What Kids Learn From Collections
It starts innocently enough. A pretty seashell plucked from the sand. A stuffed giraffe to commemorate a trip to the zoo. Before you know it, your child's room has been overtaken by herds of stuffed animals, boxes of rocks, albums of baseball cards and whatever else strikes his fancy. To an adult, all that stuff might look like useless dust collectors, but to a child, collecting is an exciting exercise in creating a world of one's own — one that he can control and tell stories about.
"Having a collection helps kids this age fit in and bond with their peers by providing a common ground for conversations and play," says Kathleen Camara, Ph.D., associate professor of child development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass.
Still tempted to return that box of rocks to its natural habitat or ditch the brightly colored rubber-band bracelets? Consider first the important life lessons your young collector is gathering from his hobby.
He's becoming an expert. Any child who's tried to explain to an adult the significance of a certain trading card can tell you that there are some things grown-ups just don't get. And that's exactly how kids like it.
"It's empowering for a child to know more — or at least think he knows more — about a subject than his parents or other adults," Camara says. Your child's driven to learn more so he can continue being an authority on the topic. Plus, all this knowledge provides great fodder for conversations between kids and adults.
She's taking on responsibility. The same child who can't recall where she left her jacket and who has to be reminded countless times to pick up her room will astound you with her devotion to caring for her prized possessions.
"Collecting instills a sense of pride and ownership in young children. They want to protect and take care of their valuables," says Monica Cardoza, author of Child's Play: Enriching Your Child's Interests, from Rocket Science to Rock Climbing, Stamp Collecting to Sculpture. Foster this enthusiasm by helping your child find a good way to display or store her treasures, such as shelves, albums, tins, craft boxes or small hammocks for stuffed animals.
He's making social connections. Whether your child is negotiating a Pokemon card swap or informing a friend about the latest addition to his Bakugan figurines, collectibles bring together peers with common interests. Collections that require trading, like playing cards, also teach the art of friendly negotiation. But don't step in if you feel your child's been duped.
"What might not seem like a fair trade to you might be perfectly acceptable to your child," Camara says. And even if your child later regrets trading, he'll learn to think through such decisions more carefully the next time.
She's boosting school skills. Be it state quarters or American Girl dolls, it's a pretty good bet your kid knows exactly how many are in her collection and which ones she wants next.
Don't tell her, but all those hours she puts in counting, sorting, categorizing and organizing are actually fostering math skills. Reading also gets a boost. Kids who are into dinosaurs may invest time learning more about the time period when such creatures roamed the earth, and that means trips to the library or museums.
He's preserving memories. Family trips provide a great platform for starting and building a collection that provides lasting memories of enjoyable times together. Focusing on a collectible keeps the begging in souvenir shops to a minimum, and the items don't have to cost a lot. Your child may want to collect souvenir pennies, refrigerator magnets, Christmas ornaments, snow globes, pens or postcards.
She's getting smart about money. When 8-year-old Nikki Forbes wants to add to her den of 20 Build-a-Bears, she knows not to ask mom. "Nikki's welcome to spend her allowance on as many stuffed animals as she wants. Because she knows it takes a long time to save up for these bears, she appreciates it more when she finally gets one," says Nikki's mom, Rose, of Candler, N.C.
Asking children to pay for collectibles out of their own funds is a smart way to teach them about saving and budgeting, as well as help them learn delayed gratification, Camara says. "The point isn't to complete a collection or to accumulate mass quantities. Each addition should have meaning, and having to plan for and earn that next coveted item makes owning it all the more special."
Jeannette Moninger is a freelance writer who specializes in family issues.
Resources for Kid Collectors
These online resources provide useful tips for learning more about the art of collecting.
For all collectors
At the Smithsonian Institution's Kids Collecting site, children can watch videos of people talking enthusiastically about their collections; view some of the Smithsonian's collections of stamps, coins, and rocks and minerals; and learn about starting, building and caring for a personal collection of any kind.
For coin collectors
The U.S. Mint's "pocket change" website features everything a kid needs to know about numismatics (a fancy word for coin collecting), including tips for collecting and caring for coins, information about new coin designs, and suggestions for getting friends and family involved.
For stamp collectors
Young stamp collectors (also known as philatelists) should check out the kids' page on the American Philatelic Society's website. It features 10 low-cost tips to start a stamp collection and information about the various types of stamps kids can collect.