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Why Collecting Is Good For Kids

Your child's rock collection may just look like a pile of stones to you. But it's doing more than gathering dust. "When a child collects things, it teaches the child important skills that they use throughout their life, including how to organize and interact with others," says Desmond Kelly, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at All Kinds of Minds in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The institute, affiliated with the University of North Carolina, is dedicated to studying how people learn.

Here's a look at what kids who collect gather along the way:

Personal Responsibility:
When it comes to a child's prized collection, you're likely to see some impressive "care and feeding." Kids often become interested in collecting around age 5, with many becoming completely intrigued with a particular collectible — be it rocks or stickers — between ages 6 and 8. It's pretty common for kids to spend hours arranging their collection and reading about the items, as well as talking about them with friends and family.

Organization Skills:
That heap of stuffed animal puppies or kittens sitting atop your child's bed got there because somewhere along the way he decided: Okay, I'm putting all the dogs and cats on the bed. That stuffed iguana that Grandma gave him? It might end up on a desk all by itself because, well, it doesn't quite fit in with the other animals. So not only is the child organizing, they are categorizing.

Mathematical Smarts:
Whether your child is collecting baseball cards or rocks, it's a pretty good bet that they know the exact number in their collection. They spend a lot of time grouping them into various categories: years and teams or sizes and shapes. This requires counting, tabulating, and sorting.

Reading Skills:
A child with a passion for collecting rocks will also want to know when and how a rock got created, and whether Amethyst is in the same group of rocks as quartz. And that means trips to the library and an active interest in studying and learning.

Social skills:
While your child is negotiating a baseball card trade or informing a classmate about the new addition to his rock collection, they are inspired to interact with other children. A collection can be a great way to boost self-esteem, as well as serve as a smooth entry into friendships. If your child is new to a school or neighborhood, discussing their rock collection can be a great ice-breaker. Meeting kids who share a similar interest could mean he's also found new buddies.

Budgeting skills:
"Collectibles are a great way for kids to learn how to manage money," says Janet Bodnar, executive editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and author of Dollars & Sense for Kids. "If children are expected to pay for some or all of their collectibles out of their allowance, they have to make decisions about how much they're going to spend — they're learning how to budget their money."

Great Fun for the Whole Family:
Collecting is also all about fun and play. It's a good idea to let your child figure out on his own how he's going to "play" the collecting game — of course, parents should still make a point to show they care. Casually asking about his organizing scheme with a question such as, "I see you've divided up all your rocks into different groups". How did you decide which rocks go in which group?" By describing his reasoning, he reinforces the learning he's done all by himself.

Children who collect rocks will want to go out hiking and looking for rocks which is, of course, not only a health activity for the child but is fun for mom and dad too, planning your next hike, helping to find that next pretty rock and the fun of discovering a really cool rock together. There are local rock and mineral clubs all over the country that have regular events to go rock hounding, there are pay to dig mines where you can plan a trip and find valuable specimens and many families have fun together tumbling and polishing rocks and making jewelry and other decorative things from rocks and minerals.