Interpretation for Children

A recent forum discussion has made me reflect on interpretation for children.  The good examples are still too few and far in between, but where interpreters have given children proper consideration, the results are a lesson to us all.  Here is my shortlist of inspirations:

1) Good interactives

The place to see the best interactives for children must be Stanley Mills in Perthshire, Scotland.  Children were a prime workforce in the heydays of the mill, and the interpretation makes smart use of that.  The most successful interactives are simulations of the kind of work that children would have had to do, and it gives modern-day children a hands-on opportunity to see what it was like and how well they would have performed the job.  Other interactives allow children (and adults too) to manipulate for example the water flow in a model of the water-powered and belt-driven mill machines of the early days.  These interactives also mean that family members need to join up to work the interactive which I think is always a great way to get conversations going – learning, after all, is a social experience [1].

2) Big concepts for small people

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium I saw a fun performance that used song, dance and theatre to convey to children the importance of recycling and being mindful of using resources.  The cast was dressed up as various animals with the exception of one cast member that acted out all the things a child in the audience would do during their day.  The animal characters explained why leaving the light on, for example, will impact the life of a penguin in Alaska, and you could tell that the children began to make a connection between their own actions and the environment.  To reinforce the messages, the cast taught the children a song with a catchy tune that they could easily remember- and probably still did long after their visit.

3) A sense of adventure

At a Scottish castle (sadly I forget which one) I once followed a tour where the guide made excellent use of storytelling techniques for the younger members of the group.  Like with any old adventure story, he made sure that each piece of information left them wondering about what would happen next, and where.  He encouraged them to look for the window from where the lord would have spotted the attackers before he told them how a siege would have worked and what damage it did to the castle.  Incidentally, the adults on the tour enjoyed this as much as the children [2].

4) Let them make decisions

The BBC education website hosts an interactive that invites children to imagine that it is 1745 and time to make a decision: are they going to support the Jacobite Rising, or are they going to fight against it?  The interactive leads to further decision points, each time giving children the type of information the people of the time would have had.  Once children have made their decision, the interactive shows them how the decision has influenced the situation.  I used this format for a school programme at Culloden Battlefield which became very successful and the children really started to think about what it meant to have to choose.


[1] And with these successful interactives there wasn’t even a computer screen in sight!

[2] In fact, I personally think we need to orientate ourselves more toward a child’s interest than an adult’s – and we’ll probably find that we reach more adults that way than we currently do.

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