Kids Touring Kids began five years ago with a phone call from a mother whose son had a strong interest in history and needed to fulfill a community service commitment. Did we have something for him to do?
Shortly after receiving that call I read an article about using teens as volunteers to fill shortages left by women returning to the work place. Realizing that teenagers have few opportunities to be authorities, and that house museum tours can seem deadly to young children, I made the connection and the Kids Touring Kids program was born. Coe Hall is an historic house museum of the Gold Coast era located on the north shore of Long Island, N. Y. We welcome visitors April through mid- October. Trained volunteers guide visitors through the house in groups of ten or less, and in the summer months families with children make up a large percentage of our visitors. My thought was to separate child from guardian, allowing each of them an enjoyable tour with their peers.
In May, we advertise for teenagers, 13 to 16 years old, to apply for the position of teen guide. Each teen is personally interviewed. If accepted into the program, they and a guardian are required to attend a TEEN/PARENT meeting to review program commitments. The teen must be available for two days of training in June and then commit to one afternoon a week for the months of July and August.
Teen guides make themselves available to visiting guests with children ages four years and up during regular weekday visitation. The teens escort children through Coe Hall separately from the adults. The teens conduct their tours by focusing on the interests of their young visitors. Each room has a box with hands-on objects that apply to that specific room. The teens can work with as many or as few objects as they choose, or as the young visitors’ attention allows. When the tour is finished, the children are returned to the adult family member. As you can imagine, we hear glowing reports from people whose children have taken this special tour.
In 1995, fourteen teenagers participated in the Kids Touring Kids program, including the young man who started it all and his younger brother. In addition to this program, the teens also volunteer during other times of the year for special events such as our Winter Festival. At the close of 1995. our teenage volunteers accumulated a total of 430 volunteer hours.
It seems that most programs using teen volunteers recruit in conjunction with local schools. I chose to go against this tide. I wanted to give any teenagers a chance to participate in the program, regardless of school recommendation, providing they met the criteria, attended training, and were available for most of the season.
Often a parent or guardian makes the initial call to my office after the publicity appears in local newspapers. However, if I don’t hear from the teen personally in subsequent phone calls. I know who is truly interested in volunteering and who is not.
Teens learn quickly. They are very eager to get to work once their training is over. The first season was disappointing to us. however, as adults seemed disinclined to let go of their children for forty minutes. Each day the teens and I kept trying to sell the program to the visiting public. We managed to get some publicity in the KIDS section of a major newspaper, but it came too late in the season to be of help. The following year we used that publicity, incorporating it into a flyer that we placed in the visitors center for families to read.
Unfortunately, they didn’t. This past year we wrote an article about the program emphasizing that the teens were trained, sent it to the press early in the season, made up a new flyer, and reeducated all the senior staff about the Kids Touring Kids program. Finally, results’. People came specifically to let their children tour the house with the trained teen guides.
Parents with children four years of age or older are asked at the time of ticket purchase if they would like their children to receive a special tour. The options are explained; if the answer is yes, the visiting children are introduced to the teen volunteer by the receptionist, asked to make a name tag. and then the tour begins.
Usually, the children’s tour starts before the adult’s do. The teen guides are taught how to respond to the children’s interests. Teens are encouraged to let the visiting children look and ask questions about things that get their attention, while educating the children about the house and the family who lived in it. They handle objects such as an old Chinese checker board in the den while considering what forms of entertainment the family might have joined in. or an oyster plate and shell in the dining room while discussing the foods and dining habits of the Coe children as compared to their own.
In addition to performing their regular duties, the teens are invited to participate in our scheduled special events. They might help interpret a room during the Fall Flower Show, or work as an elf helping young children with their holiday cards in Santa’s Photo Den. Sometimes we are short staffed in the museum shop and they are delighted to help. It’s amazing how they can adjust. The teens add another dimension to the volunteer staff and are accepted by the staff, adult volunteers, and the visiting public.
Since the inception of the Kids Towing Kids program, we have had a total of thirty-two teenagers volunteer. Of that total, twenty-two have been female and ten male. Their interests range from horseback riding, to cartoon drawing, to acting. Their other volunteer activities include working as tutors, in soup kitchens, and helping with beach clean-up. Most of them love to read, enjoy history, and want to be helpful to others . . . even those who are most shy.
The Teen Guide Program Review that has been given to each program participant is a valuable evaluative tool for understanding the program better. Is this program worth their time? Is it worthwhile to the visiting child*? Their responses are helpful and honest.
Lest you think our program is all work, it isn’t. Teens and adults socialize with one another. The adult volunteers look forward to having the younger generation on duty and miss them when they’re gone. Watching the generations interact is fun and yet another benefit of this program!
Toward the close of the season, we celebrate the teen’s work with a pizza party. Each participant is given a folder containing a certificate, which serves a small reminder of Coe Hall, and a program evaluation form with a self-addressed return envelope. Following the party, their parents and siblings are invited to tour Coe Hall with them. I wish you could see the enthusiasm and hear the conversations between them while on tour. You can tell how delighted they are to share their new found knowledge about Coe Hall and the family that lived here. It really lets me know we’re on the right track with this program. And. who knows? One of them may turn out to be a future Director of Coe Hall!
Susan Donovan is a former volunteer who serves as the part time Educational Services Coordinator at Coe Hall, where she has been on staff since 1988. In addition to the teen program, she is also responsible far the adult volunteer program, school education programs, and special event staffing. Prior to joining the staff at Coe Hall. Ms. Donovan worked as a children ‘s educator at Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay. and with the Joseph Lloyd Manor House in Huntington.
Donovan, Susan. “Kids Touring Kids,” The Docent Educator 5.4 (Summer 1996): 14-15.