Back to School: Ride the Waves of Summer Highs

Keep motivation going

by Alex Sheffield | Thu, September 14, 2017

This is it folks. The backpacks are ready, uniforms laid out and morning wake-up alarms set. Going back to school is officially on! After an epic summer of visiting family, exploring new lands, or simply just hanging out at home with their buddies, it’s safe to say that kids must be feeling pretty relaxed and content.

As the summer winds down, thoughts of heading back to school can conjure excited feelings, but that can sometimes start to fade pretty fast. Encourage your kids to ride the high of that summer wave, and take those happy vibes with them into the start of a new school year. But just how can they find, and more importantly keep, that back to school excitement alive long after the novelty of the first days has worn off?

Fresh start


There are many reasons to be excited, even if your child might not get that sensation straight away. Thinking about seeing old friends, making new ones, starting an exciting new class or simply getting away from the watchful eyes of parents can help to turn a feeling of anxiety into enthusiasm.

“Often it is the younger kids who are most excited about going back to school . . . “Under normal circumstances the school is like a big playground for them, and therefore motivation is usually high,”

says Dr Shang Rasul Frederiksen M.S., Psychotherapist at Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics.

Girl Bike Riding

Dr Frederiksen expands by explaining that after a long summer break, younger children are happy to get back into a familiar routine, whether they are aware of that or not. But this also stretches to tweens and teens, who also need stability and a regular schedule.

The start of a new school year for teenagers will inevitably be different from younger students though. 

“Secondary and middle school students are often eager to see their friends and discuss summer activities, as well as plans for the upcoming year,”

says Ruth Stevenson, Grade 3 teacher at Concordia International School Shanghai. Stevenson explains that many students experience changes over the summer months, making them eager to explore new areas of learning and understanding. It’s a time for reconnecting with others who are going through that same phase in their life. Those entering high school – or college and beyond – also are keen to start the new year, “especially as they begin to realize the seriousness of important life decisions approaching within the next four years,” Stevenson notes.

School Friends

With anticipation bubbling, it’s also natural for there to be nervous feelings and some degree of anxiety. The start of the year is a great opportunity for parents to step up and play an active role, by helping to soothe worries and build the BTS excitement at home. The Director of Counseling Services at the Community Center Shanghai, Carry Jones, LCSW, has the following tips:

  • Give your child lots of opportunities to talk about what they are looking forward to; their hopes, plans and goals for the year. Share in their excitement and encourage their pursuits, even if they’re different from your own.
  • Engage in activities to help prepare for whatever they are specifically excited about (learning more about it, buying supplies and getting organized, etc.). Make shopping for new school items fun!
  • Allow children to express their fears and anxieties about the upcoming year, too. Talking things through can really help. There may be opportunities to do some proactive brainstorming or problem-solving to help quell some of their worries, and increase eagerness to get back to school.

Organization at School

Most schools will also have methods setup to help ease back into academic life.

“We communicate with parents about new teachers before students return to school . . . We also have Orientation days aimed at settling nerves and meeting new faces, with parents involved by having an active role in their child’s education and listening to any questions they may have.”

explains Eleanor Sellers, Junior School Pastoral Leader at Dulwich College Shanghai, Minhang.

Stevenson agrees that parents can build excitement about going back to school by sharing childhood memories; a story about a best friend, a cherished teacher, or a special moment. No matter how you choose to open the lines of communication, the most important thing is that children – at any age – feel heard and understood.

“Sometimes it is just a matter of expressing how they feel at that moment . . . Only after, you can offer some ideas as to what will be exciting about the upcoming school year,”

says Dr Frederiksen.

Reaching a plateau


The first day back has come and gone and all is so far so good. But just when might the honeymoon period start to wear thin? Of course, it’s different for each student, but our experts agree that it tends to be anytime between the first few days (or even hours!) and a few weeks in, with less enthusiastic feelings common.

“It is often simply because routines are more established, children are aware of expectations, have become familiar with their classmates and teachers, and are feeling less nervous,”

comments Sellers. However, if you notice that your child’s enthusiasm has taken a signi cant nose-dive, perhaps due to friendship issues, struggling in class or bullying, there could be an underlying issue. Dr Frederiksen suggests sharing your observations with them. A good way to start that conversation is to say, “I’ve noticed that you don’t seem too excited about going back to school; and I am sorry to see that. Why might that be?” But it’s also good practice to speak to your child’s teacher about it, for their opinion or advice.

Find the fun

Motivation at School

All is not lost, even after their levels of excitement start to drop. Before your children head back to school, and while they’re still high on their summer buzz, sit down together and write a wish list of fun activities and things they’d like to do, which can come in handy when they are back at school. Motivation levels inevitably drop with time, but it can be made worse if there are no fun incentives to keep you going along the way.

Leaving the summer behind doesn’t have to mean that the fun has to stop. It’s a great idea to have some flags in the future sand – goal posts to look forward to during the term, set within reason of price, time and energy levels alongside school. It could be an afternoon at Jump 360, visiting a cool free exhibition or making some arts and crafts at home, but the premise remains the same.

Arts and Crafts

As adults, we know how important a weekend away can be for your sanity; the same principle applies to your kids! Stevenson agrees that we should,

“encourage students to find something that brings them joy. It is important for all of us, especially young learners, to engage in an activity that they find exhilarating. If students have an outlet, they may look to it as a source of strength, comfort, encouragement or reward. Finding joy is a piece of life that will sustain excitement, regardless of the environment.”

According to Jones, there are many ways for students to keep momentum going, and also identify when to seek help to ease the pressure:

  • For early and primary learning, maintaining a good balance of school/structured activities and free time/unstructured play is important. Kids need time just to be kids. Failure to keep this balance can lead to exhaustion, stress, anxiety, or burn-out.

  • Encourage middle schoolers to keep having fun! This is a great time to try out lots of new things, experiment with different activities, leadership roles and the like before moving up to high school, where there are more academic demands. Additionally, activities often become increasingly focused, competitive and selective.

  • As things become more serious in high school, keep a close eye on the work load. Recognize if your child took on more than they can manage, and don’t be afraid or ashamed if they want to make changes to their schedule. They might want to consider dropping a sport or after school activity, and let them look into changing levels if needed.

  • By the time your kids are heading to college they should be equipped to identify support resources early on (advisers, student services, campus counseling center, etc.). But they should never be afraid to seek support when needed! This is absolutely a sign of strength, not weakness.

Kayleigh McSweeney, Senior School Pastoral Leader at Dulwich, details how they keep motivation levels up.

“We have a consistent rewards system which celebrates students’ successes and achievements. To help them stay motivated to achieve these rewards, there are various milestones, each with different levels of recognition that take place throughout the entire year.”

They have also designed their curriculum to support this, with regular excursions and learning experiences, such as visiting authors, educational trips and theme days to look forward to.