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.
The Christmas season is a special time to visit Gari Melchers’ Home and Studio at Belmont.
Source: Visit Belmont for holiday decor with an artist’s touch – Fredericksburg Virginia
Our 1790s historic house museum is fairly typical in not having an elevator to access its upper levels. For years, guests who opted out of climbing sixteen stairs to reach the second floor were given a printed tour with pictures and descriptions to peruse. Not a bad solution, but not great either.
While researching possible alternatives, I looked for an easy, elegant, and enhanced touring alternative/interpretive tool. I also hoped to provide a “beyond the stanchions” look at our collection, spaces, and views. An iPad video kiosk seemed to be the answer. The museum community regularly uses iPads to complement programming and engage people through the use of apps, music, digital labels, videos and zoom-able images, surveys, touch-screen kiosks, and even robotic tours. Why not use a tablet to show a second floor video?
I found a stand that works well in our tight space. It has a weighted bottom, a telescoping, adjustable pole and a bendable neck. The iPad can be locked in place so theft is not a worry.
The process of making the video was challenging and fun. Basically, I strove to highlight things our guests love best or wish they had access to. I secured project funding through Stafford County Tourism, wrote a script, worked with a local production crew on lighting and filming, and selected background music (not as easy as it sounds!). After editing and more editing, the video was ready to share with the public. Apple’s Education Customer Service representatives provided friendly step-by-step instructions on how to upload the video file to the iPad so WiFi wouldn’t be an required. Training staff was a breeze due to the iPad’s user-friendly interface design.
Initial feedback from guests has been overwhelmingly positive. One weary visitor who chose to watch the video instead of climbing the stairs ended up re-joining her group upstairs minutes later because it looked so interesting! An unintended consequence, but hopefully now you can more fully experience Belmont, even from the first floor.