I have started and stopped several posts on this topic over the past two or three months, so it seemed like a good time to just go ahead and merge all of the drafts into a single post and give a couple of fellow bloggers a few shouts out on my page for making some good points during the conversation.
I have worked with kids for fifteen years as an elementary school teacher. I have mainly taught the upper grades (3rd, 4th, and 5th), but have also dabbled briefly with middle school and have done some work with students in lower grades over the years. I also am a parent to a rising kindergartener this coming fall. I am a teacher with personality. I don't sit behind a desk, although I have a nice U shaped table, and I am not afraid to talk about myself in front of my students. You could find a students from any point in my teaching career and they could tell you that I collect and love baseball cards.
That being said, I use them frequently in my room. They show up as a math manipulative, book marks, measuring tool, or decoration. My classroom doors are currently wallpapered with the 2000 Topps set. I also give them out as rewards for different things. This year my students have a conduct goal they are working towards and we monitor using an app. Progress towards their goal gives them the chance to earn different incentives, like eating lunch in my classroom, chewing gum, earning a snack, getting to pick a seat, and earning packs of baseball and football cards. No hockey or basketball fans this year, but I have offered that in the past.
Which brings me to my several points I would like to make about kids and cards....
1. Kids Love Cards
My son has been interested in my cards since he could walk. His first card was a 2001 Topps Sean Casey which he picked up off a stack of doubles I was sorting out. The card would pop up up every couple of days, or anytime that I sat down and worked on sorting out my own cards. I still have the card. It's not quite mint anymore. This was it's condition as of 2012.
Currently he is working on a set of MLB Showdown cards. Anytime I work on cards now he stacks them up on the coffee table and mimics a lot of the things that I do with cards. He also has a few other random cards hanging around the house: A 1998 Topps Super Chrome Todd Helton card which is in remarkably great condition and a pack of 2014 Opening Day cards. This was his first venture into packs of cards. My parents actually bought him the pack of cards on their way into town at the airport. He opened the pack of cards, found a Chris Archer card, and threw the rest of the cards away.
We aren't quite ready for packs I suppose, but I was really impressed that he picked out the Archer card. He had the chance to meet Chris Archer a month or two before the pack of cards at an event at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary. He got a high five and an autographed Durham Bulls card.
At work cards a popular incentives within my classroom. I look for inexpensive blasters, old wax that people are willing to let go for a good cause, and donations from parents and community organizations. Friday afternoon we have science at the end of the day. The class ends a few minutes early and I let the students, for that week, who have reached a goal pick out an incentive from my shelf of goodies. Cards are popular with my boys, but I also have a few girls who really like cards too.
One of my girls has a mom who is a Jeter super fan, another one has gotten into baseball cards after entering my class as a card game enthusiast (Pokeman cards mainly) with baseball loving parents, and I am not sure about the last one. She has just decided that she loves cards and is working on filing up a 300 count box. Considering I have 12 girls in my class, I think that a quarter being interested in cards is a pretty good ratio. My boys are interested in cards too, but it's not universal. I have a few stay away from the cards, but it's really important to cater to the interests of the kids.
The Raleigh-Durham metro area is obviously a basketball first market. When I first moved to North Carolina I tried to get my students into baseball, but all I ever heard about was the big three ACC schools. After butting heads at first I adapted and did basketball cards and it went over well. I have moved schools since and have more baseball loving kids in my class now, but I still have kids that love football and love basketball and always have packs, or singles, of those to give out.
2. See Tweet Below....
I follow Ryan Cracknell on Twitter and you should too. He's the editor of the Cardboard Connection and also runs the blog TraderCracks. He made one of the truest statements about card collecting and kids during the card chat in response to the question above.....I especially like how he uses the word pandered.
Have you ever played a game with a ten year old? They have a great sense by that age of effort and ability. If you sit down and play a game of Connect 4 they want your best shot. Put the checkers in randomly to let them hang around and they will call you on it in a heartbeat. Kids do the same thing with cards.
Earlier in the year, I ended up with a really really cheap box of 2011 Topps Heritage Minors. At the same time I also had an acquaintance donate an old box of Topps Attax. The first student who choose a pack of Topps Attax was just about the last kid to take a pack of Attax. They were puzzled by cards and when I explained that the cards were games, I got the same responses that you would get from adults. "So, it's a game and not a baseball card right?" or "These aren't real baseball cards".
The box of Attax is still generally untouched and sitting in a cabinet in my classroom. I have thought about just bringing them home and letting my son have them at this point, but he already has a big stack of MLB Showdown cards and those aren't really baseball cards. Right?
It doesn't really matter whether the cards are old or new, they know when they are "real" baseball cards: the ones that adults collect. The Topps Heritage Minor League cards are long gone and best of all, I had a few students walk away with a couple of autographs. They weren't particularly great autographs, but the fact is they pulled an autograph.
Just like kids know when you are letting them win at Connect 4, or are shooting the basketball with the wrong hand at recess, they know that "kid" centered products are kind of garbage. Kids do not understand card values, at least not much, but they absolutely hate being pandered to. If we want kids to collect cards we need to follow the things that they enjoy collecting.
How many "kids" oriented baseball card products have flopped over the years? Dozens. Here's a great idea from the same card chat.....
3. Let's Not Talk Price Point
This is a fine line. There are many adults that collect cards and there are high end products that adults with jobs and salaries can afford to purchase. As an adult collector I enjoy seeing high end products with autographs and patches and serial numbered cards. I don't own a card shop, but I am guessing that kids account for almost zero percent of the purchases on products like Topps Tribute or Five Star. Not to say that kids do not like looking at high end products, but they are honestly just completely out of their price point. I'm not going to argue that we should ditch high end products. Cards can be for adults too.
Kids depend on whatever their parents are willing to spend on cards. I have a parent who does a lot of volunteer work at my school and she recently started talking to me about the retail section of baseball cards at her local Target. The price was a minor consideration for her. I am not sure that she is a huge fan of spending $1.99 a pack, but it also did not stop her from buying a few packs for her son.
I really think that some of the talk about price points is completely overrated. I took a few minutes and entered in the price of cards in 1987, when I was ten, into an inflation calculator to compare them to the price of cards now. The results.....
It's very much true that the price of cards has grown faster than inflation, but look at the product from 1987 versus 2015. The product certainly has a much higher cost production. If you play around with the numbers a pack of $1.99 cards from today are equal to roughly $1.00 in 1987. That was the original price point on the 1989 Upper Deck cards, which were more expensive, but also much nicer than the base Topps sets of the late 80s. How close are the 2015 Topps cards to the 1989 Upper Deck cards? How many kids opened packs of 1989 Upper Deck cards in spite of the fact that they cost twice as much as the Topps cards? As a parent, I am a teacher married to a teacher so I am not raking it in by any stretch of the imagination, I would buy my child a pack of $1.99 cards with little reservation.
I do not buy price point as a factor.
4. What about Digital Content?
I have also had several students who have gotten into Bunt. They like the idea that they do not actually have to use real money in order to be able to land cards and the idea of trading online seems to be pretty cool too. However, the fact that there is no way to turn the virtual cards into real cards is a real drawback. I think I started out with three students this year who used Bunt, but I am pretty sure that the number is down to one. The digit content is a good way to engage younger collectors, but I still think it needs a little bit of tweaking.
One of the more confusing parts of Bunt is the fantasy aspect of the app. Kids watch baseball, but there is something about this that is amiss to kids. As an adult and fantasy baseball player I understand the concept, but it's a bit of a turn off to a ten year to look at the screen and see your "team" is ranked low and have no idea of how to improve it.
I also think that there should be someway to get actual cards from the app. In 2011, when Topps used the Diamond Codes, the kids in class who collected loved those cards. The loved entering the codes. The loved seeing cards on their computer screen. The loved landing the Die-Cuts from the codes. The also loved the idea of having the cards shipped to them.....
5. Why Do Kids Collect Cards?
I remember when I started collecting cards when I was six. I had an older brother who collected baseball cards and my father also collected cards as a kid. Every week when we went to the grocery store I would end up with a few packs of baseball cards. I dabbled in football cards and basketball cards as a kid. I dabbled in hockey cards for a year as an adult. How did I get from kid collector to adult collector?
Collecting cards is like any other hobby, as parents and hobby enthusiasts, we need to be supportive of what are kids are interested in doing. If a kid is interested in collecting cards that's awesome. Things cannot be forced. I have taken my son to a baseball card shop before. He was mainly interested in seeing what was behind the counters and showing the card shop owner a few of his gymnastics skills using the rail handle of the door. He was not really interested in looking at cards or opening a pack of cards, but that's fine. One day it might happen.
As a kid I want through times where I wouldn't put my cards down for anything. Other times my interest in the hobby waned....
Kids do not see cards in the same light as adults. When my students open packs of cards they are often interested in finding cards of a certain player or team. "Hits" don't always have to be important. I did the same thing as a kid. I wanted Cardinals cards. I wanted Ozzie Smith cards. The teams and players might be different, but I feel like the concept is still the same. I have students who like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Tigers. I have students who collect Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton, and Koji Uehara. Simple cards can be a big thing if the right player or team is on the card.
Sometimes we do end up with cards that are worthy of celebration no matter what team or player. Two weeks ago I had a student pull a Derek Jeter photo variation....
some are still chattering about this one.....
So for me getting kids to collect cards boils down to three things:
1. Be supportive. As mentioned above, let the kids be who they are and let them collect what they want. They love the back-up catcher who is riding the bus in between the Majors and Triple A? Great. As long as they love what they collect.
2. Engage with kids about cards. Kids have questions, want to hear stories, and share experiences with collecting. You should be all ears. This includes online, where sometimes, it can be really trying. I trade on Facebook and Twitter and have run into problems in trading with kids, but I still try for the most part. As adults we do not always do a great job with this. It's fine to say no, but just polite. We all had to start somewhere.....
3. Evolve. The cards I collect look far different than the cards that my father collected. If my son chooses to collect cards I can only guess that the cards will continue to evolve. Hopefully card companies will listen to their audience, including kids, and continue to make cards that people love to collect. Even if they look different...