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Stay-At-Home Dad: Collect them all!

Updated: March 1, 2012 8:07AM



I thought Pokemon cards were a thing of the past, joining Garbage Pail Kids and Pogs in the junk drawer of forgotten collectibles.

So, I was surprised when my 5-year-old son showed interest in the Japanese trading cards. I lucked out and received a box of hand-me-down Pokemon cards just before Christmas. I repackaged them in a new binder and put the cards under the tree.

Pokemon cards were Bubba’s favorite gift this Christmas, bar none.

Still, I couldn’t understand the attraction. Bubba has never seen a Pokemon cartoon or played a Pokemon video game. Other kids on the playground have these cards, but most of these kids he rarely mentioned by name before Pokemon fever hit.

Then, I started thinking back to my own collections. I collected things, too, namely comic books, rocks and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cards. I still read comic books. But, looking back, I don’t know why I kept a Tupperware container full of rocks in my closet or why I was so driven to have a complete deck of Ninja Turtles.

Children generally start collecting things around age 5, said Dr. Margret Nickels, director of the Center for Children and Families at Erikson Institute. She’s a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in Chicago.

“Collecting has a lot to do with organizing your world,” Nickels said.

Children start to recognize patterns around age 5. So, it should come as no surprise that Bubba likes to sort his cards in order of their strength, color and the type of figure featured. This is a benefit of collecting, as it promotes cognitive development, Nickels said.

“The other important function of collecting is kids, starting at age 6, have a lot more structured versus unstructured time,” she said.

Nickels then explained that children of this age are expected to sit quietly during long car rides and wait patiently while their parents cook dinner or talk on the phone. Having a collection allows them to occupy this “structured” time in a more fun, productive way.

Boys and girls both have collections. However, they collect different things and for different reasons, Nickels said, citing decades-old research. Boys tend to collect activity-related items such as baseball cards and toy cars, whereas, girls tend to collect more visibly appealing items, including Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbie dolls, she said.

For girls, these items are a way to interact. So, a group of girls might bring all their Barbie dolls to a friend’s house to play together. Boys, on the other hand, use their collections as a way to compete — with the winner being the boy with the most or best cards, comics or toys. Boys also tend to search out rare items, like Pokemon cards written in Japanese or a misprinted baseball card. These rare items often speak to their own feelings of uniqueness, Nickels said.

Children’s reasons for collecting change as they age. First-graders value the immediate pleasure of collecting. So, they might prefer a Beanie Baby that’s simply cute or a Pokemon card with a cool graphic.

Fifth-graders are more interested in the value of their collections. So they might opt for a less-appealing item in order to complete a series. For example, a fifth-grader might trade a baseball card featuring an all-star pitcher for a lesser card that would give him all of the cards of his favorite team, Nickels said.

As for Bubba, he couldn’t wait to show off his Pokemon cards on the playground after winter break. I dropped him off at school, and he immediately opened his binder. A crowd of boys gathered as he pointed out his favorites.

That afternoon, a neighbor drove Bubba home after school. He ran to the door, holding a thick deck of Pokemon cards.

“Where’s your book?” I asked.

“I traded it,” he replied.

“What?” I said.

“Yeah, but look at all of these cards I got,” he said.

“OK,” I replied, somewhat puzzled.

Apparently, Bubba thought he negotiated a great deal — roughly 100 new Pokemon cards for his binder of 50 hand-me-downs. As I thought about it, neither side got ripped off.

I was bummed about the trade for other reasons. Here, my prized Christmas gift was traded away in less than a day.

Howard A. Ludwig is a former business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at howardaludwig@yahoo.com



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