by Ren Brabenec
Ever seen this at your house?
“Come on Timmy, dinner’s almost ready and you still need to take the trash out and set the table,” Grandma called across the house to her 12 year-old grandson. Timmy’s blank eyes stayed glued to the TV screen, mouth hung open, fingers being the only moving part of his body as they worked madly over the video game controls.
Timmy ignored his grandmother, “Heck yeah! Get shot you nasty Arcturian!” he exclaimed suddenly, as he blew up some big alien or something.
“Come on Timmy!” Grandma shouted from the kitchen.
Timmy rolled his eyes, ignored her some more, and kept playing, blowing up at least five or six more aliens. It wasn’t until he could hear his grandma’s footsteps coming down the hall towards him that he hit the pause button, grumbled and mumbled to his feet, and headed for the kitchen.
Now picture this…..
“Wow gramps, this one’s so cool!” Timmy said, gazing at his grandpa’s favorite coin, a 1947 silver Walking Liberty half dollar. Sitting in a dimly lit room, with the cold wind blowing on the windows, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate resting on the desk, Grandpa and Timmy pored over Grandpa’s old coin collection, taking turns inspecting each coin closely, and admiring the individual characteristics of each one.
“Timmy, that there coin was minted the very same year your Grandmother and I were married. It was also the last year that coin was ever made.”
“Niiiice,” Timmy said, not taking his eyes off the coin as he turned it over and over in his fingers.
Grandpa smiled, took a sip of his cocoa, and continued with his story. “Yeah, that was one heck of a year alright. A couple days before the wedding I was shoppin’ around downtown, making some last minute purchases before the big day, and I stepped into that old coffee shop across the street from the collectibles store. I bought myself a cup of joe and that there Liberty was my change. Don’t quite know why I’ve kept it all these years, I guess old Miss Liberty just reminded me of your grandma.”
“It’s so pretty, gramps,” Timmy said, taking his eyes off the coin for the first time. He smiled at his grandfather, and reached for his cocoa mug.
Grandpa took a sip from his own mug, stared into the dark brown liquid for half a moment, and then spoke again. “I reckon you can have it Timmy. And that coffee shop’s long gone but I reckon that old collectibles store is still in business, and if you want, I’ll take you on by tomorrow morning, and maybe we can find some more coins for you.”
Timmy almost choked on his hot cocoa. “Aww, thanks Grandpa!” Timmy put down his mug and hugged his grandpa, then leapt off the stool to go tell Grandma about it, the whole time keeping a tight grip on the Walking Liberty, not setting it down, or even putting it in his pocket.
* * *
The various hobbies children choose to take part in have changed over the decades. When the baby boomers were young, stamp collecting, coin collecting, model plane and car building, and other constructive and valuable hobbies were very popular. Now the grandchildren of the baby boomers, kids born in the nineties and the early part of the twenty-first century have a very different idea of fun. Video gaming, social networking online, television, movies, and online games are just some of the more popular interests youngsters have in this day and age.
But what can any one child learn from a video game or a TV show? With hobbies like coin collecting a kid could not only learn a lot about coins in general, knowledge that may come useful later in life, but could also build a collection that’s value might grow exceedingly with age. That, and he’d be doing something creative.
Anyone’s most valuable use of his or her abilities is through the act of creation. But what is your child or grandchild really creating by sitting in front of a TV for hours on end on a Sunday afternoon? Not much really. What if that same child spent that time raiding pawn shops, antique stores, and online businesses looking for his or her favorite coins, organizing them, labeling them, and creating a collection of coins? And then what if that youth could sit you down and dictate to you details about all the different coins in your pocket? And what if a few years later that kid was all grown up, was so learned in the field of coin collecting, and had such a big collection, that maybe that kid wanted to open up his or her own business? And make a living doing it? That hobby would’ve turned out to be a pretty useful one.
Video games themselves are not all bad. There’s nothing wrong with collapsing on the couch after a hard day at school or work, and blowing up some aliens for a little while. But when this sort of “digital fixation” is all children do, except of course when they are being made to do other things by their parents, it becomes a bit of a problem.
Could this digital fixation be argued to effect children in other areas than the home life? School maybe? Perhaps. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the amount of children receiving good grades and doing well in school was steadily rising throughout the fifties, sixties, seventies, and the first half of the eighties. But right around 1987 this trend leveled out, and the good grades didn’t get any better, and even dropped in some areas.
But what would a hobby like coin collecting do for your child or grand kid? Hours of time spent studying, labeling, and sorting coins would be hours spent learning. Imagine if little Timmy not only went to school to learn, but then came home and sat down at his desk, pulled out his coin box, and learned some more? Time spent studying something, actual free time nonetheless, would only make the routine of public school that much easier.
Hobbies like coin collecting impress other values on youngsters too, subtler, more subjective ideals. When a child gazes at an old coin, perhaps one that is even more than a century old, he or she takes in the art that is the embodiment of the coin. The various marks etched into its surface from years of circulation, the coloration from exposure to the elements, the artistry of the design itself; these all sing the song of creativity and art. But on the “flip side” of the coin so to speak, there is not much artistry or creation involved with video games, or TV, or mindless hours wasted transfixed and zombified by a computer screen.
So the hobbies of old, coin collecting, model cars, planes and trains, stamp collecting, etc. all teach and help our children discover many things: appreciation for art, creativity, useful knowledge of the hobby itself, potential futures, and the simplicity of respect for the little, the real, and the special things in life. The tokens, whether they be a special coin, a limited edition stamp, a well made model car, or even a finished jigsaw puzzle, are all puddles of opportunity for our children and grandchildren to splash in. And let’s let them get as wet and muddy as they’d possibly want, for who knows what one, little, childhood hobby might become in the future.