Keeping historic house tours engaging for visitors can be a challenge, especially children’s tours. The traditional “Listen, don’t touch” guided tour is simply not appealing to youth in today’s digital world. The authors of the ground-breaking manifesto, the Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, are calling for historic sites to create a more visitor-centered paradigm.
I’ve recently re-imagined our house tour for younger audiences. The new experience engages all five senses and utilizes the Socratic, or inquiry-based, teaching method. I believe these qualities make the tour a dynamic, interactive, and tactile experience. Students are required to use their critical thinking skills to answer the questions guides pose.
Instead of docents telling students everything we think is important, they now use objects from the education collection, including full scale 3D printed replicas and carefully selected vintage material, as learning prompts. The prompts are followed up with related archival photographs and a particular set of questions designed to lead students to an idea. Our younger guests become active participants in the tour as opposed to passive recipients of information which is a well-documented way to facilitate retention and promote deeper interest.
New material gleaned from our archives being shared during the tour include information about the couple’s beloved dogs, Corinne Melchers’ Scarlet Macaw, Polly, and the staff and servants the Melchers’ employed to help run their household, garden, and grounds. Life without the Internet and television is also discussed.
Early feedback, from both teachers and docents, has been positive. My staff and I look forward to giving our original “Please Touch!” tour to this summer’s field trips and the many engaging conversations along the way.