Featured Sections

All Imagination & Play

Celebrating the Late Bloomers

2019-07-17 by Melissa

Shop the Story

What is that thing you love to do
That wholly makes your heart ring true
That lets your spirit come alive
Awash with time and space to thrive
What is that thing that’s always been
Just desperate to flow from within
That wondrous gift that sets you free
To greet the world authentically

The Year In Play

Too often we’re putting our kids on a prescribed path, having them specialize in one sport at an early age or focus intensely on one extracurricular interest. Childhood, and actually life in general, should be a time of exploring and sampling to discover what makes our hearts sing. Here’s how to celebrate and cultivate late bloomers!

Let’s Celebrate the Late Bloomer in All of Us

“How we spend our adult years isn’t meant to be predetermined in childhood—but instead organically manifest itself like a blossoming flower as we learn, discover and grow—and for many, this may continue well into adulthood.” — Melissa

The other day Doug and I had the pleasure of having lunch with our children’s new high school principal. In discussing the extent to which childhood has changed over the decades, he brought up a recent New York Times article that discussed Norway and its innovative approach to sports.

For us, it was revelatory to learn that although Norway won more Olympic medals in one winter Olympics than any country in history, its travel teams do not form until the teenage years and the goal of sports is more about making friendships than winning.

Our principal lamented that the United States no longer allows for “late bloomers” in sports. For if a child isn’t already a star by the time they are 12 years old, it may be too embarrassing or challenging to break into that sport, as they feel at a significant disadvantage to be a contributor in their teenage years.

The Pressure to Professionalize Our Kids

The phrase “late bloomer” hit a chord in me, because I suddenly realized that the exact same phenomenon was occurring with children in academics and career choices as with sports. Today’s parents feel pressured to “professionalize” their children – expecting them to know at a young age what they want to do as an adult and setting them on an early, performance-driven path to that goal. (See “race to the top” and “check-listed childhood” for more on this societal shift to performance-based outcomes.)

I have heard my own and other children regularly panicking because they weren’t already a prodigy in “something” and didn’t have a sense for their ultimate career or college major. And they are ONLY IN MIDDLE SCHOOL, a mere 11 or 12 years of age!

This experience left me with the burning question: What is the purpose of life if not to have the luxury of discovering what makes us tick and lights us up? And how can anyone ever justify putting tremendous pressure or a time constraint on discovering our true essence?

Finding the spark that lights us up may indeed take a lifetime — yet we need to be granted the freedom, patience, curiosity, and fortitude to keep trying and testing multitudes of options, getting right back up when we fall down, and continuing to do it again and again until what resonates with us most sticks.

In an ideal world we might even stop talking about late bloomers and think of them as “right-on-time bloomers” — individuals who have been afforded the luxury of dabbling in this and that in order to reveal, ultimately, what truly speaks to their heart.

3 Ways to Cultivate Your Little Bloomer

  1. Encourage kids to take risks and try new activities.

    Whenever possible, give kids a nudge in a new direction. Many kids (and grown-ups!) are reluctant to try something new for fear of not being immediately good at it. But, of course, nobody ever got good at anything by not trying and working at it! And to be clear, I’m not talking about filling up schedules with various lessons and classes. The last thing kids need is more overscheduling. Look at your child’s play patterns. Do you have a kid who predominantly plays with building blocks? Give them some paper and paints or clay and challenge them to draw or sculpt a city. Have a truck-obsessed child? Try engaging them in dramatic role play by making dress-up garb readily available. The idea is to get kids’ brains and hands working in different ways than they are accustomed to in order to expand their sense for what they may enjoy and/or excel in.

  2. Let your kids see YOU explore new hobbies and try new things.

    Children soak up so much from observing their parents’ approach to the world. Make sure your kids witness you trying new activities, and maybe even struggling or failing at first. It could be as simple as trying a new cooking technique at dinner or trying a new route to a familiar destination. Watching a parent dust themselves off after a failure is a lesson in resilience for children.

  3. Avoid the specialization trap in sports.

    Too many parents seem to have the false belief that in order to get a college scholarship or make the high school team, you have to pick one sport early and focus on it year-round. But research shows that waiting to specialize can actually help the athlete. Besides giving the child exposure to different activities, diversification may, in the end, help them in their chosen sport (working out different muscle groups, reducing the risk of overuse injuries, widening their social circle, etc.)

    I am a living, breathing example of a late bloomer. Although I hid my trials and failures from the world, I attempted more than I will ever admit to . . . trying out for sports teams I didn’t make, entering competitions I didn’t win, running for offices and losing elections, and determining to be a lawyer then an investment banker before I found myself wallowing in despair like a flower without sunlight and water.

    It was only after sampling a number of different paths on the traditional treadmill that I stumbled into starting a toy business with Doug, my boyfriend and eventual husband. I never once took a design course or made a toy before that moment. Imagine my shock and elation after having finally found my passion as an adult!

    Therefore I am now left wondering: in a society that has devalued childhood and promotes formalized activity more than free time and grades more than learning, how many MORE children TODAY are robotically going through life without any sense whatsoever for who they are and what brings them joy? How many late bloomers are out there right now already on an escalator leading them to someone else’s envisioned life?

    How we spend our adult years isn’t meant to be predetermined in childhood—but instead organically manifest itself like a blossoming flower as we learn, discover and grow — and for many, this may continue well into adulthood. AND THAT’S JUST FINE. Life should be a smorgasbord of delectable choices that we can leisurely try — and choose to go back for seconds — or decide to just get a new plate and start afresh! And that should be celebrated!

What is that thing you love to do
That wholly makes your heart ring true
That lets your spirit come alive
Awash with time and space to thrive
What is that thing that’s always been
Just desperate to flow from within
That wondrous gift that sets you free
To greet the world authentically

thumbnail

Melissa

Melissa is the co-founder of Melissa & Doug. She credits her creativity to a childhood of boredom, relying on only her imagination to fill the blank canvas — with magic. Concerned this generation of children is missing out on the kind of unstructured downtime that enables them to find their passions and purpose through exploration, Melissa is leading a movement to Take Back Childhood. She dreams of a day when kids are free from over-scheduling, undue pressure, and digital distractions so they may discover themselves, develop into free thinkers, and realize their full potential.

You may also like these stories

Latest Stories