I think I can never thank her enough for letting that spirit grow. Today, I am an adult who collects, organizes and enjoys things of beauty! Maybe all of it started in my mind years ago as a child who collected. True to her genes Li'l U collects too, although I am not as easy going as my mother, I have let the collection grow and found various uses for them.
Why do children collect things? Most children I meet at my workshops enjoy telling me about the unique things they own and almost always it is about things they have collected, not store bought toys. The pride in acquiring a kite’s feather, a beautiful pebble or a unique shell is extremely high in children.
Collecting things helps stimulate several key thinking skills.
First, they are able to classify objects. They are able to define objects by attributes like: How is a marble different from a tamarind seed. Being able to classify objects by attributes is a key scientific skill and mathematical tool. Learning to group objects based on similar characteristics is an essential skill in all learning.
Second, a collection engages a child in seeing fine differences. This skill comes to use in language development. The ability to explain diminutive differences using different words for each. So when a child is telling you about: How a certain pebble is different from another, new words and expressions are being explored. This is a good thing, deciphering small differences is an essential cognitive skill.
Third, collecting provides a chance to benefit from the beauty and uniqueness of objects. The colour in a butterfly’s wings, the patterns on a rock or pictures on a stamp, add to the sense of wonder and expands a child’s vision of the world.
Li'l U’s collection amongst her toys includes – tamarind seeds, red seeds, marbles, a dead Butterfly, 4 magnifying glasses, shells, beads, pebbles, pictures, scrapes of wood and a dead Starfish! Organizing these things in a small apartment is tough, but being a Montessori child she is usually particular about order. I just throw a fit occasionally to ensure there is no dip in standards. Unused jars and boxes are used to store most of these possessions. Apart from using them for free play, the collection also doubles as learning material.
The tamarind seeds, red seeds, marbles, shells and beads are fun to sort, weigh and count. I used all these objects to introduce quantities and addition. Stringing beads is a great calming activity that builds concentration and patience (I have not had great luck with the latter, but I keep trying!). Shells and seeds are weighed in our small weigh balance. In free play, she uses all this part of her collection to play shop.
The dead Butterfly and Starfish are part of the explorer set. They go with us every time we get on explorer mode. They are put under 3 different magnifying glasses to be observed and talked about endlessly. Li'l U loves to observe ants, bugs, slugs, frogs and beetles through her magnifying glass. Thanks to these two specimens, she has developed a love for nature and animals. Last year, we had 4 tadpoles for pets. They were collected by Li'l U from her grandparents place and she showed them off to everyone who came home. Our guests looked completely at lose of words and extremely amused. We had the tadpoles till they started to grow tiny legs and I refused to have them hopping around at home. It was decided that we would let them go while she was away at school. After a day of crying and wailing, the very next week she was back from school with another box with four more tadpoles! I shall save the tadpole story for another time, the point I was trying to make was the love for nature and animals that she developed with collection.
Pictures that are cut up are pasted in a Picture Journal. We look for interesting pictures in magazines and newspapers, constantly adding to our collection. Each picture leads to conversations and stories about various related subjects.
Li'l U visits her father’s work site and comes back with scrapes of wood, granite and laminate pieces. These are painted on for creating blocks, robots, and ad hoc art pieces. After she outgrows them, I promptly discard these (without her finding out!) for the want of more space.
Her insatiable collecting quest has turned many adults around her into collectors. I have had friends and family carry pebbles, shells and seeds for her from all over. A dear friend is collecting coloured rocks and fall leaves for her in Mississippi! This is a classic case of a child prompting adults to step back and cherish the beauty of this world.
A collection while encouraging thinking skills also provides the child opportunities for free play and exploration. It is a step taken in the path of encouraging the child to pursue activities of personal interest and developing hobbies.
Collecting could turn into a fun family activity too. So the next time your child picks up that pebble, pick one up yourself!