Collect with the kids and watch our hobby grow

“I wonder if anyone here sells binders,” the oldest of my daughters (about 5 minutes older than her twin sister) said.

Big mistake.

We walked through the exhibits at the American Philatelic Society’s winter show (when they still had them) in Birmingham, Alabama, a few years ago. My daughter, who was maybe nine at the time, didn’t realize her mistake until all the old white men came out of the woodwork.

“It’s called an album,” or “You don’t need a binder; you need a stock book,” or “You need to use the correct term.”

I tried to deflect the line of men, whom I’m sure were well-meaninged, but here’s the thing.

My young daughter was correct. Her “pretty stamps” collection was kept on Vario pages, and she wanted a Vario binder – a grown-up binder in her mind – in which to put her pages.

After the fifth person came up to correct her, she asked me if we could leave. The joy of being at a big stamp show had been well-meaning out of her.

Collect with kids rather than lecture

I don’t buy into the hype that stamp collecting is dying, but the hobby is changing drastically. I also accept that it is very hard to get kids into stamp collecting these days. It is seen as a stodgy hobby competing with things like video games and anime.

That said, I noticed a desire to teach kids about stamp collecting. There always seem to be lectures and instruction when a child shows up. This is important, but it often excludes exploration and fun. It excludes doing

I have three daughters. My twins are 14, and their little sister is 12. All three collect stamps to a greater or lesser extent. The one who needed a binder is fairly serious, and the other two have collections too.

Not my way but

A couple of years ago, I had a student with autism. He was a nice guy, and he talked to me often about his stamp collection.

One day, he asked if he could bring it in. Not thinking, I said, “Sure.”

A couple of days later, he comes up to me, holding a tablet. He says it is his stamp collection and turns it on. I must admit I’m a little confused.

Then he starts scrolling through what looks like a portfolio app he has set up on the tablet. It contains photo after photo of stamps with dinosaurs and a description. It was his collection.

I talked to his mom, who said he’d get a stamp, scan it, put it in his “stamp portfolio,” and then throw the stamp away. She would usually retrieve the stamp from the trash and put it away, but the electronic version is his preferred way to collect.

Collecting together

I’ve noticed something. When I turn my attention to my stamp collection, whether it is mounting newly acquired stamps, rearranging something, or just flipping through album pages and enjoying the stamps, my children often will do the same.

Sometimes they don’t even wait for me. About two weeks ago, I walked into my home office, and my youngest was spread out with a bag-o-stamps, sorting and adding to her stock book.

However, the key is that we collect together.

At the APS show, there was a table where the girls could fill a bucket with stamps for just a handful of dollars. They loved sorting through the mounds of stamps, looking for treasures to put in the bucket, take home, and place in their stock books or Vario pages.

It is important that I was sorting with them, looking with them, and getting excited with them. As we poured through the mound of stamps, I wasn’t trying to tell them anything about philately. I just enjoyed sorting with my children.

The teaching comes later. When my daughter asked a question like a recent one in which she asked how I choose which stamps to hinge and which stamps to mount. When she’s looking at an envelope and letter in my postal history collection. Or checking out an exhibit and has a question. Those are the moments to teach.

The big thing is to get the conversation going, and we do that by “doing stamps” together. And there is a pedagogical reason for this.

A teaching tool is the Socratic Method. This is a way to get a conversation going so that it causes a student to engage in critical thinking.

Same concept. We begin by talking about something innocuous. Maybe we’re talking about the art on a stamp, how pretty the stamp is, or something like that. Before long, the conversation switches. “Do you want to mount a few stamps for me?” Or perhaps, “Would you like to hinge these stamps into my album?”

Now we’re talking. Hinging can lead naturally to talking about gum, thin stamps, the impact of damage, displaying stamps, and more. We’re collecting stamps, spending time together, and now we’re learning. No lectures. Just conversation.

Getting lectured to is boring. Full stop.

Serious collectors

One of the greatest joys was when I still lived in Nashville and would attend the meetings of the Nashville Philatelic Society. They were very welcoming of my kids, and the kids LOVED bidding and participating in the monthly auction. To my daughters, casting those 25, 50, and 75-cent bids was the ultimate in participation in the hobby.

But they also loved the NPS because they were treated like serious collectors. Yes, they got free stamps, but the club treated them like what they are – stamp collectors. Club members answered questions. They asked the girls questions about their collections, and here’s the important bit – they listened when the girls answered.

And let them participate. That made all the difference in their collecting experience.

This is how we succeed with kids

A child exploring the hobby of stamp collecting wants to collect. He wants to see and hold stamps. Bid in an auction. House his collection the way he or she wants – stock books, albums, Vario pages, whatever. I still remember the look of horror when I told someone the girls, when they were four or five years old, would pull stamps from the box full of stamps and use a glue stick to glue them on paper.

Who cares?

It’s their collection, and we should treat that seriously.

Clay is the father of 3 girls. He’s an avid stamp collector with collections spanning Scouts on Stamps, US Coast Guard Postal History, and worldwide stamps with a bit of emphasis on Haiti and Ireland.