Collecting with Kids

How to Inspire, Intrigue, and Guide the Young Collector

a boy collecting ars

 Getty Images / mixetto

In her book Collecting with Kids: How to Inspire, Intrigue, and Guide the Young Collector, author and antiques expert Pamela Y. Wiggins draws on her own experience collecting with her mother when she was a child. She also shares interviews based on her magazine column in The Intelligent Collector, the publication of Heritage Auctions. 

If she's learned anything, it's that collecting can be a great hobby, but it can also lead to lifetime of learning and fun.

Learning Through Collecting

One really great way to make learning fun is looking at ways to incorporate collections into school projects. History abounds in all areas of collecting, as adult mentors know, and that's part of the fun of the hobby. 

Encourage kids to pull items from their collections to incorporate them into school projects. For instance, use ancient coins to illustrate a report on world history, or a colorful bank note to inspire a report on a world leader. Old postcards can provide a plethora of related ideas, too.

Researching what they add to collections is a great way to learn as well. Whether they're in the library scouring books details on a historical figure or looking up values online, kids can garner knowledge and hone their research skills as they find out more about the collectibles that interest them most.

As children gather groups of objects, teach them to be good stewards as well. Showing due respect to collectibles is a super way to teach kiddos how to take care of all their possessions. They can learn to display them by getting creative to make props for action figures and other collectible toys.

And, of course, there are the all important budgeting lessons that come with collecting. Mentors who serve as successful collecting buddies often encourage setting limits on how much is spent during each shopping foray. Whether allowance money is being spent, or a set amount is doled out by an adult, children learn to budget in order to keep shopping. Some even make their kids sell things they're no longer interested in to get their stash of flea market cash. 

Collecting with Kids Online

Collecting online can be entertaining for both children and adults. Research can be done on most any collectible item, old or new, and collections can be grown as well. It's thrilling for a child to receive a package containing a collectible item in the mail, but buying online should be supervised by an adult until kids are mature enough to tackle the task on their own.

Also, be sure to remind kids shopping online that even minimal shipping costs can drive up prices before they get too keyed up about a making purchase. Make sure fees added to minimally priced items stay within budget limitations to avoid disappointment as well. Encourage them to let you review a purchase before they make a commitment to buy something online. A trained adult eye will often notice condition problems or signs of authenticity that children just learning the ropes might overlook.

Researching online can also be a fun task for a child to do with their collecting mentor. Show them some of your favorite resources for learning and valuing your finds, and help them use search tools to explore new venues pertaining to their own specific collecting interests. Speaking of which, it's always best to guide but not force. In other words, put in your two cents, but let the kiddos decide what they want to collect. 

What to Know Before You Go Shopping with Children

Depending on the maturity level of a child, they can go most anywhere with you to shop for collectibles. Yes, even high end antique shows and estate sales can be appropriate for kids who are really good and looking but not touching. Others do better in thrift stores and flea markets where the stakes aren't as high, and the sellers aren't quite as nervous about having kids around.

No matter where you end up, there are some important things to keep in mind as you and your collecting buddy head out for the hunt:

  • Lots of older items are fragile. Touching them, even gingerly, can cause damage. Children need guidance to realize some playthings aren't really playthings anymore. This is true even at flea markets, which can be less intimidating than some high end venues but still hold valuable items here and there.
  • Young ones can learn to respect other people's property when properly supervised in antique malls and shows, but it helps to gauge a child's maturity level before you go shopping. 
  • If your collecting buddy generally behaves well and listens to instructions in other stores, chances are they'll do fine in an antique shop as well. If they're still too young, sticking to garage sales is a less risky choice.
  • Don't forget to teach them the art of haggling while you're out together. This goes back to budgeting and making their money go further. It also helps sharpen their negotiating skills early on in life. Nothing wrong with that.

With a little thought and consideration, collecting adventures with children can lead to a hobby that will last a lifetime. And who knows, your little buddy may grow up to be a world-class coin dealer, television picker, or high end auction ringleader. Wouldn't that be something?