#TL;DR – combining heritage interpretation and youth work
A youth involved in youth work is defined as the period from 13 to 30 years of age or, better said, programmes
supported by EU youth funds are meant for participants from this age group. My work is focused on this youth
age-group. The history of youth work is very diverse throughout European countries, but the beginnings can be
traced back to 19th century, when the idea of youth as an independent chapter in personal development was
formed. Even with some basic principles in youth work, all youth workers will tell you that youth work is a specific
field, where you learn, adapt, compromise and improvise as you go.
From my involvement in youth work, I have learned the following:
• Make it fun
• Make it fun but still useful
• Make it
• Make it unlike school as
• Give them the unexpected
• Learn from them.
To build youth friendly heritage interpretation I rely on basic principles of heritage interpretation:
• Big picture.
By combining knowledge and skills gained in youth work and heritage interpretation I have developed several
workshops and training programmes for youth and those working with youth.
Combining youth work and heritage interpretation has been on my mind for several years. After participating on
several youth exchanges and trainings for youth workers, I was also invited to mentor a project in our local youth
association regarding the interpretation of local heritage via children’s table games. But what really got my mind
working was one spring day, when I was escorting a Latvian friend through the medieval town Celje and came
across a school group listening to their guide telling them about the history of the noble family which was one of
the most powerful in medieval Europe. ‘Listening to their guide’ is a bit too optimistic to write – half of them were
on their smart phones and other half with the headphones in their ears – the only one listening was the professor.
Knowing the history of this medieval town I got a bit frustrated with the scene. There they have one of the most
tragic forbidden love affairs to interpret, which also had enormous effect on the family, and a group of bored
teenagers. Along with the conviction that teenagers are a very difficult group to work with, because they are not
interested in anything, I decided to combine heritage interpretation and youth work. Part of my findings and the
practical aspect of my work is in this paper.
Youth in youth work is defined as period from 13 to 30 years of age or better said, programmes supported by EU
youth funds are meant for participants from this age group. My work involves a sub-section and slightly extended
group since the main focus of my work and this paper is on teenagers from 12 to 18. The upper age also coincides
with the last year of secondary schools in Slovenia.
Youth work behind heritage interpretation
The history of youth work is very diverse throughout the European countries, but the beginnings can be traced
back to the 19th century, when the idea of youth as an independent chapter in personal development was formed.
Alongside school and family, youth work is one of three places of learning, empowerment and personal development
for young people. Even though youth work operates within different methodologies, addresses different
issues and operates in various contexts, there are some basic principles to it:
• It is part of non-formal learning
• It is voluntary
• It is conducted in youths’ free time
• It is participatory and not a top – down process.
Youth work is a powerful educational tool that provides skills to navigate risks as well as opportunities. Even with
some basic principles in youth work, all youth workers will tell you that youth work is a specific field, where you
learn, adapt, compromise and improvise as you go. (Summarized from EU-CoE youth partnership video What is youth work today?)
Experience with youth work has taught me the following principles:
Make it fun – all activities have to be fun oriented. They have to be well organized, with a good focus and aim, but
they still have to be fun. Boredom is element you want to avoid.
Make it fun but still useful – they want to know why they are doing things, they want to gather useful information.
They do not want to do things just for the sake of doing something.
Make it active – youngsters want to get involved. Even if they seem reserved at the beginning there is always
great success in activities where they participate. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there to break the ice, they
Make it unlike school as possible – from my experiences this is the hardest to achieve. We are so set in the school
system, that breaking from its norms can be huge challenge both for the youth worker and youth.
Give them the unexpected – Surprise them with the activity. Go out of the frames we expect regarding heritage.
Learn from them – make it a two-way process. This activity did not work. Why? Ask – they do not have a lot of say
in their school programme so why not develop your youth programme with their cooperation?
Heritage interpretation behind youth work
I have chosen some basic principles of heritage interpretation as a foreground for combining heritage interpretation
with youth work. Principles are used by many heritage interpretation experts and associations. In their straightforwardness they offer an excellent base to build youth friendly heritage interpretation.
• Provoke – spark attention and interest
• Relate – connect to the everyday life
• Reveal – comprehension, the answer to the challenge
• Big picture – integrity / unity of the message.
• Key note – which constantly appears in different forms.
(Principles are found in Tilden 1977. I also used What is Interpretation? An overview of Interpretive Philosophy and Principles by John A. Veverka
from web page http://www.heritageinterp.com/whatis.htm and extracts of Marjeta Keršič Svetel lectures on Heritage interpretation.)
Taking the situation with the teenager from the start of this paper as an example to find effective ways to make
our interpretation youth friendly, in order to provoke their interest in the heritage, we need to relate the heritage
we interpret with their life and their way of communication. What better way to do it than through the tragic love
story? I do not know many people who do not have a ‘broken heart’ story from their youth. This highly opposed
match would be good way to provoke and relate with this specific target group. It can serve as a key note to interpret
historical facts, political background and other important facts about this noble family, their ties to European
courts and their decline and effect it had on the town and country. The importance of the family is present in their
everyday life. Every time they see the Slovenian flag or give their passport they see their symbol – the three stars
in the Slovenian coat of arms.
Toolkit for combining youth work and heritage interpretation
By combining knowledge and skills gained in youth work and heritage interpretation I have developed several
workshops and training sessions for youth and those working with youth. From these, I present three separate
activities, which can be used in interpreting different aspects of heritage. I suggest tools and plan of activities,
which can be used and implemented in different forms. The duration of activities depends on how much time you
want to allow for preparation and the discussion after the activity.
Activity 1: Personal heritage
As an exercise that stimulates young people to think about personal heritage, how much do they know about their
personal heritage and why it is important to know about personal heritage of others?
There are two ways to go about this exercise, they can use pen and paper, for participants to draw their selfies or
they can take a selfie with the phone and use one of numerous photo editing applications to edit it by answering
questions, relevant to their personal heritage, which you show as an example.
They have approximately five minutes to complete the exercise. After that you can show your selfie with its answered
questions, so you can analyse the answers on your example. It is important not to expose one of the participants
because personal heritage can be very sensitive issue. Still it is great trigger to start discussion about:
• How important it is to know your personal heritage? After they give their answers you can give examples on
how personal heritage can affect your life (positive or negative)
• You can discuss why it is important to know your heritage, so you can be tolerant to others
• How personal heritage affects great art masterpieces. What are the stories behind the authors?
• How personal heritage affects world history. Would the history be different if some important figures from
the past had different personal heritage?
Activity 2: Heritage out of context
This exercise is useful whenever you want to interpret heritage presented out of its context or importance of heritage
Divide participants in small groups (3-5 persons) and give them small heritage object that is taken out of context,
for them to interpret it for you. For example just one statue which is part of larger composition. They have three
minutes to write a story about the heritage object in front of them, using only 140 characters.
After reading out loud the stories, you reveal them artist´s vision and the whole context behind the part of the
heritage they have just interpreted.
• You can use this activity when you want to talk about:
• Importance and meaning of heritage/art interpretation
• Difference between interpretations (artist, curators, visitors)
• Difference between galleries, museums and on-site preservation of heritage
• Whether there is a point in preserving heritage out of its original context.
It is also great exercise to motivate young visitors to listen to your interpretation. By limiting their characters to
140, you introduce them to text editing, which they already know if they use twitter.
Activity 3: Post it, like it, share it; heritage interpretation of intangible heritage
An activity that combines intangible heritage, smart phones and social media is a great way to actively interpret
folk stories, work of art or some other heritage where you can use photos as medium of telling the story.
After dividing participants into groups (between 5 – 8 people), you hand them written instructions. There are two
options. After that, you can go through the instructions with them or leave them to their own devices, and see how
well your instructions are written and get them to practice following written directions.
• Read the story
• Define a member of the group, who will be the photographer and has the possibility of publishing on Facebook,
he/she has to join the Facebook group (name of the group you have created for this activity)
• Make a photo story based on the story in front of you, using five photos/frames to tell a story.
• In the Facebook group (name of the group) is an album with the name of your group, where you can find a
photo of your mandatory prop, which must appear on at least one of the photos.
• At least one photo has to be with all group members on it.
• Add all five photos into the album on Facebook, with the name of your group
• Allow 20 minutes for the task.
When 20 minutes are over you can check what they have done. Participants can hear the folk stories from other
groups and comment on creativity of other participants.
• This exercise is great way to make interpreting heritage fun, but it can also be used when you want to:
• Talk about intangible heritage and problems with its preservation
• Talk about the role of intangible heritage in national heritage
• Discuss folk stories or other heritage
• Discuss what is information and its role in everyday life
• Discuss the difference between communications throughout history. How easy is it nowadays to get information
and how fast does it travel the world?
• Talk about manipulation of the information.
This activity is technically most challenging because you need several participants with smartphones and Wi-Fi
or mobile data connection. By researching different options on how to best post and share pictures from this
exercise I have concluded that the easiest way is to form a private Facebook group, where you admit members and
only they can see the contents of the group. There are several privacy issues that you have to think about before
doing this activity.
Tilden, F. (1977): Interpreting Our Heritage. 3rd edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_dRh3grAik (29. 3. 2016)
http://www.heritageinterp.com/whatis.htm (30. 3. 2016)