In our house, it’s nearly time to sing the ubiquitous end of term song “one more day to go, one more day of sorrow … ” and thoughts have turned to how to entertain the little people for six weeks over the summer. For many of my friends, this is something of a military exercise.
The long summer holidays of my childhood seem to have been endless, blissful and filled with very little. These days, the idea of juggling the hectic demands of daily life, providing sufficient entertainment and enjoyment and making sure they don’t forget everything they learned over the last year seems somewhat daunting.
We’ll go to France for a couple of weeks. (That leaves four.) Part of me is toying with the idea of a week’s sailing lessons and a week of tennis. (That would leave two weeks to fill.) A week with the grandparents. (“One more week to go …”) Plus a week of enriching summer learning experiences at National Trust properties??? (Bingo!)
When I used to visit heritage sites as a child, there was very little that was innovative or inclusive about what was provided for the younger visitor, or any visitor in fact, unless you wanted to read the very detailed, and often rather dry, guidebook. This is thankfully no longer the case and today the NT here aims not primarily to teach, rather to surprise, inspire and make space for children and young people to find their own passion for inquiry.
Likewise across the INTO network, our member organisations are moving away from the traditional visit to a heritage site as a follow up to learning about something or somebody in school, which often leaves children wondering “What has any of this to do with me?”
The Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has heritage awareness and community involvement in heritage issues as one of its primary mandates. It achieves this through a number of different programmes including setting up 1,200 Heritage Clubs in schools and Teacher Training Workshops which take place across the country. The Clubs involve 30,000 members and 2,000 teachers. The path INTACH’s Heritage Education and Communication Services aims to follow is Awareness > Appreciation > Action and this could become the mantra for heritage education worldwide!
The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) also runs heritage clubs and links secondary schools to neighbouring community museums with the aim of stimulating an appreciation of culture and diversity as well as growing traditional knowledge and skills, and building confidence and self-esteem. You can find out more about their work in Evelyne Ninsiima’s article here or download their excellent Heritage Education Toolkit.
An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, only owns a few heritage sites but it co-ordinates the highly successful nationwide ‘Green Schools’, which now involves practically every school in the country in a structured programme helping children and communities learn about, and live according to, sustainable principles. As the alumni have moved on in education, there is also now a number of Green Colleges and Universities.
There is lots of good heritage education practice across the INTO family. Of course one size does not fit all and what works for one National Trust may not work elsewhere but we do all need to learn more effectively from each other and to respect our different traditions and cultures, which is why INTO is a great forum for exchanging experience and developing best practice. Please do share your experiences and remember that we’re here to help!
Audience development and the reinvention of the museum or heritage experience go hand in hand. Visitors in any country will not be persuaded to visit dusty, under-resourced museums or over-crowded, unintelligible sites. And unrewarding, unprepared school visits will put off generations of adults to come.
Here are five tips for taken from a speech I gave in China a couple of years ago. Successful engagement:
1. Starts with young people
By training children and teens to be more curious and observant, we give them the tools to make sense of what they see and experience and to better understand their own environment as well as new places. This develops their empathetic understanding and a sense of connectedness which teaches appreciation, respect and sense of responsibility/stewardship.
2. Focuses on local heritage
Focusing on local heritage involves and empowers the rest of the community. By involving schools and working effectively with teachers or through heritage clubs, young people have the opportunity to learn traditional craft skills, but also heritage skills such as making inventories or recording oral histories. Community work can also engage and include disadvantaged youth more readily.
3. Is innovative
Innovation is important in the successful engagement of young people. Heritage sites can become a centre for learning, both formal and informal, and new techniques (heritage trails, activities and experiences) and technologies (internet, mobile phones and touch screens) bring heritage into the 21st Century. Site managers should not shy away from being creative and trying something new.
4. Has cross-sector support
Raising awareness with governments and educational institutions, developing resources that can be curriculum linked, training educators and lobbying the government to get value of heritage recognised are key to a successful future.
5. Is future proof
When we think about the future, we must consider the role of IT, on-line heritage sources, apps and so on. Engagement programmes must make heritage more inclusive and representative of diverse society and we as heritage practitioners must continue to share good practice.
With all of the above in mind, wish me well as I try to provide the right balance of childcare, fun and learning over the next six weeks. No doubt I’ll be reporting back here so … thanks for reading!