CHILDREN and Collecting:

Collecting bugs, rocks, leaves, baseball cards, stamps, coins, or who-knows-what is a part of childhood. Here are some thoughts on how to make it educational too!


Come we now to that part of the year called "Back to School."  I am a sometimes

teacher, and though most of my teaching has been inflicted on adults, I have also

taught high school.  So it seems to me that I might do well to write about children

and collecting from a viewpoint of a teacher.   I have no kids of my own and I'm

not at all sure this is a handicap.  I have a more global view of the subject, I think.  


For example, are you the parent of a nascent collector who has brought home

every repellent little bug he or she can find and let them loose in the house?  Or are

you -as I am- an uncle who has things and ideas to share with a nephew or niece

-and my sisters get to deal with the fall-out.  Or are you a parent who has a big

collection of X of your own and hope to share your love of the subject with your

kids? For that matter, is your child young enough to feel your enthusiasm & joy, or

has he or she reached the age where-upon collecting X is "like.... totally tired -f'r

sure  -I mean, like.... how gay."  (No opinions on 'gay' -but I learn from one of my

nieces that 'gay' is not necessarily an insult, but refers to something well outside of

the universe of the speaker.  In my day -or perhaps a little earlier -we would have

used the word 'square.')


Here I flagrantly plagiarize my own-dang-self by lifting from my article on

Last Minute Gifts for the Collector AND the Child Collector in your Life.

We teacher-types do all sorts of things to get our students motivated / prepared / willing / awake enough etc. to learn. Collecting is a wonderful -pain-free way to do this.  Consider, for example, stamp collecting and geography. A child who has somehow gotten a stamp from Timbuktu just has to wonder where Timbuktu is.  If there a gazetteer and / or a big map of the world somewhere in the home, education HAS to follow.  One small word of caution though, there is a fine line between helping a child learn and irritating the little dear beyond all tolerance. You don't need to be an expert in a given subject or collectable to teach your kids. Let them follow their own interests.

So how do you use collecting to awaken curiosity and avoid making what

ever ensues a battle of wills to get the child to clean-up every day and follow

through over the long term?  And --perhaps, just perhaps-- carry a childhood

whim on into adulthood.? (F'rinstance, a chap by the name of Greg Martin

had a thing for guns as a young lad and built it into a wonderful and successful

business called Greg Martin Auctions. Beautiful web-site too!  If you like guns

-or anything beautifully made, check it out.)  Well, you start at the end.  You

ask yourself where you want the kid to end-up.  In education jargon, this

is called TSWBAT (pronounced twîz bât) and lists what The Student Will Be

Able To....  Not a bad idea this. Starting at the end is the basis of most planning

efforts, but the value here has to do with opening your thinking.  For example,

it would be all well and good to take the above example of stamp collecting and

have a goal of "teaching geography".  But it would be better to say to yourself,

"Little Johnny will get a stamp & envelope that has been mailed from each of the 50

states and he will be able to find all 50 of 'em on the map by the start of school next

fall."  (Have you seen The Tonight Show when Jay Leno goes Jay-Walking and asks

people on the sidewalk where Europe is and someone guesses it's the capitol of

Canada?  Makes me a little embarrassed to admit to being a teacher.)


Now when they tried to teach me this planning stuff in various b'ness

classes I had to take, I seem to remember that after defining where we want

to be when we are there, the next step involved something about listing the

where-with-all to get to the goal.  Seems reasonable.  What is perhaps just

a little unreasonable, however, is the amount of where-with-all a child

insists he or she needs to get the job done.  But then again, perhaps not. 

Please remember, thought, that childhood is about trying out a bunch of

stuff, and setting aside some -or perhaps most- of it in favor of their



Hate to say it, but sometimes the best way to support a child's efforts

probably involves a little effort and a little --but perhaps very little--

money.  Here are some The Student Will Be Able To's and the where-with-all you

might need to assemble on your child's behalf.



Identify the bugs, rocks, seeds, pokeman cards or whatever in his or her collection.

What you might need to provide.

A reference book of some sort.


The difficulty here is that reference books may be hard to find -particularly with enough pictures for a young child or otherwise at a level useful to your kids. has rarely let me down when I needed some obscure book at a good price.  Takes a while though.  If the child's collection is sufficiently esoteric, you might have to forgo the reference and have the kid make his own.  This takes us to my next....




Organize, index and label a collection of related items.

(And trust the teacher in me when I tell you that organizing things or ideas is one VERY important skill and a hard one to learn. Ain't all that easy to teach either.)

What you might need to provide.

1. A nice (brand-new) lab-book or bound journal, tags or labels, envelopes 
or specimen protectors, and nice pens or whatever.
2. A safe place to put it all.   A place to put if all away when he or she's done, and a place to find it all -both the collection and tools of collecting- when she wants to get back to it -or show her friends.
For inexpensive ways to do this, have a look at my article....
Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Collector  -and for the Kid Collectors too!


You want to communicate that this is an important effort, not more of the same stuff that clutters up kid's lives these days.  I know that it is bothersome to buy all this stuff and then your kid looses interest and it all comes to naught.  But the kid may well pull it all out someday and restart.  Or it may become nothing more then a cherished memento of a part of his childhood -and this is not a bad thing at all.




Put on a show(!!?!)


A collection can tell a story -or support a tall one as the case may be.  Do you remember Show & Tell from your own childhood?  Can your child's collection help him tell a story?  Or perhaps learn the story / history / origin / purpose of the stuff in his or her collection.  And having done so, he or she is ready for show & tell -either formal Show & Tell at school, or showing their friends and telling the story of something after-school.




Display a Collection with Artistry and Logic.


For some kids -artistic ones- it all comes naturally, for others, not so much. This is not necessarily bad. Non-artistic kids may be the most methodical in their organization -alphabetizing a collection may not be at all artistic, but think of this, before you can alphabetize a thing, you HAVE TO KNOW WHAT IT IS CALLED. For the artistic side of it all, have a look at my thoughts on organizing and displaying a collection in Riker Mounts.



This is from a reader who says it so much better then I do.....

My true reason for e-mailing is your page about kids and collecting.  You have a link about getting interested in kids collections.  My 10 yr old son has a Pokemon collection which I have diligently donated to, and attempted to help him keep organized because I do recognize that as a “collection”.  But then I happened on the “last minute ideas for collectors” –you mentioned getting a screw/nail sorter for kids who collect rocks.  My 8 year old is constantly picking up rocks everywhere we go, and I am constantly throwing them away, telling him that it is not really a collection and truthfully, it is annoying to see all these rocks everywhere.  I can’t believe how selfish I have been, and never even realized that this should be something that I should help him take an interest in.  That one paragraph about this organizer was like a light bulb just went off in my head.  Santa will be bringing him a box organizer at Christmas with a note in it so he understands what it is for.  This probably sounds silly to you, to be writing about this, but this is huge for me.
Thanks for opening my eyes.  We have so precious few years to spend quality time with our kids, when they WANT to spend time with us enjoying life and I have been passing it by, but I won’t any longer!!! 
Thanks again.


Finally, I have to spend a few words on using the internet to help kids

collect, learn, and have fun.  Generally, I find it is much overrated as an

educational tool.  Oftentimes, kids use and understand the internet far better then

most of their parents.   None-the-less, there are valuable things.  Google

ANY collectable item and you will get a million hits, including the national

society for collectors of that item.  Most of these associations offer

much-o information and educational resources.  The Smithsonian Institute has

some excellent information about Kids and Collecting.   Additionally, you might find

the following search words helpful to do an up-to-date search on Google:

+education +collecting +children -data


© 2006 Bill Harvey