, and adjusted. Incidentally, this is also the “happy chemical” released by the brain whenever your body takes part in physical exercise. If you’re feeling more upbeat, then things like going back to school after a couple of weeks off won’t bother you so much, and you’ll likely be more eager to embrace the challenges ahead rather than wanting to hide from them.
Enhance your self-confidence: Self-confidence is essential to success in most any endeavor, mental or physical. By working out, getting in better shape, and looking and feeling your best, those positive vibes you’re experiencing will make the jump into your educational life.
Stop cognitive decline: There’s a reason that doctors recommend us to stay active as we get older. Improvements in your physical performance can boost alertness and help prevent the onset of cognitive decline through diseases like Alzheimer’s. While the disease part probably isn’t of much concern to you now, the fact that doctors recommend it to patients for mental health benefits is a testament to the worth of physical activity.
Be more productive: Physical activity assists parts of the brain that are used for organization and assertiveness. By taking a break to hit the treadmill or lift weights, you will actually make more of your time away from the gym, and you likely won’t feel like staying in bed all day and putting your brain on hold.
Improve memory and sharpness: When you work on the physical you, you’re able to remember things better and respond with greater quickness and clarity, making educational connections between your life experience and the classroom.
Four: Experiment With Wake-Up Time.
While no one can blame you for taking a break from the early mornings and sleeping longer hours leading up to Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukah, once the holidays are over, it’s time to think about getting up earlier in the morning. What you don’t want is to go from sleeping till noon every day for a couple of weeks to getting up at 6:30 a.m. That’s a shock to the system, and it can make for a rough week back. Instead, scale it back while there’s still time and take the last couple of days to get out of bed early and do something productive. It will make life much easier when school resumes.
Five: Prep For Any Tests On The Radar.
Many students wait until the second semester to tackle tests like the SAT and ACT because they want to take more knowledge into the exam than they would if they took it earlier in the school year. This is understandable, but that winter break can grind the educational gears to a halt and ruin any momentum the student may have made towards prep time in the first semester. Furthermore, while you may be getting instruction regarding content that shows up on the exams themselves, you really should spend time experimenting with the actual administration of the tests.
In other words, take plenty of practice tests doing your best to recreate exam conditions, with time limits, peace, and quiet. You may not have a lot of opportunities to do that once the spring semester arrives and homework, school functions, etc., start vying for all your free time.
While it’s nice to have a winter break that you can escape to after a full semester of studies, too much of a good thing can quickly become bad. To stop that from happening, train your body and your mind to prepare for the remainder of the school year. You can accomplish this by utilizing the tips we’ve offered — staying plugged in to current events, using educational apps throughout the day while on your smartphone or tablet, working out, waking up earlier, and taking practice tests. By staying a little connected to your school life during winter breaks, it’ll be much easier to pick up where you left off when you return.
[Image via University of Texas]