Let’s say you have been bitten by the antiquing bug, but the rest of your family is unsure about your hobby. Here is some advice about turning that time into a shared family activity. While the photos and some of the items are geared towards shrine sales here in Japan, the tips would hold true for antique shopping anywhere else in the world as well. Realistically, flea markets and large group shops filled with mid-low level antiques are the right places for kids, not pricey provenanced antique stores. But hey, everyone has to start somewhere!

Here is my basic advice on antiquing with kids. Please feel free to send me comments and ideas that work for you!

1. Give each child a small but reasonable sum of money to spend, whether it be their allowance or money specifically for that day.  Set guidelines (no candy, for instance) or have them create a shopping list in advance (small animals to add to their doll house scene, for instance). Then try to let go of controlling their purchases.  The key here is that they need to be truly interested and feel like they are in charge of what they buy.

2. Like adults, kids are interested in what they know. Over time, help each child to start a collection and help them to become educated about what they like. Get reference materials at their reading level or go to museum exhibits when possible.

3. Use imagination to speculate about what and how things were used in the past, their meanings, their histories and discover new uses for them. Talk about an item’s cultural significance.

4. Have kids shop for gifts. If you love to hunt for antiques and collectibles, then they can always look for gifts for you.  Gifts for friends are always fun, especially mementos of time abroad for those of us who are expats. A unique and authentic sayonara (good-bye) present for a friend who is moving is a perfect thing to find at a shrine sale.

5. Add in the life and math lessons. Make kids inquire about prices, test their courage by bargaining and calculate change.

6. Manners, manners, manners.  While the requisite bow in addition to the thank you is for those in Japan only, completing a transaction with grace and gratitude is important anywhere. And being respectful of breakables – ask before touching – is crucial.

Now I know there are those of you out there who are reading this saying “You went antiquing with GIRLS – that is easy”. To pre-empt those comments, I decided to test drive a shrine sale with two boys, aged 9 and 11, the sons of my college roommate who is visiting this week. We traveled to Takahata Fudo, a big Buddhist temple in the western suburbs of Tokyo. In addition to the shrine sale held on the 3rd Sunday of the month, Takahata Fudo boasts a 5 story pagoda, an excellent yakisoba (fried noodles) seller and an active schedule of events.

The boys were lukewarm but willing as we set out. My girls dove in, knowing what to expect, while the boys cased the scene slowly. A sure-fire hit? There are always dealers selling war mementos or weapons or tools of some sort, sure to engage any boy’s interest. Machete anyone?

Everyone was interested in vintage coins. Collecting stamps and coins feels like it has gone out of style, so I think that means it is ready for a come-back. There is no “funner” way to learn about geography!

Postcards, old photos and other ephemera are one of the cheapest and most varied of all collectibles.

We made up stories about these folks…Note the connection with the girl doing nihon buyo (Japanese traditional dance) in the black and white photo here, and the purchase of a fan up above.

The first vintage thing I ever collected were these alphabet “language of flowers” postcards from the turn of the century. I still love them and they hang in my daughter’s room now. Ask my elder daughter what gift she’d love to find for me most and she’ll tell you “a letter my mom doesn’t have”. I often find her procrastinating on her homework, trolling eBay for them. Nothing makes me prouder!

Old toys, geodes and rocks, marbles, buttons, the list of what interests a child is endless and the most fascinating tend to be tiny and cheap, perfect for their budget and your decorating scheme. Remember, a little bit of tat is always a good thing!

Just be sure to avoid the life-sized Godzilla at all costs. Perhaps a size rule is in order before heading out! (I was avoiding it so much that I forgot to take a photo!)

How do I know I triumphed? Nobody was anxious to leave, everyone spent their money with great joy, and the younger boy asked if “this fair was on all week,” hoping to return. And the moms got some goodies too!

While tips on shopping for antiques with kids was easy, shopping for antiques with husbands will have to be a later post…