Kids & Collecting

By Mimi Slawoff

How to Help Your Child Discover the Fun and Learning of Creating a Beloved Collection

Growing up, many of us had prized stamp, coin or sport card collections or, at the very least, knew other kids who did. Bottle caps (not the plastic kind) and colorful marbles also fascinated many of us as children.

Today, kids still collect some of those classic treasures, but collecting has

The possibilities are endless...
Suggestions for Collections

expanded into a wide open field that includes everything from short-term trendy items, such as non-sport trading cards and Beanie Babies, to more unique varieties of snow globes, key chains, coins and lunch boxes.

Collecting, as a hobby, has changed over the years – but not necessarily for the better, says Harry Rinker, an antiques and collectibles author and columnist and host of Home & Garden Television’s Collector Inspector series.

The focus for many children these days is on value, rather than fun, he says. He attributes this to the wide availability of specialized price guides where individuals can readily check the current price of their collectibles. These give children the impression that value changes constantly, which isn’t necessarily true, Rinker says. For many children, collectibles have become a commodity, rather than fun things to collect.

This is a shame, because not only is collecting a fun hobby, but the true value is the learning experience and the satisfaction that comes with building a collection. Starting and maintaining a collection provides many wonderful opportunities for children.

Why Collect?

The best reason to collect is that it’s fun, Rinker stresses. “The joy is in the collecting. It’s the fun of the hunt and the joy of having a pile of something you like. If that’s all that comes of it, that’s great.”

class="MsoNormal">Someone who buys something to sell is not a collector, Rinker adds. A true collector is proud of his or her acquisitions and knows the story behind each item: where it was found, who made it, who bought it, what it says about culture and, perhaps most important, what it means to them.

class="MsoNormal">“That’s all part of the history and why they have that object,” Rinker says.

class="MsoNormal">Young collectors learn many useful skills that stay with them, says Hillary Olson, the visitor education coordinator for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. “When children collect, they truly become scientists.”

class="MsoNormal">Collecting teaches children about observing, measuring, classifying, sorting, organizing, comparing, keeping records and labeling – all while becoming knowledgeable in a specific area of interest. “They’re going through the full scientific process,” says Olson.

class="MsoNormal">Just as scientists ask questions and find answers, young collectors can inquire about and discover the various types of rocks or seeds found in their own neighborhoods, Olson says.

class="MsoNormal">Young children can sort by color, shape and size, while older children can find a system that works best for them.

class="MsoNormal">Collecting is a great way for children to learn more about something they already enjoy. For example, if your child likes collecting Hot Wheels™ or Matchbox™ cars, suggest that you both find out how the cars are made, says Rinker.

class="MsoNormal">After all, part of the joy of collecting is sharing it – with friends, family and classmates. And being able to discuss something he or she knows a lot about can be a great self-esteem booster for your child. It might even inspire other children to start their own collections

Starting and Maintaining a Collection

Collecting is a creative hobby because your child can decide what to collect and how to display it.

class="MsoNormal">“A collection becomes a personal statement,” Rinker notes.

There’s almost no limit to what your child can collect. Think about your child’s personal interests. Or themes, such as sports, music, travel, etc. Some collections start by chance.

Michael Mendelson, 12, started collecting rocks and Hot Wheels™ cars as a little boy, but he found himself drawn to a mix of treasures indigenous to the areas he visited on family vacations.

“I like collecting unique things,” the sixth-grader says. His eclectic collection includes a shark’s jaw from Mexico, a carved wooden mask from Hawaii and a handcrafted wooden box (perfect for smaller treasures) from Europe.

Setting a goal for your collection is helpful. What do you want from your collection – a complete set or a perfect item? A collection can be as big or as small as you want. A rock collection, for example, can be started at home and continue with rocks found on various travels.

Desiree Brothers, 13, found the first rock for her collection while on vacation in Ohio. “I found a little rock, a brownish-bluish color,” she recalls. Her collection now includes about 50 small to medium-size rocks. “I find rocks that are pretty or that look like they have a cool shape,” she says.

Completing a set was important to 8-year-old Joseph Hidula, who began his collection of bobbleheads at a baseball game three years ago. With the help of his aunt, he has a complete set.

“It makes me feel proud that I collected all those bobbleheads,” he says. Joseph nurtures a second collection, baseball memorabilia, too.

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">There are many ways to add to a child’s collection, and the whole family can get involved. If it’s nature-based – shells, feathers, rocks, etc. – then any natural area can be a source of additional finds. Just remember, if you’re bringing home pinecones, seeds or acorns, it’s a good idea to freeze them for five or six weeks. Otherwise, you might find bugs or worms in your home!

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">Garage sales and swap meets are other places to search for collectibles. Your child’s friends are a good source, too. “They become spotters for each other and that makes the hunt more fun,” says Rinker.

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">Keeping a journal or notebook with descriptions of the collectibles can be part of the collecting process. Encourage your child to keep notes about each item: where he got it, how much it cost, how it was found and what makes it special.

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">You can assist by helping with research, but make sure your child does most of the work. Search the Internet for interesting sites about collecting and about your child’s collection in particular; and check your local library and bookstores for additional materials.

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">Displaying a Collection
Half the fun of collecting is finding the best way to organize and display the items. A collection will look best when organized and displayed well. For ideas, notice how museums and stores display their collections.

0pt; font-family: Verdana;">A child’s bedroom is often the best place for his or her display, says Rinker. “It’s the first thing they see when they wake up and the last thing before they go to sleep.”

• Find a good space for it. A display doesn’t have to be fancy. Boxes (from small jewelry boxes to shoeboxes) are an inexpensive and practical way to house many kinds of collections. Children love almost anything with little compartments, such as craft boxes and tackle boxes. Collectibles can also be placed on boards and desks or even hung on a wall. Try framing a pressed flower collection and – voila! – you’re mixing art and science.

• Label the items. Identify the object and where it was found or bought. Use sticky notes, masking tape, adhesive labels or paper tags.

Desiree Brothers, who has been collecting rocks for seven years, has a simple system of organization. She writes notes on small pieces of paper and places those along with the rocks in small jewelry sized boxes.

While it’s important to organize a collection, let your child enjoy it. Allow him to play with the collection, says Rinker. Collecting is about memories, it’s emotionally driven, he says. Someday, your child will dig out his old collection and reminisce about his childhood.  


• Check with local museums for workshops and field trips about collecting.

• Peterson’s Field Guide Series for nature collections.

About Collectibles

Mimi Slawoff is a freelance writer and mother of avid collectors.
From United Parenting Publications, August 2003.