In a moment that many children are stuck at home in the UK and the lockdown can feel almost endless for their inquisitive minds, it is quite common to hear from parents that their ideas to find entertaining alternatives to get their kids engaged (and safe!) are running out. While screens can be an unavoidable alternative, if the content shown in them is both fun and educational, well, that a plus! 2021 so far has been challenging as the possibilities of family holidays are not promising, but the good news is that it is still possible to travel to different places and times in History from the comfort of our sofas if only we can find the right company. This ability to communicate with kids and travel with them in their imagination is a gift that some Blue Badge Tourist guides have been honing it for a while: to develop tours that are child-friendly and accessible for all the family to engage and enjoy together.
This niche of family tours was already high in demand in a pre-pandemic world, but it became a great opportunity during lockdown: with so many kids at studying at home, learning and engaging through a screen stopped being such an impediment. The eager curiosity to see the world opened a great opportunity for virtual tours aimed at children, where they can learn and have fun at the same time. Virtual tours don’t intend to substitute the real world, but they do offer a fantastic possibility of connection to another people, another country and even another time in History, and this is what three talented Blue Badge Tourists guides have been successfully working on, and we would love to introduce you their work.
Please meet Julia, Aaron and Clarissa!
Can you tell a bit more about yourself?
Julia Huber: My name is Julia Huber. I was born and raised in Austria but my adventurous spirit has always taken me to various places around the world: internships from the age of 15 brought me to the UK, China, Scotland and Germany. After my studies at Vienna, Linz and Stirling University I moved to London in 2005 and started working at the Austrian Tourist Office in Soho. It’s essentially a marketing agency looking after Austrian clients wanting to promote their business (hotels, regions, Austria in general) in the UK and Ireland. Fast-forward a few years I found myself living as an expat in Singapore and giving birth to my third child there! Upon returning back to London and pretty much to get rid of my ‘baby brains’ I applied for a place on the City of London guiding course in 2014. It was a success and I applied for the City of Westminster one the year after and began to sell guided tours on a full-time basis (well, as much as was possible with three young children!). In 2020 my guiding career was crowned by gaining the famous Blue Badge and now I am ready to take my guiding work to the next level.
Aaron Hunter: I am a prize-winning newly qualified London Blue Badge Guide and a professional scientist, researcher and lecturer with the University of Cambridge. As a palaeontologist, I am an expert on fossils, prehistoric life including of course dinosaurs, and the natural world and I specialise in guiding the Natural History Museum. Professional Palaeontologist’s normally work as academic lecturers, museum curators or in the industry. However, I decided to become what is probably the first guide lecturer in my field.
Clarissa Donda: I am Clarissa Donda and I am originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I moved to London almost seven years ago. I graduated as a journalist and I worked for many years as a Marketing and Communications Manager for several companies in Brazil and the UK. I kept a blog as a hobby, an outlet for my storytelling and a place where I could display my creative projects, such as tailored trips that I did for myself and wanted to share with the world. That led me to do some work writing travel articles for websites and magazines in Brazil and abroad, and this blog attracted a huge audience. It was during a trip to Portugal to write an article about the Douro and Minho region (I love wines!) with a friend that is also a guide in Portugal that inspired to become a guide myself and help to bring these amazing stories and experiences to life. I started the Blue Badge Tourist Guide course in London and I finally graduated in 2019. I always thought that one of my gifts and passion is storytelling, and I couldn’t be happier in bringing it to my daily work!
How your guiding work started, and how was the transition to work with kids? What was your motivation?
Julia Huber: I had started the City of London guiding course just for fun to be honest. I had been interested in history in general and something that would take me away from home and into central London for course work twice a week was highly welcomed with three little ones at home. But pretty soon I realised that there was definitely demand for German speakers guiding in London and so I tested the waters offering my own tours on GetYourGuide. It was a success!
Quite often I would guide families with young children – which is something I thoroughly enjoy – and I began to realise that childrens’ tours in GERMAN were a real niche market that I could get into. In the German-speaking countries children don’t usually get taught English before ca. age 10. Now imagine a family doing, say a public tour of Westminster, in English and half the family can’t understand a word!
I quickly developed my signature ‘Where Does the Queen Cuddle her Corgis?’ kids tour, and in German of course. I set it up as a public and private tour so my clients have options. The tour runs ca. 2 hours and it’s all about seeing all those fabulous sights in Westminster through the eyes of the little ones.
I also developed a Kids Activity Tour set in Westminster and the City of London. This is a privately guided tour and each participating child gets a clipboard with a questionnaire that will lead the way. At the end a prime quality prize awaits (I think ‘prime’ is important here – as a parent I know that quality is always appreciated).
Aaron Hunter: I have always been working with young adults as part of my teaching and lecturing work and I have worked with children as part of my outreach activities for Rockwatch the Children’s geology club for the UK. I find all areas of education rewarding and kids get very excited when they learn about dinosaurs and it reminds me of the moment as a child I became interested in fossils and prehistoric life and later turned a hobby into my profession. Guiding has much in common with university field trips or museum-based classes and it was relatively easy to make the transition from the field to the streets of Bath where I started my guiding career before Blue Badge training.
Clarissa Donda: It started with a lovely family that hired me. It was a big group coming, with teenagers and young kids, so I was thinking many days before about activities that could engage all different ages, and it worked so well that I started to be more interested in tours with families. In my “office life” I used to work with training, so I am very familiar in developing a story that includes several educational aspects in a fun way, and a tour with kids is all about that!
When I started to get more confident and experient with the child-friendly tours that I was offering, I got in touch with a Guide Conférencier from Paris (that is the equivalent of a Blue Badge Guide for France) who also developed a fantastic work focused in kids and we started to work together. As the History of France and England overlaps in many topics and there is a Eurostar train connecting these two amazing cities easily, we started to develop ideas of tours so that families could combine the trip between the two cities and have tours that would complement each other. That offered a much more complete experience for the kids – and I love to see their reaction, they are all fast learners and always very engaged!
What are the techniques/resources/ props you had to learn to keep them engaged? How was the process of adding it t your repertoire, you felt you needed to learn something different?
Julia: I am always bringing my iPad with me. I have lots of fun pics saved on there that will help me tell my stories. In front of St James’s Palace, for example, I will show a portrait of King Henry VIII and the kids and I (sometimes parents will join in, too!) will try and copy his posture. We will ask ourselves: Why does he stand like that? Why did he choose these clothes? What did he possibly want to tell us? It’s always great fun when imaginations run wild …
In front of Buckingham Palace, I bring out my cloth crowns so we can get pictures taken wearing them and pretend we are The Queen …
Aaron Hunter: I make my guiding interactive, by getting the children to think about how dinosaurs lived. There is no such thing as a silly question. In the Natural History Museum, I make the children compare their teeth against those of the Dinosaurs to identify the meat-eaters from the vegetarians. I also encourage them to look at the rocks and fossils with a magnifying glass. Explaining how rocks in the deep earth formed Another challenge is to make sure there is also enough in the tour to keep mums and dads happy.
Clarissa Donda: I started using toys to explain easily complex topics.. and became addictive! I started, for example, to use Legos to explain Henry VIII, his (several) wives and the break with the Catholic Church… and then soon I was explaining complex topics such as English Civil War, British Empire, Financial Market, II World War… all of it using Legos and other toys! The amazing thing about children and toys is that playing is basically telling a story, so it is easier for them to understand complex concepts, and even play by them. I also use pictures, iPads, movies, treasure hunt, quizzes, music…
Something fun that happened once: I was explaining how the British Financial Market started while on a tour in the City of London (which, curiously, is my best seller tour for kids!) and the parents were very closely paying attention. Suddenly, the father said: “you see, son, that is what I have always explained you!”, to which the kid answer “nah, you didn’t know it either, dad!”.
What are the biggest differences between guiding for kids and for adults, in your experience? What are the biggest challenges – and rewards?
Julia Huber: The biggest reward? That’s easy! Them saying ‘I had fun’ at the end! And them asking lots of questions during the tour. It’s usually a way of telling that they are having a good time but that doesn’t mean that quieter kids don’t equally enjoy it. Everyone’s different and sometimes I walk away at the end thinking: Hmmm …. not sure. They were so quiet, they didn’t seem overly interested. But then I get lovely feedback from the parents saying the kids have absolutely loved it and are excitedly telling their friends about all the things they have learned. This makes my heart jump with joy.
So the biggest challenge? Absolutely keeping them entertained and wanting more! If there’s a longer stretch to walk, tell a story. If there’s ‘boring’ historical context we usually give in front of a sight, dig deeper and find a story that the child can relate to. Oh and ALWAYS sing the ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ song by the column! You’ll have practically already won them over!
Children want stories they can understand and remember. Not facts and figures. But actually, to be honest the same goes for grown-ups, too, if you ask me.
Aaron Hunter: The greatest challenge is attention span, especially for the younger children, it means you need to flexible with tour or take a snack break. Less is definitely more with the tour. You also need to be flexible with content as one child might want Dinosaurs but the other might have a unicorn obsession so I am prepared to find the horn of the unicorn in the museum at short notice.
Clarissa Donda: What I learned very soon about guiding kids is that you can’t dumb down your content. Is the opposite actually, you have to work harder, to know more and to explain better. Kids are much more curious, interested and engaged than adults, and they won’t be ever embarrassed about asking tough questions – and they always immediately recognise when you are doing your best to answer. So when you are on a tour with kids, you need to put your best out there… and there is something very humbling about it too, because it makes you learn a lot with them and to look at things with their eyes. I always feel that I need to read more, prepare more, and anticipate more questions!
The best reward? Them! I love to receive later messages, drawings and audios from the kids telling what they remembered from the trip. I love when the parents tell me that their kids were re-telling the stories they’ve learned to their little friends at school!
What is your favourite tour for kids – and why?
Julia Huber: I really do love my Kids Activity Tour in Westminster. It’s a lovely stroll from Green Park to Westminster Abbey and the kids get to spot things along the way and answer questions on the questionnaire I hand out. Their answers lead the way so essentially they are in charge of the route ☺
Aaron Hunter: It has to be the Natural History Museum, it’s my second home!
Clarissa Donda: My tour at the City of London and Tower of London. There is just everything that the kids might want in a single story: kings, princes, real castles, mysteries and occasional squirrels. They love it! I love British Museum too – and I work the route considering what they are learning in school and their favourite subjects!
Why do you think it is worth it to do a child-oriented tour on a family trip?
Julia Huber: Naturally a family holiday should be about each and all family members with everyone being able to contribute with ideas and suggestions. Children play an equally important role in this however, as we probably all know, it’s easy to have them overlooked in their interests and needs. I find that more and more families are becoming aware of this and want to become more inclusive. At the end of the day, what good is a tour that only appeals to half the group? So I am trying to get everyone engaged and fascinated and walk away happy with good memories and fun facts.
Aaron Hunter: For me they are some of the best days of work you can have. As it is sometimes easy to please children. The tours are usually relatively short (2 hours) and exhausting and you focus on one site with each visit being a bit different each time. There are times when the questions do not stop coming and it shows the children are engaged, this can be very rewarding especially as they may know more about dinosaurs than I do!
Clarissa Donda: I think we all have such busy lives that holidays in family is an opportunity for parents to reconnect with their little ones, and that includes be part of their world and discover things together. These family memories are something that we take for the rest of our lives and strengthen the bonds between children and adults (I do remember fondly the trips I did with my parents and my grandmother). And when the tour is tailored to them, the truth is that all the family wins. Kids don’t get bored or tired, and parents enjoy time for themselves as well.
If you want to know more the work of these three guides or to get more information about the virtual tour for kids, please contact them below:
Julia Huber is a native Austrian who as a Blue Badge Guide has specialised in family-friendly kids tours in London. She runs public tours in German and is also available for private tours – in German and English. Find out more: londonmitfamilie.com, @londonmitfamilie (Instagram) and @juliacityguide .
Her virtual tours can be found here (in German!)
Dr Aaron Hunter is a scientist with the University of Cambridge and a qualified Blue Badge Tourist Guide for London. He is a Palaeontologist who gained his PhD from the University of London on the Jurassic rocks and fossils of Bath, the Cotswolds and the Jurassic Coast. He very much likes guiding all ages but especially families and specializes in guiding the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, and the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. You can check his virtual tour on the treasuries of Ancient Britain: From Stonehenge to Saxons.
Clarissa Donda is a Brazilian journalist and a Blue Badge Guide in London. She is a fantastic storyteller and since the beginning has been working with educational and fun tours for kids from Brazil, US and India. You can find her tours in the website www.dondeandoporlondres.com.br (for private tours in Portuguese) or for tours in English, contact her directly on Instagram or through the email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her virtual tours for kids include themes from Shakespeare and Elizabethan England to I and II World War.
Featured image: Virtual Tour by Clarissa Donda, picture taken by Sut-Mie Guibert