Late-fall days, report card grades, and looming winter ways

photo of a fall day showing leaves on the ground with a hourglass with purple sand

Fall has officially been underway for not quite a month, but mid- to late-October tends to hint at what’s just around the corner. Crisp nights, shorter days, holiday displays, and often for kids, the first report cards of the year signal change. Be ready!

Talking about grades
young girl on the couch looking sad with her mom kneeling down next to her taking with her

The early weeks of a new school year include lots of review and catch-up. The organization We Are Teachers earlier this year cited a report that found “students in grades 1-8 lose 17% to 34% of the prior year’s learning over summer break.”

To be sure, some kids hit the ground running, and others catch up fast, but some might hit a wall—one that can be “built” from a variety of factors. So what to do if your child’s first grades are less than stellar?

This spring, Ann Dolin, M.Ed., wrote "How to Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide for Parents," for Educational Connections, a company providing virtual tutoring services for K-12. Steps Dolan encourages taking include “give it some distance,” avoid reacting at the moment, then schedule a time to talk and make it an open discussion.

She also offers guidance on how to do that last one effectively, weighing word choice carefully. One is to lead with “I noticed” vs. “you” to avoid conveying blame and to say, “help me understand” to “give your child a chance to explain what went wrong.”

Similarly, back in ’20, Cleveland Clinic posted “8 Tips for Talking About Bad Grades.” Some of their tips included “separate the child from the grade,” “approach the subject with concern, not anger,” “ask questions,” and “talk to the teacher.” Interestingly, they also say, “Know that rewards and punishment don’t work if you want your child to love learning.”

Sensing winter on the wind
winter scene with a caution sign that reads Cold Weather Ahead

Grades aren’t the only thing that can slump in fall. Even cold-weather states usually get some spectacularly warm and sunny days that seem to put the calendar on pause. But unseasonable exceptions inevitably give way to equal hints of winter. Winter sports enthusiasts may be nothing but excited by what’s on the horizon, but for many—adults and kids alike—it can bring a mix of feelings and shifts in both mind and body as the natural world seems to slow or even shut down.

Daylight saving time, though it remains controversial, with various pieces of legislation pending, continues to be observed in all U.S. states except Arizona and Hawaii. The fall changeover, which happens on the first Sunday in November, tends to be easier than in spring because of the extra hour of sleep afforded when we “fall back” an hour, also means it gets dark by 5 p.m. in some places. 

Those with seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) can find this especially challenging, but so can others. Back in 2018, the Psychology Centre at the University of Guelph posted “Feelings About Fall: How to Cope with the Fall Season by Dr. Elizabeth Orr." She noted that common feelings can include “...anxiety about the colder weather, and/or dread about the shorter days/darker nights.” We can assume that “darker” actually means “longer.” Orr also observed that “while it is important to process our emotions, it can also be helpful to ‘let emotions sit,’" choosing to "co-exist with them rather than trying to replace or suppress them," to see if with a bit of time they "might resolve on their own." She also says it can be helpful to distract ourselves with enjoyable activities.

 A post from the FSA Store titled, “4 Tips to Overcome Shorter Days and Winter Blues,” says that “getting light exposure earlier in the day can help alleviate” a midday slump, and working near a window can be really valuable too. They also suggest staying hydrated and shutting down phones and other electronics at least two hours before bedtime.

Holidays are a breath away

Without accelerating the calendar any more than retailers already do, late fall undeniably signals a countdown to the major holidays, which again, depending on a kaleidoscope of factors and circumstances, can bring on an equally big range of feelings.

Anticipating the holidays can stir up a confusing mix of excitement and apprehension that can be hard to voice, since we may feel that we are supposed to feel nothing but joy.

Among the “9 Tips to Fend Off Holiday Stress” published by the Mayo Clinic are “plan ahead,” “say no,” “plan spending,” “create relaxing surroundings,” “share feelings,” and “be realistic.”

women sitting cross-legged on the couch in her lounge cloths reviewing a notepad

A Personal Organizer blog post titled, “5 Steps to Mentally Prepare for the Holiday Season,” with each step presented in more detail on the site, suggests, “don’t create unrealistic expectations for the holiday season,” “don’t compare” (to someone else’s standards), “set a realistic budget and stick to it,” “stick to a routine” (and create a daily plan), and “check-in [sic] with yourself.”

That last one involves asking yourself if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and if so, why. The next step is to ask, “What can be adjusted or removed from your schedule or a to-do list that can relieve this? Can any tasks be delegated?”

The goal is to adjust habits and routines to find your own personal sweet spot. 

Fall is that colorful, mid-range space between the roar of summer and the silence of winter. Bittersweet? Maybe. But it’s also a chance to savor what’s now and make plans for what’s next.

family hiking through a field in the fall holding hands with their young son and the dad is carrying the baby in a backpack carrier