Friday, February 18, 2000

Kids' collections should be fun

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It starts out small and inexpensive. Kids pick up a rock here, a leaf there. Pretty soon, they have accumulated enough to fill a shoe box, and voila — it's a collection.

        From baseball cards and marbles years ago, to today's more commercial — and more expensive — Pokemon cards and Beanie Babies, kids have always collected things.

        Collecting among kids is hotter than ever, fueled by their nostalgic Baby Boomer parents and grandparents who are collectors, too. And even more so today, collecting the item du jour is a way for kids to socialize and fit in.

        Some parents and experts bemoan the loss of the pure joy of collecting. Kids, today, are certainly more savvy about resale value.

        “It's sad because they're more concerned about what it's worth than what they have,” says Geoff Hoffman, owner of Queen City Comics in Pleasant Ridge and Fairfield. “That's not every kid. A lot of kids don't care what the stuff is worth. They collect what they enjoy.”

        Victor Moore, 12, of Woodlawn has set aside some of his valuable Japanese Pokemon cards. Mostly, he enjoys collecting cards, trading with friends and playing Pokemon. “I like Pokemon cards because they have powers,” he says.

        And like other kids — and adults — he enjoys the thrill of the hunt. “I get mad when you get a pack of Pokemon cards, and they're all the same ones I already have.”

        Victor, a sixth-grader, started collecting baseball and basketball cards in the second grade. He moved onto Pokemon and is beginning to collect Digimon cards and Dragon Ball Z, Japanese anime style cartooning. He also collects state quarters.

        As adults know from experience, collecting has its advantages and disadvantages.

        “It gives them something to do,” says Victor's dad, Russell Moore. “It's good for his reading. It teaches them how to read bigger words. I can't pronounce half of them. It's good for organizational skills. He keeps them organized.”

        The cons are the disruptions they've caused on school buses and in schools, Mr. Moore says. And, it gets expensive. Mr. Moore can't count the number of uneaten kids' meals he's retrieved from his car.

        Even Victor knows there's a dark side to collecting. Older kids, he says, might take higher value cards from unsuspecting young children.

        Monica Youtsey, 8, and her 9-year-old brother, Brian, have more than 60 Beanies in their collection, although Brian is now more interested in Pokemon. Their mother, Mary Youtsey, admits to making more than a few trips to McDonald's for the Happy Meal Beanies. She, too, sees pros and cons.

        “When they collected the Beanie Babies, they had to spend their own money to collect them,” Mrs. Youtsey says. “It does teach them a little money management. That's a good thing. The bad thing is that's what they want to spend all their money on.”

        The Youtseys have a few keepsake Beanies in their curio cabinet, but the kids play with the rest. They've removed the tags or use tag protectors.

        “I like them, and they're fun to hold and play with,” Monica says of her Beanies. “I like to feel the beans inside of them.” She collects Beanies more for fun than for their value, she says.

True collectors
        While preschoolers might start by collecting natural wonders from their yards, true collections aren't born until somewhere between age 7 and 11. That's the developmental stage when children are able to perform what the experts call “hierarchical classification.”

        Younger children who have collections can only organize them by one attribute, color or animal type, for example, says Vicki Carr, director of the Arlitt Child & Family Research & Education Center at the University of Cincinnati.

        Older children can do hierarchical classification, so that a child who collects baseball cards, might put them together by league, team membership or batting average.

        “Older kids are able to see you can classify things in various ways and are more flexible in their thinking. Preschoolers can just pretty much sort them in one way,” Ms. Carr says.

        Like adults, she says, some children don't enjoy collecting as much as others. Some kids like collecting because they like organizing and counting. Sorting and classifying what they have builds cognitive skills, Ms. Carr says.

        Some of this penchant for collecting, she says, is socially learned. It's cool, for example, to collect Pokemon.

        Some Tristate parents say they have tried to find something wrong in all the Pokemon mania. But they say any negatives pale when they see their kids playing with neighborhood kids they might not have otherwise. And when they're done with Pokemon business, the kids pick up a soccer ball and kick it.

        Still, Ms. Carr is concerned that kids collect for the right reasons. Socially, collecting is a way kids can share what they have with other kids, she says. It used to be kids just traded baseball cards or whatever for fun.

        “Now, it is much more of a class division. Who has more? "Look at me. I have more.' That's where I get concerned that there isn't anything to be learned except for who are the "haves' or "have nots.'

        “And who's doing the collecting?” she says. “Is it the child or the parent? Are parents saying, "Look, here's another Pokemon card. Do you want to get this one?'

        “We live in such a consumer-oriented world, it's very difficult to teach children about economics and working for things that you want when it's always given to them.”

Be involved
        The likelihood your child will collect something is as inevitable as the loss of baby teeth. If you're lucky, your child won't collect those.

        At least one observer of kids' collecting habits urges parents to pay attention.

        “It's important, especially with younger kids, for the parents to be involved. Don't just give the kids $5 and send them into the store and say, "Get whatever you want,”' says Mr. Hoffman, the owner of Queen City Comics.

        “Depending on what they're going to collect, kids are also going to want stuff they can't afford. You're going to have to set limits.”

        Parents should let the children choose what they want to collect, but they can help narrow their search.

        “Especially if they are doing baseball cards, they have so many products at so many different prices, there's no way an adult, let alone a child, can collect them all,” Mr. Hoffman says. “Decide on a player, a company or specific set. You have to narrow it down somehow.

        “If they are collecting for investment purposes, or with the future in mind, condition is almost more important than what you have. Keeping it in top condition is extremely important.”

        Whether you're an adult or child, the bottom line is to collect what you like, he advises, rather than collecting on speculation that it'll make you rich.

        “With anything you collect, it's great when the stuff goes up in value, but you have to be prepared, when all is said and done, if the stuff is worthless.”

Parents: Advise, keep hands off
Collect quarters, one state at a time

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