If you have a child age two or older, chances are that you also have a collection of their “treasures” in your home. They may include rocks, sticks, sea shells, cars, or even stuffed animals. To children, these objects are irreplaceable artifacts to be cherished and preserved. They take their collecting seriously and we should too! Collecting provides a multitude of learning opportunities for your child. Below you’ll find just 10 examples of the many lessons your child is learning through their collections and collecting habits.
Categorizing and Sorting
As children collect, they will start to sort their objects into different categories: Big, medium, small rocks, Rough, smooth, and spiky rocks etc. Categorizing and sorting are important early math skills and build the foundation for understanding more complicated patterns in the future. Encourage your child to continue to re-sort their collection in different ways.
Counting is also an early math skill. As your children mature, they will become interested in counting the things around them, including their collection. Encourage them to count the number of items in their collection and then how many are in each category. With a slightly older child, take away or add an item and ask them to count again. This is addition and subtraction!
Storytelling and Imaginary Play
A child’s collection provides endless opportunities for storytelling and play. Encourage them to tell the story of how and where the object was found or make up something entirely different. Rocks and stuffed animals often take on names and personalities. They may also use their rocks as construction materials for roads, walls, and even castles. Pretend and role playing are important part of children’s social and emotional development. It allows them to work out scenarios before they encounter them in real life situations.
Care and Empathy
Have you noticed how much your children love their rocks? Sometimes you’ll find them being washed or wrapped in blankets. This is a great lesson in caring for others. If you take care of your collection it will last longer!
Memory and Timeline
A young child’s perception of time is not a straight line. Things that didn’t happen that day usually fall into a “yesterday” category, even if they happened two days or even a week before. A collection allows a child to practice recalling information and acts as a physically representation of a time in the past. For example, children may recall collecting a particular rock from the beach when it was warm out. Since it’s not warm out now, they will be able to deduce that it must have been a long time ago. If a child allows, you could even write down where the rock was found on its’ underside. This will also help you remember where and when the rock was collected and facilitate conversations on that topic.
Same, Same but Different
Very young children start by sorting items into familiar categories. For example, if you tell an infant or young toddler that something with four legs and a tail is a dog, then things that fit that description will automatically be labeled a dog until you tell them otherwise. A collection is a great way to show how things can be in the same category, but look completely different. For example, their collection may consist completely of rocks but no two rocks are the same.
Speaking with your children about their collections facilitates vocabulary building. They are learning how to describe objects and will begin to incorporate new synonyms and adjectives into their glossary as you provide them.
Sometimes they can’t have every rock they see and it’s ok for them to hear, “no.” Collecting doesn’t automatically mean they can have every item they see and it’s a great way for them to get practice respecting limits. Make sure to take time to explain to them why they can’t have certain items. Does it belong to someone else? Is it too big to take home? This will help them understand that actions have consequences.
A child loves having something that is truly their own. A collection of rocks or sticks that have been found and brought home by children gives them a sense of ownership they might not feel for their other things. They may feel a tremendous amount of pride showing off their collection to others.
Self-Soothing and Comfort
Since children can become very attached to their collection, bringing along an item in a pocket or backpack can act as a great tool for self-soothing and comfort. Having a special item from home can remind them of family when they are at school or away from home visiting relatives or friends and begin to miss their parents.
What does your child collect? A great way to take their collection one step further is to create a mini-museum in your home. Select a low shelf and help your child arrange the items and create labels describing them. Host an opening for your friends and family and allow your child to give tours of their collection!