Children perceive the world differently than we adults do. They have different interests, bring along different prior knowledge, have a different understanding of what is exciting and important, and depending on their age, they also learn differently than we do. That’s why it’s important to prepare information differently for children than for adults.
This is especially important when creating an audio guide for children - a product that must convey a lot of information to children in a short amount of time. The more you take into account the special needs of children, the more they will gain from their visit to the exhibit.
The wish to offer an audio guide for children
The following often happens: a museum already has an audio guide for adults and now wishes to expand its exhibition with a product for children. The existing audio guide has a certain number of stations, usually one station on each theme with a high density of information spread over a few minutes. If you are now going to create an audio guide for children, it is not advisable to simply take the same stations, reduce the information a bit, and have it read by a narrator with a storyteller’s voice. Rather, the audio guide should be rethought from scratch.
Everything starts with the choice of content
Even the selection of topics is crucial. Children are often interested in different things than adults, which means that in the same exhibition, other exhibits may attract their attention much more. Then, once a selection of stations has been made to include in the audio guide, take a close look at each one and ask yourself: what would have interested me most about it as a child?
Even if you select the same station for children and adults, each target group may be interested in completely different information around the same topic. Adults, for example, may be interested in the political context of the time, dates and important personalities, while children may be more fascinated by unusual numbers and sizes and personal fates. They also bring a very different background knowledge than adults. Think about which aspects the children may be familiar with from their own lives and tie in with them.
But be careful: not all children are the same. Preschoolers, for example, have a completely different level of knowledge than 13-year-olds, and their interests and perceptiveness also differ greatly. Therefore, it should be clearly defined which age group is to be addressed by the audio guide. In order to make it available to as many children as possible, it is a good idea to set the target group age between eight and twelve. Once you have decided on an age range, consider whether you know a child of that age and use this as a guide for all the steps that will be taken in the audio guide production.
The framework that holds everything together
Once you have roughly determined the stations and topics, think about a framework for your audio guide. First, you need to determine whether the stations will work independently of each other or whether they will be listened to in a particular order. Then there is the question of whom the children will listen to in the audio guide. It is obvious, for example, to think of one or more characters with some thematic connection to the exhibition. They are introduced to the children at the beginning of the audio guide and then lead them through the museum.
This can take place in the present time in the actual exhibition space or, for example, in the form of a story in which the children are transported to the place and time of the event. The audio tour can also be offered with a riddle that takes the children from one station to another and can only be solved at the end. The possibilities are endless. The main thing is that children are engaged by the audio guide from the very beginning, that their curiosity is aroused and that they feel like touring the exhibition.
When it comes to information density, less is often more
Just as with audio guides for adults, the length of the finished audio stations should be no more than two minutes. This brings with it the challenge of keeping the texts per audio station concise and, at the same time, including all the information that is important to you.
Keep the information to a minimum and present it in a way that is clear and, above all, interesting for the children. Fill in the gaps between the information with something fun, let the characters of your audio guide occasionally fool around and incorporate the information into the story in a playful way. Because merely delivering information over many listening stations, as is often done with adult audio guides, can quickly overwhelm or bore children, so that they may no longer be able to properly assimilate what is being said or even tune out completely.
The texts are made for listening
Once you have roughly planned the audio guide, you can start writing the scripts for the texts that will be voiced later. When writing the texts, keep in mind that they will not be read later, but listened to in the audio guide. Writing for listening differs greatly from writing for reading, because what is heard is more fleeting and therefore must be much more precise than written language. If the listeners are also children, this is especially important.
This means: use simple and descriptive language, with a simple sentence structure and without long nested sentences, formulate actively with many verbs instead of nouns and use repetitions amply. For each point, ask yourself: how would you explain this to someone orally? It is very helpful to speak out loud to yourself and write down what you say. And if you can’t avoid technical words or big numbers, explain them.
The sound recording as the heart of the audio guide for children
Finally comes the most important part of the whole thing: the sound recording. By means of voices, sounds and music, the audio guide for kids comes to life. This is what the children will hear in the end, so you should put extra love into the audio design.
Think of distinctive voices for your characters and find great voice actors to embody them. Also work with professional sound designers who can integrate what is being said into a given situation. Sound design can be minimal - a clatter of hooves here, the chirping of birds there, or the echo of a basement vault - but it’s very important in helping kids immerse themselves in the story. It also makes the audio more interesting. In addition, music can transport listeners back in time or make the works of the featured artists even more tangible.
Basic principles that you should always follow
Ultimately, the design of the audio guide for children depends on the creativity of its creators. But some basic principles should always be respected: take children seriously! You should tell them everything you say and how you say it at eye level and not lecture them from above. Trust children. Do not hide even difficult topics from them, but convey them with due caution. Always begin from the children’s perspective. Think about what questions children would ask, what they already know, and what they might find especially fun or exciting.
The more child-friendly the audio guide is designed and the more they feel included in it, the more they will listen, understand and remember it in the long run.
Lina Krüger from Lautspiel