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Kids as Collectors

Kids are always collecting things, whether intentionally or not. Lisa Lillywhite, from The Smart Happy Project, explores this.


That beloved stick or pebbles from a walk, a picture or drawing from a magazine. As much as it drives me up the wall when confronted with a bedroom of clutter (I do remember doing exactly the same) I'm often impressed with the meaning that kids as collectors attach to these things. That object serves as a reminder or a memory and they are only happy to have it disposed of once the memory has been properly lodged or processed. Being a collector myself - some use the word 'hoarder' - I try to give value to the things I gather, after all, a collection is only the sum of its parts.

Collections become valuable to the outside viewer through the narrative by which they are presented. 

For example: that acorn cup may be getting in the way on its own but as part of a collection entitled Circles in Natural Forms it takes on great significance. I want to look at little in the discipline of 'collecting'. To encourage the eyes to observe and seek out connections in objects so building a child's own themed collection.

Structure the collections

With regard to natural objects, structuring collections focuses the attention on each object rather than just indiscriminate gatherings. Themes can be simple and become easy scavenger hunts. Possible themes are:

  • Colours: simple colour charts really push the imagination and very so much with the seasons
  • Numbers or shapes are themes that I really love at the moment. The numbers "three" and "triangles in nature", and the pentagram star in nature are always favourites
  • Seed heads in autumn are great subjects as there are so many different types and will last much longer than leaves or flowers that wilt in time
  • Bits of dead insects have always been my particular favourite. As a child I encased them in clear resin along with my baby teeth (don't ask!). During summer months windowsills become veritable graveyards for butterflies or flies - but not intentionally I might add
  • Beach finds: my daughter and I have a running competition of who collects the most beach glass and recently my expunged crab collection seems to be overflowing


With a little guidance these collections can be displayed attractively and with a sense of honour towards the nature object. 

Natural history museums can be great places of interest, why not have your own miniature natural history collection at home or take a moment to paint the leaf or flower before it fades. 

Collection display ideas

A keepsake box

  1. Draw out a simple box grid on card and glue one object into each square
  2. Line a matchbox and make it a miniature diorama for natural findings
  3. Fill each section in an old chocolate box tray with a different object


Advocates of collecting have been featured on The Smart Happy Project before, remember Ed Drewitt and his feather collection? And more recently we've interviewed Paolo Viscardi the curator of a natural history collection for inclusion in the summer edition of The Smart Happy Project.

Inspiration to collect as a child

In researching around the discipline of collecting, there was recently a gallery exhibit* 'Magnificent Obsession: the Artist as Collector' showing the personal collections of some of the big names in art work (Damien Hirst, David Hockney to name a couple). 

What did all these artists have in common?

Their collections were broad and various and disconnected from each other, but above all I was fascinated by the relevation that all of these artists were inspired in their childhood to collect.

They were either:

  • encouraged to collect by an older relative
  • inherited a fascinating collection
  • started their collection as a child
  • the collection itself connects them to their history as a child

What makes kids as collectors?

Studies** have shown that children collect for many different reasons. Sometimes as an escape from the world, to fulfil a curiosity or passion or to affirm their sense of individuality, or at the same time connect with peers. 

Children are quoted as saying of their collecting habits 'it makes me feel good' or 'it's fun'. At this point it is worth noting that for younger ages, bugs or stones were the subjects of their passion whilst older childrens' interest moved to more consumer realted products as a result of the resources available. My interest here is on extending the interest of nature orientated collections, not at the expense of but as well as popular culture related items. 

I return again to the importance of instilling a love and passion for nature as a child. A love that will be taken into adulthood and form the future decisions they make. But for now, I hope they can see what is in front of them, and that they treasure it.

By Lisa Lillywhite

This blog first appeared on www.thesmarthappyproject.com in May 2015. 

*Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector

**Kids as Collectors: a Phenomenological Study by Association for Consumer Research