Claire Bown 03:16
Sarah, welcome to The Art engager podcast.
Sarah Ciacci 03:20
Hi. It’s lovely to be here.
Claire Bown 03:22
I’m so delighted you could join me today. So could you tell us to all our lovely listeners where you are right now?
Sarah Ciacci 03:29
Right now I am in London, and it’s gotten pretty cold. And yeah, I’m in my house. Got my coffee. Ready to have a nice chat. Did you get snow? This week, we did get snow. We got a night of snow, which was lovely. And so at 630 I got woken up by my seven year old to build a snowman in the garden. Which I’m glad we did. Because then it didn’t snow and it’s all melted now so we made the most of it.
Claire Bown 03:53
I’m so jealous. It’s a very rare event though, isn’t it in London to get snow?
Sarah Ciacci 03:57
in London is in London, everything shuts down because we’re completely unprepared for it. So it was only short.
Claire Bown 04:05
So I’m glad you’re warm and you’re indoors. So can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how you came to be doing what you’re doing?
Sarah Ciacci 04:13
So yes, I’d love to I am a Blue Badge tourist guide for London. So I’m a professional tour guide. And then I decided to set up a business, which is called Tours for My Kids, which I set up just before the pandemic. And we provide engaging and entertaining tours for families in London and in Rome, because my dad is a tour guide – he’s a Blue Badge tourist guide but then moved to Rome. And so he helps with that side of things. And that’s what I’m.. that’s what I’m doing at the moment.
Claire Bown 04:43
Brilliant and and are there any values or principles that guide your work and passions or enthusiasms?
Sarah Ciacci 04:51
Yes, I think one of the key things was that especially with Tours for My Kids was looking at and children, and how they were kind of regarded within the tourism industry, especially when I first started doing it. And they seem to be sort of tacked on to adults to companies. So they’d have a couple of tours for families or a couple of tours for kids, but they kind of, they didn’t seem to be very thought about particularly. And I had been guiding kids and families for quite a long time. And I thought, I thought they deserve more than that. And I wanted to set something up where I had a group of guides who were regularly guiding children who had an interest in guiding children who wanted to develop their practice with guiding children and make it as engaging and interesting as possible, in a way that they could tick off all of the main tourist sites. But it could also be a sort of enriching experience for the kids and for the family as a whole. So that became my sort of my main intent. And I think it links up with all the guiding that I do of trying to ensure that people there in the in your city often provide short amount of time that they really engage with the city with the places that they visit, that they have a good time while they’re doing it. They don’t get bored, especially kids, and it becomes a really full experience for them.
Claire Bown 06:16
Absolutely. And I invited you on this podcast for many reasons, but one was your work with families and children. Now I’ve done lots of family tours as well. So this is subjects I’m also really passionate about that we offer a similarly engaging experience for families and for children as we might with adults, and we put as much thought into it that it’s age appropriate, and engaging in lots of different ways. So yeah, did you Was there a moment when you decided to specialise and focus on working with families? Or did it evolve quite naturally,
Sarah Ciacci 06:51
it was not where I expected it to be, to be honest. So when I when I started guiding, I was given a whole load of adult tours. And then quite soon after I started, I was given, asked if I could do a tour with younger kids, they were like, seven and eight, I think. And I was absolutely terrified. Because I didn’t know any children. I didn’t know babies, I didn’t know, teenagers. I didn’t know anything about kids. I never came across them. And I was like, What am I going to do? What am I going to talk about, they’re going to be really bored with it. So I met them. And I just decided that I would do a kind of standard, I took about the same kind of stuff as I did on my adult too. But I would, I asked them more questions, we had more of a conversation. And beforehand, I thought about how I could relate the information to things that they might know about. And we have this really nice tour, really nice conversations, and I got good feedback at the end. So I was really buoyed by that. And then they kept on giving me tours for families. And I kept on getting really good feedback for it. And I kind of, I kind of realised that, that you don’t have to dumb things down for children, you can deal with big complex historical stories or issues or anything really, so long as you present it in the right kind of way, that they’re interested in that, that almost if you do dumb down and treat them like their kids, then they react against that. And I’ve noticed that especially now now I have a seven year old, but she she’s strongly asserting her independence and how grown up she is and how important her opinions are. And so to treat children, like their own little independent beings, it’s really important and to value their opinions to listen to their answers to for you to respond to their ideas and kind of shape your tour, according to what information they give you through the tour. I think it’s really…yeah, that’s become sort of how I have my whole ethos behind everything I suppose. And yeah, so I kept on doing these tours for kids, then I have my daughter in 2015, which meant that I couldn’t guide as much as I had done before. And I said I need to find other ways to do things. And that’s when I started thinking about setting up an agency. Back then…I think there are more tour operators now who focus more on children, but then there was very little. And I still think that kind of gimmicky aspect is still quite strong with a lot of kids tours, whereas the core of Tours for My Kids is that it’s going to be, you know, doing the big historic sites, going to the what could be seen as dry museum spaces or dry historical sites, but making them interesting and engaging for all the different ages that are there – for the parents and for the kids.
Claire Bown 09:45
Would you say they’re at heart… they’re learning experiences, they’re educational experiences?
Sarah Ciacci 09:50
The.. Yeah, they are. I suppose so. Yeah, it is about learning about the stuff that’s there, but I think it’s also Just about fostering an idea that these places are for them, and that they are places that they will want to go back to, I think that enjoyment, it’s not about like, they have to pass a test of information at the end of the tour that you’d like rammed a whole load of information into them, that you’ve sort of, that they’ve realised that these places are interesting, they have stuff that that they can, that is relevant to them into their lives today that can influence them later on that, that they’re fun places to go and visit places that they’d like to go back to. And I think something that I’m doing more now is also trying to think about ways to give I think you do it subconsciously anyway, but to give them the tools to, to engage with those places if they don’t have a tour guide. So like looking in art galleries, my backgrounds in art history. So I specialise in art galleries, and museums, as well as with kids, although I do everything, that they can recognise symbols at the end of it, or they can see how an artist has constructed a painting to tell a story so they can read the stories on their own in paintings. And also stuff…I did your first course
Claire Bown 10:55
Sarah Ciacci 11:12
yeah, thank you, thought I was gonna get the letters in the wrong order there. And sort of those kinds of tools of how to look. But also, then it becomes it’s not just about you and their kids, but how, as a family, they can discuss works of art together. So sort of giving all of them tools about how they can enjoy spaces like that, to get there, even if they don’t have a guide with them.
Claire Bown 11:37
And love that love the transfer of skills and teaching people skills on tour as well. I remember when I used to run family tours, and I’d get letters from people I’d taken on tours afterwards, a few months afterwards saying, ‘Oh, we went back to the… we went to this museum, and we used some of the techniques and the tools and the strategies and things that we’ve done with you. And we saw so much more’. And it’s just so wonderful to hear that you’re you’re making people into avid museum goers by giving them these tools. Yeah,
Sarah Ciacci 12:08
Yeah. Really. It’s really lovely. It really rewarding.
Claire Bown 12:11
Yeah. So do you, do you have a feeling for what families actually want from museums and other historic places when they visit? Do they give you feedback? Or how do you sort of get to know what what they’re actually looking for?
Sarah Ciacci 12:28
Well, it’s pretty tough to know in advance, often, you know, parents are busy. And I think they, they often, the key thing, I think, is that they want to see the sights of London. So the big sites, and they also want their kids not to be really bored throughout. I think that’s the sort of, that’s the simple basis. And so I do ask for more information of them and their family and interests and things like that, but often, you don’t get anything. So that’s where my team of guides come in, who are great. We’re all Blue Badge Guides, and they’re all interested in working with kids. And they’re all very flexible. So the key thing is at the beginning, when you meet people, when you meet a group, is that sort of initial conversation, where you sort of gauge who they are what they want, in particular, if there’s anything in particular, they want to see how what their attention spans are like, all of those things, and working with them as you do the tour. I think most of them want to see the, the highlights. So you have to kind of make sure that you tick off the highlights. And that might be lots of highlights, or there might just be a few highlights in a site that you visit. And they want their children to be engaged throughout. So so long as you are engaging them and they’re having fun, and they’re interested in that asking and answering questions, then, generally that that’s that seems to work.
Sarah Ciacci 13:54
It’s not always the case. So sometimes, we’ve had, well we have people who, who want a three hour lecture in a site, which is always difficult and something that I am unable to do anyway with any age, but also certainly not with children. So I had this family for a British museum to with this child who was about 10 or 11 years old. And we got to the British Museum and all of my tours are lots of questions and answers and talking and things. And so I started asking questions, asking what he thought about the building and what kind of building it looked like. And the mum stepped in and she was like, ‘We don’t want you asking any questions’. I was like, Okay. I said, ‘my tours are quite interactive. That’s how I do them. So we can have a conversation’. She was like, ‘no, no, we just want you to tell us information about the building’. And so I said, Okay, so I started again, asked a couple of questions and she was in there again, ‘we don’t want any questions’. I said, alright then fine. So I started telling this poor boy, who I knew would just be bored out of his head after about three minutes. And I started with the information and then slowly the questions started coming back again, and I just carried on with it. Then halfway through the tour, we were up in the Egyptians and me and this kid had had the most amazing conversations, he knew so much, he was so engaged, the parent, the mum, had kind of stepped back a bit. And they …the boy was telling, explaining mummification to me, which he knew all about. And the parents were just looking at him with their mouths open. And then they said, We had no idea that you knew all of this stuff. And it was, it was definitely a moment between them. I was like, separate from it. When I saw that their their, their whole understanding of their child had completely changed. It was really lovely moment and experience. And also a reminder why it’s such a nice such a good technique to have with kids.
Claire Bown 15:54
Absolutely. And piquing their curiosity so that they asked you the questions, getting them involved in that way, but giving them a chance to share their knowledge. And thing that they’re coming with to the museum and things absolutely wonderful. You rang so many bells for me for comments from I’ve had from participants in the past, not just parents, but from other groups as well. ‘We don’t want you to ask questions, we just want you to talk at us’. Do you have any strategies normally for dealing with that kind of situation? How does it normally play out if you meet people at that level?
Sarah Ciacci 16:31
With with some of them, they’re pretty adamant about what they want. And I think I tend to start off giving them what they want, if they’ve been really adamant about it, and then slowly, start with the questions. And then as people warm up, then they can see that it works. It’s really through the demonstration of it if they’re not used to it, but they see that they see why it’s a good technique to have. And also the other thing, because I don’t really have that problem that often. And I think it’s that thing of setting expectations at the beginning. So of immediately starting to ask questions about them. And to get that conversation going right from the word go, I think you said on the course about how if you don’t, if you don’t start doing that, then they immediately go into receiving mode. And it’s very difficult to get them out of it. So I think that we’re taught that as well on the Blue Badge (Guide) course people make up their minds about you in the first 30 seconds or something of meeting you. And so if you start off with a smile and a question, and they’re answering, you know, that’s a good rapport, that you get started straight away. And the questions kind of flow, the discussion or aspect flows quite quite much better. Question to the discussion is the basis of any tour that we do, we do activities and things like that. And some of the tours, like the gallery tours might be more activity based or sketching based, or if that’s what the parents have asked for. And it’s the same thing with that if you start off immediately with something interactive, or some little activity that they have to do, then they know that that’s what what the tour is going to consist of, and it .. the flow goes quite well. If you spring it on them in the middle, then then it’s much more difficult.
Claire Bown 18:12
Absolutely setting the tone and the expectations at the start as well. So we’re talking about quite long tours as well that you do, sometimes three hours or maybe more. So how do you engage your children, your families, for that length of time? What techniques do you use on your tours?
Sarah Ciacci 18:31
So I think it a lot of it is about pace. So a lot of it is about the conversation. But and I love the fact that they are long tours. And I love it when you’ve just spent three hours in the Tower of London or something and kids go to you ‘Oh, that went really quickly’. It’s just lovely. And a lot of it is based on on that conversation. And from the very beginning, finding ways to engage them with what they’re looking at.. what they’re exploring for those three hours, that’s got to happen really early on, they have to want to keep on exploring. So trying to get them to use their imagination, knowing making sure that they know that you want to hear their opinions that you want to hear their thoughts. You want to hear what they’ve noticed all of those things really important. Men, I think a variety, variety is really important. So if you’re in a big site, like the Tower of London, that you have a bit outside and then a bit inside or a certain type of architecture, and then a different kind of architecture if you’re in a museum or gallery, variety of different types of painting, different genres, might be a story painting one time then more of a historical narrative the next time and a sketching stop and then something else. I think having longer stops and shorter stops is good. So you might have in the beginning of a tour where they’re more awake. I definitely prefer morning tours with kids and families because they’re Then hopefully more switched on, you can do some of the big heavy information at the beginning, then have a middle bit where it’s quite quick, or you sit down, and it’s lots of quick stops, or else you sit down and do something quite slow, where they can kind of recharge a bit. And then some longest step towards the end or speed it up towards the end, that pace is really important. Yeah, I think those kinds of things..
Claire Bown 20:29
Yeah I mean, playing with playing with pace, if I can get my words out, it’s such a, it’s an ingenious way of creating more engagement on a tour because I think people get very used to the same rhythm very quickly. So if they used to five minutes at every stop, or 10 minutes, every stop, or they get used to that rhythm. So playing with that, and speeding it up and slowing it down, having moments to pause a little bit longer, having moments to do..see a few things is, is a genius idea, I think for creating that sort of engagement, especially with younger, younger visitors as well. Do you use any other techniques, thinking routines, questioning strategies, any other sort of tools, you have up your sleeve,
Sarah Ciacci 21:14
so not as organised as yours, which I’m going to, I’m going to put into practice much more, but one that I really like that, that you told us about is 10 x 2 or two by 10. And I did, I tried that out in the in Tate Modern with the family that I was taking around. And they, I just got them to sort of pull out one detail each of them that they could see in the painting. And it worked so well. And it was again, that kind of example of changing what you do in front of a painting. So I think the one before we just looked at it and talked about it, and then that one, having the little activity to do, you know, kept them totally focused on it. And that was lovely, because that included everyone in the group, and included the parents in the group, everyone got to notice something. And then we kind of discussed what each of those things could mean. And I’ve used that a few times. Actually, that’s a really nice one to use. Yeah, your thinking routines, I, in terms of the structure, I want to include them more, because I think though, there are some really useful ones. But what you do, which I’ve always done, that you talk about is that thing of looking first of all, I’ve really spending time looking and pulling things out of why I do it, I realise now I do it with art without thinking about it, that that thing of looking and just describing what you see seems like a waste of time when you first start doing it. But then you realise that actually, most people don’t see many things in a painting, there are things that other people pull out for me and paintings that I haven’t noticed before. And it just gets you used to the thing, and then you can start talking about so that’s, I definitely do that. And then I realised that I also do it with buildings, and I hadn’t realised that I’d done it. So the Tower of London whenever first stops is to imagine that they were attacking the castle. So I get them to imagine that they’re knights and I asked them what they’d be wearing, and what would they be sitting on? What do they ride, and then I give them knights names. So I’d ask them what their name is. So you’re Claire. And then I ask them what their favourite animal is. So what’s your favourite animal?
Claire Bown 21:14
I’m gonna go with a cat.
Sarah Ciacci 23:38
Nice. So you can be Lady Claire of the Cat on your horse in your armour about to attack the castle, and then ask them how they attack it. Like how is it defended? What can they see, and we spend quite a long time and they point out all of the details. And then we talk about how easy or difficult it will be to attack. And I hadn’t realised that that is actually a form of slow looking with a building, which is nice and it works.
Claire Bown 24:03
I love that I’m already lady Claire with the Cat gives standing in front of the Tower of London but think how different that is to actually standing in front of the Tower of London and pointing out and then talking about all the various different elements of the the architecture. That’s really involving people directly in the looking and getting them to be curious about what they’re looking at. So again, it’s engagement right from the start,
Sarah Ciacci 24:27
and getting them to use their imagination once the imagination …and what I love about it is that it’s not just the kids, so I name the parents too. And so they’re all sitting there on their horses and that and that their imagination, you know, they’re imagining your knight in shining armour in a castle. So hopefully it all comes to life for them, which is what you want.
Claire Bown 24:48
Absolutely. And I was gonna ask you, that’s a nice segue there. How do you involve the parents because obviously I’ve worked with lots of family groups before, some parents like to be involved. Like to be very hands on, very in charge of the itinerary, some more hands off, how do you get the parents as engaged as the children, because you’re talking about different generations here. So it’s quite quite a skill.
Sarah Ciacci 25:11
Yeah. But it, it depends on the parents very much. I feel very conscious. Having brought up my daughter for the past seven years, that some parents quite enjoy just stepping back and not, you know, kind of letting their eyes wander, looking at other works of art, knowing that their kids are engaged and having a good time. And that’s totally fine. If they want to do that. Obviously, they have to be nearby because they’re the responsible adults, but some of them don’t necessarily want to be wholly fully engaged. But a lot of them do. And I think that thing of asking questions is really important. The same with if you’ve got a mixed group of ages in a group, like knowing their names, and directing questions at specific people, every so often, and being interested in that answers, helps keep those different age groups engaged and involved. And for parents who are interested in engaging, obviously, you’ve got got to be careful, some parents like to answer all the questions. And so again, names are really important there for making sure that the kids get a chance to answer too, but directing questions at parents, I think is, is great. And often you have a really nice dynamic of everyone kind of sharing information or parents like adding bits on that they think is interesting or linking things up to stuff they know that their kids know about that I wouldn’t know that they know about. So I like kind of trying to foster that group discussion. I also.. with that technique of asking questions, it works with all ages, and I became aware of that I can’t remember what year I did it in it was about eight years ago, I think it was something I did a project for. It was a gallery education project for people with dementia, organised by a university, we did it at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. So I was the guide. And we decided that it should be very interactive. So asking lots of questions. And it worked really well with people with dementia, because of the.. many of them had memory issues. But with the painting, all the information, if the questions are based on what they could see in the painting, all the questions, all the answers, were right in front of them. So it worked very well. And we got a lot of discussion going, which was lovely. But as I was asking all of these questions to my group, sort of everyday visitors to the gallery, who were just looking around doing their own thing, started listening in and then started answering the question. So these were all adults. So I realised that it works really well with kids. But adults want to answer questions too. And that whole thing of looking at children, and being interested in their opinions and their, you know, linking stuff up to their interests, making history relevant, engaging their imagination, all of that works equally as well with adults. So as a technique, in fact, my practice of guiding children has changed the way that I now guide adults, so I don’t lecture them anymore. I asked lots of questions. I want their opinions. I want what’s relevant to them what they can link up to. So yeah, it I think it works for all ages as a technique.
Claire Bown 28:18
Absolutely. I think adults want to be as gay as engaged as children are. See why we can’t use some similar techniques. We can scaffold our questions in different ways. We can make them more complex if we need to. But you can see it when people are joining in your tour. And I’ve seen this on trainings I’ve done in museums recently. And they.. can members of the public joining in with the group who are in front of an artwork, having a discussion about it, because it looks fun and engaging and inviting. It looks like something people want to be a part of. So yeah, it’s it’s absolutely wonderful. You engage parents just as much as the children. Well, I wonder,
Sarah Ciacci 28:19
Can I just.. I just thought as well, what what I think parents also find really interesting is, kids ask the best questions like they’re not sort of, they’re not weighed down by years of society, training them to, you know, not ask stupid questions, or worried or insecure about their knowledge or anything they they ask, like, really great questions, which adults don’t ask you, which can be really challenging. And I was thinking about that I did a training session for guides, guiding kids yesterday at the British Museum. And we were talking about what kinds of things can you link up to that are, you know what do kids know about that you can link a historic object to that they will want to talk about and I was thinking about my daughter and the stuff that she is dealing with on her own at school. It’s remarkable, like friendship, jealousy. You know, what’s being honest? What’s being rude? What.. What’s the line between those two things. Just makes you so aware of how, how the complex things that they have to deal with that they’re thinking about on a daily basis. And they pull that all into their sort of observations about artwork. So same with teenagers, they could be stresses and friendship and insecurities and things like that. So you often get these very different conversations when you’ve got kids in a group, different questions, different things that you respond to, which I think the parents also find interesting. It’s yeah, it brings up different things than from adults tours.
Claire Bown 30:33
Definitely so the children can bring in the adults and entice them into the conversation where they’re interesting observations as well. Yeah, absolutely. My final question I was going to ask you was, whether you carry a giant kit bag full of amazing treasures, because I know I used to, I used to have a box in my office, which was full of exciting things that I would take on family tours, and I’d pull out the relevant things for each family group that I was with. So do you have such a kit bag? And how do you use it?
Sarah Ciacci 31:02
so I don’t have a massive one, because we are often walking for many hours and or running between jobs and things like that. And also, if you forget it, I don’t want to have to rely on it. So you know, I don’t want my tour to be not be able to happen because I don’t have my bag of stuff with me. So the basis is always the conversation. I know I can turn up for a tour and give a good engaging tour just with the conversation. But I do have a bag of tricks which I take out with me. Largely it’s my general London one. So I have ..what do I have in it.. I have my I have a postcard of Henry the 8th and his 6 wives because he comes up all the time. I have a picture postcard with the heads of all the kings and queens of England since William the Conqueror, although there’s no King Charles the third on it. So I have to add him in. I have posted.. I have a set of cards of the different kings and queens. I have maps of old London. And I think that’s quite cool to see how recently I’ve got one from the 1500s were London’s absolutely miniscule, and just how it’s changed. The fact that their hotel was in a field 500 years ago, is quite cool for them to see. I have a poem which I give them of all the kings and queens of England, it starts off Willie, Willie, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, John, Harry three, they quite like that. And then for sites, I have various things that I will pull out in sight. So for the Tower of London, I have a…my coronation kit. So I like to dress if they want to dress kids up, like pretend I’m crowning them. So I have a cookie cutter for a crown. And I have a pen for a sceptre and an orb and a cape. Well, the whole world’s watching you. So that works at the British Museum, I’ve got papyrus so they can touch it. And always paper and pencils so they can sketch which is something I’m doing more as well. And the sketching is really nice because it gives them a little memento. It gives them downtime if you need it, but also a memento of the tour if they need it too.
Claire Bown 33:35
Absolutely, you can go a long way with a notebook and or a piece of paper and a pencil. Even when I was taking my my kids when they were smaller to museums, and zoos and historic houses and all sorts of places, we always took a notebook and a pencil because they could just write down things that they saw that they liked or draw pictures or it was always something to keep our hands occupied. Yeah, things to do. So you can use a notebook and in many ways, I love hearing about all your treasures that you take with you. And I do love the idea of the flag and the orb and the sceptre as well. Lovely images from that. So we need to wrap up, but how can listeners find out more about you? How can they reach out to you?
Sarah Ciacci 34:17
So I have a website, which is www.toursformykids.com and I’m on Instagram on social media, all of them but Instagram I use the most so that’s @toursformykids.
Claire Bown 34:30
Brilliant. I will. Yeah, I will link to all of those in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on today. We could just hours about so much fun. So many memories. Thanks again. And yeah, thank you to you soon. Bye bye. Okay.
Claire Bown 34:47
So a huge thank you to Sarah for being on the podcast today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our chat. You can go to the show notes to find out more about Sarah’s work and Tours for My Kids. Before you go, if you want to get more slow looking into your life and make it a regular practice, do join us in the slow looking club. We have regular themes and regular get togethers. I’ve put a link in the show notes so you can come and join us. That’s it for this week. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time. Bye. Thank you for listening to the art engager podcast with me Claire Bown. You can find more art engagement resources by visiting my website, thinking museum.com. And you can also find me on Instagram at thinking Museum, where I regularly share tips and tools on how to bring art to life and engage your audience. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please SHARE with others and subscribe to the show on your podcast player of choice. Thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you next time