Collecting is all about discovering one’s passions. They may change from age four to ten to thirty but they do, in a way, still define you.
I watched a young boy of seven wander around the park searching for just that particular rock or stick that called out especially to him to pick up. Then he’d run to show his mom and ask her to please keep them safe. His mom rolled her eyes as he darted off, but admitted to me how very much she loved his new interest.
It’s easy to dismiss the thought of any more sticks or stones with a quick response, “You don’t need another rock. Leave it”.
But valuing what your child considers significant and worthy to her, offers a perfect connection betweeen the two of you, and fuels her interests and confidence in her ability to make choices you approve of.
As a child, I have wonderful memories of collecting stashes of chestnuts (I still love them), acorns, seashells. Our daughter was an avid bottle cap collector at a time when bottle caps were hunted in gutters and along sidewalks. Finding the rare one, or adding to the pile to trade, is a thrill as well as a possible strategy.
A dad recently told me how his first grade daughter saves her quarters from chores to be able to buy and add another twenty-five-cent colored stone to her collection from the Children’s Museum.
Developmentally, collecting teaches children how to discriminate, evaluate and classify as they spend time organizing and arranging their collection. It also builds concentration and the ability to use their personal and independent time in a positive way.
Providing a place for your child to house his finds validates his interest as well as demonstrates your understanding and appreciation of his treasures. A shelf or table top can work well and give a child a sense of pride in sharing his interest with others.
Some children love the privacy of a box all their own. I suggested to this mom at the park to keep an eye out for the old tin trays that are so often found at garage sales. They allow for mobility and offer a firm workplace, even on one’s lap, to move things about and arrange.
The important thing is to refrain from dismissing their interest as unimportant, annoying, or nonsense.
Whatever captures your child’s curiosity, appreciating this developing interest will help your child trust her ability to choose and her desire to delve further into subjects important to her.
But one word of caution. Appreciating and sharing your child’s enthusiasm is not the same as joining in, collecting things for him, even if you think that would make your child happy. Believe me, collections are a personal hobby.
Picking up a bird feather on a walk to offer to your child for her collection is thoughtful. Getting all your friends and relatives to collect a ton of shells on their island vacations or buying a bunch of mini airplane models to quickly increase your child’s collection will end in disappointment for both of you.
Your child’s delight in selection, choice, anticipation, and joy will be lost.
Look forward, instead, to what your child will discover, on his own, to be his precious find, watch, and enjoy it.