In terms of things you feel like thinking about in midsummer, "school" probably falls somewhere near "next year's taxes."
But some experts are urging parents to use at least a portion of the summer months to prep their kids for the upcoming school year — especially kids who are headed for college in the fall.
A new study by The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group, found that 20 percent of freshmen in four-year universities enroll in at least one remedial course upon arrival, and about one-third of all community college freshman do.
The study also found that employers of recent high school graduates say a majority of grads are deficient in communication, critical thinking and basic writing skills.
We turned to Laurie L. Hazard, a psychology professor at Bryant University in Rhode Island and a national expert on helping students make a successful transition from high school to college.
Hazard says the summer months are a critical time for college prep, and she offers a three-part approach.
A reading workout: College curriculums remain extremely textbook-based, Hazard says, despite societal shifts away from plopping down with a good book.
"This generation is used to reading on-screen — iPod in their ear, IM'ing and doing a couple other things all at once," she says.
"Studying for a college exam requires sustained, focused reading, sometimes up to 200 pages of text."
That can be a head-spinning transition. Hazard suggests getting your teen in the habit of regular, sustained reading before he or she gets to college.
"Reading is like running," she says. "You can't run the Boston Marathon your first time out there. Start with 10 pages at a sitting. Then do three sets of 10. Then three sets of 15. You've got to build up your endurance for reading."
And it doesn't matter so much what they're reading, as long as they're doing it daily. Obviously, US Weekly magazine isn't going to build up endurance as quickly as, say, Henry David Thoreau. But you should encourage your kids to read something they'll actually look forward to picking up each day.
A major decision: Maybe your child has already decided to major in criminal justice, maybe he's still deciding between anthropology and microbrewery management. The important thing is that you both approach the process with an open mind.
"Students say things like 'I was born with a bad math gene. It was passed down from my mother,' " Hazard says. "But you're starting here with a clean slate. You can change any of your academics with hard work and effort."
She says it's wise to encourage students to try lots of different subjects, but to make sure they sign up for at least one or two classes they know they'll enjoy the first semester.
"Sometimes students say 'I hate math, I'm going to get that out of the way my first semester,' " she says. "It's better to take what you love. Do what you can to make the college adjustment as smooth as possible."
And now is not the time to be a helicopter parent (the term for adults who hover closely over their kids' every move), Hazard says. Don't, under any circumstances, tell your child what he or she has to major in, or try to discourage a major you don't find appealing or practical.
A serenity prayer, of sorts: You're likely to have a number of "we-need-to-have-a-talk" talks with your college-bound kid this summer. But Hazard says, if nothing else, all freshmen would benefit from the following reminders: Approach the experience with humility. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And have the courage to change.
Lessons we'd probably all be wise to heed.