Most of it takes place when Marie Antoinette was a young girl of 12 living in the Habsburg and Schonbrunn Palaces with her Mother, Empress Marie Theresa and family. The Royal Diaries is a fantastic series of historical fiction that is full of educational facts presented in a fun way for kids and we have many books in this series. It is geared for 9 to 12 year olds, but I even enjoyed it and learned things!
Reading really pays off when it comes to travel, for kids and adults. After visiting the Abbey by ourselves ( by being the first to arrive) we did a one hour tour again with a guide in English. The Austrian tour guide was absolutely stunned that our 8 year old knew so much about the history of Austria! The tour starts with a picture of Empress Marie Theresa and her husband ( and Marie Antoinette's father) Emperor Frances of Lorraine near the Habsburg crest and the royal wing where this royal family stayed when traveling from Vienna.
Our guide went out of her way to make it interesting for the kids and let them do hands on things like opening an old lock and having them guess and point out where they were in the abbey on a model of it. Mozart had read the book about a month ago, but the facts were presented in such an interesting way, that she still remembered most of it and had lots of great conversations with the tour guide because of it. She was thrilled to see the oldest book in the library that was hand written!
We met another American family on the tour that made it extra fun for Mozart too as it is extremely rare that we run into American kids. They are living in Europe through the father's job in the military and were also big proponents of slow travel and taking advantage of the educational opportunities that come with travel and expat life. Their youngest child was only a few weeks older than Mozart and the next oldest was only a year older, so they became instant friends.
A funny moment came when the guide told us about a reusable coffin that they used in the monastery during hard times. Mozart piped up as only an 8 year old can, " Wow, that must have really stunk!" Everybody laughed, even the tour guide. Smart history, historical fiction and tour guides for kids don't forget to add all the bizarre and human elements of history that appeal to kids.
We parked our RV just steps from the Danube in Melk, in a beautiful, mostly deserted, park-like campsite for over a month to explore this area. ( We had planned a week here). It is a popular biking destination with bike paths and places to park them everywhere, so we used our bikes as our main mode of transportation, including our trips to the Melk Abbey which pleased our Mozart to no end. She especially liked riding at night as a family over a a bridge with ducks below along a well lit large road with the Melk Abbey looking down at us from above.
Here are our top tips for getting the most out of tours and museums with kids. What are yours?
1) Read books on the subject before, during and after
As they get older, there is much one can teach them through photography plus video and using them online.
4) Ask for family tours or kid's tours or pick guides who are good with kids
It makes all the difference in the world if you have a guide who likes and understands how to engage children. It does not necessarily have to be a special one, as we have found both males and females who were great with kids although they were not doing a special family only tour. If you have a choice of a few, pick the one that seems to have the best repor with your child. Children or family focused opportunities can be special.
Inside the museum, you can pick 3 or 5 postcards and make a game of "who can find the post card pictures first". Kids often enjoy audio tapes in museums and sometimes they have them especially made for children ( although we have also used the adult ones for her even when Mozart was 5 at our start).
Use your creativity to find ways to keep them engaged by thinking like a child. Play I spy games. Play compare games. Many museums have special things for kids like scavenger hunts and more. Take part in them and use them to add ideas to other places.
6) Prepare for your visit, build anticipation & take your time once there.
It really helps to plan ahead and include your child in the planning. Look up things online to add to your books. Teachers, homeschool parents, Youtube, travelers, museums and educators of all kinds have lots of fascinating things on the web that can add to your child's "research" about their upcoming travels.
Watch movies that are set in the place or time period. Look for an after school class. Even for 5 year old Mozart, I found a great class for kids that taught French through a class that was based on the Madeline books and the students ( 5 years through 12) wrote and put on a play using what they learned in class.
For little ones, you need to start building a reality that they understand, about what exactly "Paris" ( or where ever your travels take you) is exactly. Books, movies, photos, games help you do this, so when you arrive they get a deeper sense of it and feel their own "anchors" to a place.
Less is more. If you only have a week, it's probably best to just go to one place. Better to know one place more deeply, than to rush here and there, then not be able to remember too much about any of the places. The longer that you can stay in a place, the more your child will feel a part of that place.
Become regulars at your local museums and don't be afraid to spend many days at one place ( we did that with the Melk Abbey and many other places including the Eiffel Tower and Granada's Alhambra). It can be a very different experience seeing them at night or at different times of the day. There are usually parts that you can visit without paying and may add to your ability to get more out of it when you do come back to pay or take a tour.
7) Buy a small souvenir, book and/or postcards
We usually buy something small for Mozart where ever we go. She loves museum shops and souvenir shops, although we primarily browse and just window shop. It is fun to start a collection. Mozart has a collection of tiny pins from many of the places that she has been and really enjoys finding the "right" one.
Perhaps it is a bit of a bribe, but if kids know they will get some kind of treat at the end of a tour day or museum day, they tend to really look forward to these things. Mozart loves tour days!
8) Encourage kids to keep a journal, scrapbook or both
Kid's live in the now, so it helps to do a daily journal while traveling. When traveling make it a habit to always do it daily. Find a time that works for you. We tend to do it after supper and if we miss that slot of time then after breakfast the next day. ( We tend to schedule a relaxing day after a full day of touring).
Even the little ones can draw pictures of what they liked best in their day and encourage older children to do a certain amount of pages and to add drawings.
9) Make fun rituals with pictures or videos
We like to do fun photos with mirrors as we did here, the Dali Museum and other places. We also often do videos of Mozart playing her violin at key spots. Some families always take a certain pose. We also often take along a little bear with us as we tour "for the children" as Mozart says, because we participate in Teddy Bears Around The World, when we have time, with school kids from around the world.
10) Go at a kid's pace not an adult pace and bring healthy snacks and water
Kids do not allow you to focus in a museum or a church at the same pace as one can do as an individual or couple. It can be a lot of fun with kids, but it is just different and it's best to keep moving. Bring a book and something for them to draw with. That can buy you time ( keeping them occupied) while you linger. Even an interested kid will not usually have the same intensity of interest that an adult does and boring them to death will be a good way to ruin museums for them.
With an "only" child we have advantages because we "outnumber" her and can take turns. Still family travel only works when everyone is happy, so it's always best to pace things around the youngest member. Be prepared for breaks and have water and healthy snacks at the ready. ( We usually take apples and almonds or walnuts along with water & talked about cheap healthy food for traveling in Europe earlier).
What are your best tips for doing museum and tours with kids?