Kids love history if it’s presented in an appealing and accessible way. Young folks, including *gasp* teenagers, also enjoy historically-themed tours and events. Unlike we jaded adults, they have not yet encountered pompous tour guides, trudged down dark streets on poorly-designed itineraries or been forced to endure countless coma-inducing slide presentations. They arrive at the tour starting point or program venue open and excited.
You have the opportunity to stoke their curiosity, to inspire future historians and encourage sulky teens to glance furtively up from their phones. All you have to do is create programs that are interesting, interactive and age-appropriate.
The best news is you do not have to start from scratch. Almost any program for adults can be modified to appeal to the younger set. They key, as with all program design, is to know your audience.
The Real Customer
Whose needs are you trying to meet? The children and teens who attend your tours and events may not be your primary customers.
Teachers, Homeschoolers, Scout Leaders– The field trip.
If you work in a museum, historic house or other type of heritage property, you are probably inundated with kids on organized excursions in the spring. The teacher or other adult who arranged the outing is your real customer. Of course you want the kids to enjoy themselves and you hope they will return with their families at a later date. But the organizer’s needs are the ones you have to keep in mind.
Can you tailor the experience so that it illuminates or expands on a core topic the kids have been studying? Can you tie into a project they’ve been working on? Is there any way to incorporate a hands-on component? Can you allow your young visitors to touch an object that is normally off limits or give them a behind the scenes look at some aspect of your operation? Can they make something to take home as a memento of their visit?
Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa – The family outing.
When adults with kids in tow arrive for a tour or event, you have multi-generational customers. Many of us have a tendency to focus on one group at the expense of the other. If you oversimplify your material, the adults may feel like they’re sitting through a feature-length cartoon. Don’t go to the other extreme and make the kids feel like they’ve stumbled into a graduate school lecture hall. Try to strike a balance by including information for the adults as well as material aimed at the kids. For example, start with a short but interesting story about children in the past or tell an anecdote about animals then segue into something more nuanced for the adults.
The Kids Themselves – The slumber party, birthday or teen activity.
The purpose of this type of tour or event is for the kids to enjoy themselves. That doesn’t mean the program can’t include a serious educational component, but the kids are the customers, not the adults who arranged the event. Examples include a ghost hunt where in addition to hearing stories about the past, the teens would learn to be paranormal investigators or an archeology camp where they could participate in an actual dig. Another possibility is a History Detectives Tour where the kids could search for evidence of the past such as old train tracks, faded ads and old building foundations.
What you decide to include in your program and how you choose to present the material will vary depending on the kids’ ages. What fascinates a group of nine-year-olds will probably fall flat with high school sophomores and vice versa. Regardless of your subject and the ages of your group, try to design the program or itinerary so that they make some discoveries on their own.
Bear in mind that young customers will get bored sooner than adults. If your programs usually run 90 minutes to two hours, do some cutting. Forty-five minutes to an hour is long enough for a younger audience.
If you are doing a walking tour remember kids have tons of energy and they walk much, much faster than adults.
Make sure you build in time and opportunities for interacting, especially for groups of younger kids who tend to have a lot to say. Their questions and comments are often astute, unexpected and hilarious.
If you normally create tours or presentations for adults, working with kids and teens is like opening a window and breathing in the fresh air. Plus if you do a good job developing activities for younger folks, I guarantee you will start getting requests from the adults in their lives for grown-up versions of the same events.