Throughout the years, many rooms in my house hosted some type of nature collection started when I was a child: rocks, seed pods, leave skeletons, bark peelings, feathers, bird nests, shells, etc. I called it my “science museum”. Often, these collections were started on the fly during a trip to the beach or a hike in the woods. My kids added to these collections throughout their childhoods. Now that they’re grown, the collections have been condensed into a large curio cabinet in my living room. I still add the occasional rock, seed pod or feather — my eyes never stop seeking, noticing, appreciating… For decades, friends and family have even contributed items to my collections acquired during their travels. To this day, I love to examine my collections and enjoy showing visitors my latest acquisitions — the thrill truly never goes away!
Starting a Collection: What Kids Learn
Collecting things fits in with a child’s growing intellectual abilities. By making a collection, kids provide themselves with practice in several key thinking skills.
- Practicing the ability to classify and group things. When something is a member of a collection but something else is not, kids make decisions about attributes of objects. This is a key mathematical skill essential for scientific thinking. Kids also group objects within their collection based on characteristics that go together.
- Having a collection exercises a child’s ability to see distinctions. This is another important skill that comes into play, so when your child bores you with a long discourse about the the differences in rocks or leaves or tree bark, that’s a good thing. Being able to see fine differences is an essential cognitive skill.
- Collecting something provides a chance to enjoy the beauty, diversity, and unusual qualities of particular examples in nature. This sense of wonder expands a child’s view of the world. Noticing the iridescence of bird plumage or the intricacy of a seed pod – these are opportunities to marvel and step outside the everyday.
- Having a collection is an exercise in acquisitiveness. A collection exists for its own sake, so acquiring a new addition is good all by itself, regardless of whether the it appears unattractive or less interesting — remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Encouraging collecting — or enjoying your child’s collecting impulse — can be fun for the whole family.
Did you have a collection as a child? Maybe it’s time to start that up again!