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10 ways to encourage kids to collect

Portrait of Deanna Dahlsad, Collectibles and Antiques Expert

Collector Perspectives asked, “How do you get kids into collecting?” Here are Deanna’s thoughts on the benefits of collecting at a young age and how to help support your child’s interest in the hobby.

There’s a lot of discussion, sometimes couched as a “panic,” about how there are not enough kids interested in collecting. Whether you are concerned about the collecting industry or not, there are valid reasons to get kids interested in the hobby.

Collecting teaches children how to manage money, how to negotiate, how to value objects, how to organize, and, if you (and they) are lucky, they can also learn to appreciate craftsmanship, love history, and a whole lot more. All of this instills confidence. And a fair amount of nerdiness — which is both awesome and highly prized in today’s world – see Wil Wheaton’s great take on the virtues of nerdiness below.

One of those concerned about the low number of children collecting is Wes Cowen, of Antiques Roadshow & History Detectives fame. A few years ago, my hubby & I met & interviewed Wes and he called our children weird because they collected (and because they had “weird parents”). We may be weird and our children too, for reasons beyond collecting; but because all of our three children do collect, I am often asked about how we got our children into collecting.

Primarily, I believe our kids are collectors because we ourselves are passionate about collecting — and enthusiasm is catching, in and of itself. But here are 10 things you can do to encourage collecting among the young.

Ten ways to encourage kids to collect

1) “Encouragement” is not the same as “coaching”. As anyone watching a little league game can tell you, there’s a fine line between the two. However, encouraging takes the form of supporting, while coaching is more about giving direction. You cannot direct your children about what to collect or really to collect at all; such suggestions will feel like assignments. Let them gravitate towards whatever interests them.

2) Show interest in what they collect. Ask questions — but appropriate ones. Don’t ask him or her about why they collect what they do, or what their collection means; very few adult collectors can answer those questions! Instead, ask about the object itself: “What kind of car is that?”, “Where did you find that?” Praise the object: “That’s cool!”, and praise the collector: “What a great deal!”

3) Let them see you collect. Take them with you on your hunt. Yes, their shorter legs and never-ending pool of questions will slow you down at that antique shop, but taking the time to really be present with them is a more natural way to get them interested in “things”. And observing you barter over price is a great way for them to get comfortable with the idea themselves.

4) Patience is a two-way street. The same patience required of your child during your hunt for antiques must be returned in kind while they hunt for their treasures.

5) Education is a two-way street. If you don’t know about something, admit it. It’s important that they see that not even adults know everything, that learning is a lifelong and exciting process. (For me, that’s a large part of the awesomeness of collecting!) Expectations of having to know everything creates a sense of perfectionism which leads to anxiety over approaching something new. That’s the opposite of what we are going for here. Plus, children like to teach us things too. I recently met a young man of about 13 years old who collected coins and knew more about them than his mother or any of the sellers at the shop. He was pretty darn proud of his accumulated knowledge — and deservedly so! Let your young collectors teach you whenever they can.

6) Let the child make the decision about an item’s value. Like any other shopping expedition, remind them of their spending limit before entering the flea market or shop, but let them exercise their own judgments about monetary and personal values. Only caution about the price if you are absolutely certain that it can readily be found cheaper elsewhere. Should they have paid too much, don’t rub it in with lectures. Remind them to chalk it up to experience. Like most things in life, we learn a lot from our mistakes.

7) Honor self-direction. Like many adults, children will vary in their collecting approaches. Some will have lists, Gotta catch ‘em all! Others count on serendipity to steer them to discovery. There’s no right or wrong; it’s just a matter of personal style. And in something as personal as collecting, that’s to be expected. Just like snowflakes, there are no two collections, or collectors, alike.

8) Do not be concerned by “phases”. Our middle child began collecting keychains, switched to car license plates, then to vinyl albums — all while in middle school. Again, what they collect isn’t as important as the love of, and passion for, collecting.

9) Let the organization be as organic as the collecting. In other words, let the collector decide how he or she wants to organize, display, and store the items in their collection. Sure, they are kids, and likely to damage an item or two from improper care. But if it is something they really value (and if you’ve been encouraging, not directing, their collecting it will be!), the pain of the loss will be enough of a lesson on responsibility on its own.

10) Of course, not all children will show an interest in collecting. Not even as adults. My sister and I had the same parents, the same collecting lifestyle family, and she has no interest in going junking. I doubt she’d even call herself a collector. (But I believe her cabinet full of Waterford crystal and her Department 56 holiday set-up beg to differ!) The point is, you can lead a child to a flea market; but you can’t make them drink the collecting Kool-Aid.

Do you collect with your kids? Share your favorite tips as a collecting family in the comments below.

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