by Deborah Walden
Mike Wolfe catapulted to fame through his popular History Channel program American Pickers. Last year, Wolfe opened his first Antique Archaeology satellite store in Nashville, and he has quickly become a part of the city’s retail and educational communities. We spoke to Wolfe this month about his latest adventure, Kid Pickers. This undertaking, which includes in-store events, an interactive website, a book, and an upcoming television program, brings together Wolfe’s innate love for history and his passion for his community.
Witnessing children’s excitement for objects in his store gave Wolfe the inspiration for Kid Pickers. “All of these children coming into the store bring back memories of when I was kid.” Wolfe reveals that reclaiming discarded objects as a child activated his imagination and gave him a concrete link to history. “I used to find things and they would become my toys,” he says. “I found an old radio. I would imagine where it used to live and what kind of music it used to play.”
Wolfe believes the program will tap into kids’ natural interest in collecting. “Kids love to go to garage sales, estate sales, and flea markets,” he says. Wolfe believes that the educational power of kids’ love of collecting has been largely overlooked. “Every child is a picker. They all love a little treasure hunt.” By transforming children’s hobbies into an educational platform, Wolfe is able to reach a large audience of young learners. Referring to his American Pickers cohort Frank Fritz, Wolfe laughs, “Frank and I are the Flintstone Vitamins of history.”
Kid Pickers taps into children’s fascination with collecting to teach design, preservation, art, and history. Wolfe partnered with a teacher from his home state of Iowa to write the Kid Pickers book, which will debut in the spring of 2013. “The book is actually done. It’s with Macmillan. I teamed up with Lily Sprengelmeyer, a third-grade teacher.” Wolfe has also used his Nashville store as a base for kid-friendly picking events. These in-store education sessions bring in experts to teach children about objects in the store. “We’ll have someone who specializes in a particular type of collectible. We’ll put things in their hands. It teaches kids about their community’s history. It teaches them that when they find things they can learn from their family’s history and take pride in them.”
KidPickers.com expands Wolfe’s in-store activities to an online audience around the world. The site includes tips for picking that encourage children to learn. Picking 101 instructs kids to journal about objects that they find, encouraging descriptive writing. The site urges children to learn about collectibles through local libraries, antique stores, and online research. Most importantly, the site connects objects with history and individuals. KidPickers.com instructs kids to get to know the local people who make objects significant. Such lessons bring history to life. An online community that Wolfe calls “a Facebook for kids” lets children connect to one another and share their stories online.
The star’s childhood obsession with collecting is now impacting children around the world. Proceeds from in-store Kid Pickers events and part of the proceeds online go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Wolfe sees it as “kids helping kids.” When we spoke to Wolfe, he was preparing to go to Washington, D.C., to present a $10,000 scholarship through an educational picking program sponsored by the History Channel. We often make the mistake of seeing history as something that is vast and global rather than local and personal. It’s easy to make the same mistake with education. We forget that there are teaching moments in the details of our daily lives. Wolfe, through his passion and insight, brings all that home to us.