On the surface, summer can seem like a great time to take a load off. However, it might be the best time of year to pick up a new skill. Sunlight stimulates your mind and enhance cognitive function. Plus flexible summer hours and vacation time can open up valuable hours to learn a new skill. You may even have vacation or sabbatical to dedicate more time to learning a new skill. Start now to lay a foundation for daily learning that can carry over into the fall.

How can I learn new skills at home?

Learning a new skill doesn’t need to take place in a classroom. There are plenty of things you can do at home – or on vacation – to learn a new skill. 

1. Pick up a new language

Was high school the last time you studied a foreign language? Consider brushing up on a language you used to speak. Or dive into a new one altogether. “[Learning a new language] opens up parts of the world and cultures you wouldn’t otherwise know about or have exposure to,” says Amanda Baker. She is a program co-ordinator for online languages at Humber College. Learning a second language also: 

A free apps like Duolingo help expand your vocabulary and grasp of basic grammar in your language of choice. Create an immersive environment by listening to music and watching movies in that language. And consider joining a group, either online or in person. Or you can take a course that provides opportunities to practise your conversational skills.

2. Try a musical instrument

Learning to play an instrument isn't entirely different from learning a new language. Like language, music engages your senses in a new way. You’ll pick up small differences and develop fluency by learning how to read the “language” of music. Music has also been shown to: 

  • help sharpen focus, 
  • expand cognitive function and 
  • even help counteract depression.

Learning a new instrument doesn’t have to be expensive, either. As part of Making the Arts More AccessibleTM Sun Life expanded its Music Lending Library initiative to make instruments available at local libraries across Canada. Head to a participating library where you can borrow from a range of instruments to start your musical journey. 

From there, you can find many free resources on YouTube. Or find a music teacher who can teach you online, or in person – maybe even at your house.

3. Increase your financial literacy 

Unfortunately, financial topics like RRSPs, aren’t taught in school. However, the more you know about financial products and strategies, the better decisions you can make about your money. Being financially literate means knowing what different financial terms mean and how they can potentially help you.

To get a baseline of your knowledge, find out what your financial literacy score is. 

Then, take some time to get to know 14 must-know financial terms. After that, you can dig a little deeper into some of the topics that interest you. Or talk to an advisor. They can help answer your questions. 

Use your skills to volunteer for a good cause

Lending your time and attention to a cause can help shape your community. And it’s also good for you. Volunteering has its own health benefits like protecting your mental health. And it can be a great way to learn new skills, too. For example, while helping resettle refugees in your community you can learn about a new culture. Or, by signing up to help during a charity run you’ll be motivated to finish a running plan.

What are the 4 steps to learning a new skill?

Summer’s long days can offer natural motivation — especially if you can study outside. But you may also face some challenges as you try to keep your summer learning goals on track. These tips can help:

1. Budget enough time 

Spending just a couple of minutes each day on learning translates to slow progress, which can zap your motivation. Baker recommends devoting at least minimum of 30 minutes at a time for each learning session. An hour would be better. 

2. Stay consistent 

You’ll get the best results from daily — or near-daily — practice, Baker says. You can, of course, take days off now and then. But you’ll want to practise consistently enough to build your pursuit into a habit.

3. Set mini goals 

Setting a series of small goals makes: 

  • it easier to track your progress, and 
  • you feel the sense of accomplishment that will leave you excited to learn more.

A mini goal could be as simple as meeting your practice goals for 5 days in a row,

4. Make it fun

Tie your learning to real-life experiences, recommends Baker. Are you learning a foreign language? Set a date for when you want to order a meal in that language at a restaurant. This real-world payoff can help put more purpose behind your daily practices.

What's most important is this: Never stop learning. Don’t expect to master your skill before the leaves turn. Instead, look at it as the first step in a lifelong journey. “If you’re not continuing to develop your skills and your intellect, you can become stagnant and lose ambition,” Baker advises. “Learning is all about getting the most out of your life.”

Do you need help with your financial goals?

Try our Bright Start tool to get personalized suggestions to get on a path to lifetime financial security.

If you’re ready to talk about your goals, a Sun Life advisor can: 

  • talk you through what you need now, 
  • explore what you may need in the future.
  • help you juggle competing priorities. 

Most advisors meet Clients in person or virtually. Find an advisor.

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This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.