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Communicating at Age Level

Planning effective tours for school groups depends on your awareness of the gradual changes in children as they acquire mature observation and language skills. The following are some guidelines gleaned from the research findings and practical experiences of various sources, such as Howard Gardner and Michael Parsons. You should be better able to communicate with young people if you are aware of these basic differences.

4 – 6 year old children:

  • may be described as thoughtful
  • are eager to please and have a sense of responsibility
  • have an increased awareness of the world outside their family circle
  • can tell time, but have no sense of historic time
  • are protective of younger children
  • think of themselves as the center of the universe and find it difficult to understand that other people may have a different point of view
  • enjoy recognizable subject matter
  • express their feelings eagerly and loudly
  • respond in an egocentric and subjective manner, focusing on personal associations
  • can identify colors and shapes
  • have a beginning awareness of the existence of other cultures and people, but do not quite understand what that means in terms of everyday life.

7-8 year old children:

  • are self-reliant, sociable, more outgoing, active, and conscientious
  • are beginning to be concerned for rules and conventions
  • are critical of others
  • cooperate with other children and participate in team sports
  • are confident in their own immediate environment
  • are eager to learn; have a high level of absorption of new information, especially when related to familiar concepts or personal experiences
  • have active imaginations that are greatly influenced by television and film characters and images.

9 – 10 year old children:

  • are becoming more practical and fastidious
  • are more academically focused
  • are generally more self-confident but sometimes shy when they are the center of attention
  • are well mannered, self-controlled, and concerned for proper behavior
  • are likely to be part of a clique, or social group, in school and to depend on peer group approval
  • are able to make fine distinctions, such as between hues and intensities of color
  • are conscious of patterns in nature and landscapes
  • can focus on detail with greater accuracy
  • have increasing attention and interest spans
  • can discover figurative elements in abstract art works.

11 – 12 year old pre-adolescents:

  • are gaining confidence and becoming more aware of the requirements of adult standards in their own work, however are also aware that their own manual skills are often less well developed than their critical capabilities
  • are beginning to make informed and personal judgments
  • have an increasing ability to perceive the world outside their own experiences
  • have the ability to deal with abstraction
  • are becoming more self-conscious and fearful of appearing foolish
  • may be hesitant to volunteer ideas.

12 – 13 year old adolescents:

  • enjoy a sense of fun and laughter, and have acquired a sense of the ridiculous
  • accept information as offered, but also want to know reasons for things
  • like participating in the discovery of new ideas and finding out about other people’s ways of doing things
  • vary enormously in stages of physical, intellectual, and emotional maturity
  • have become very self-conscious
  • include some individuals who tend to be bored easily.

14 – 17 year old adolescents:

  • are very self conscious
  • can be very susceptible to peer group pressure
  • may reject what they do not want to see, feel, or learn about
  • can feel alienated in a gallery environment
  • may participate well in lively discussions when their ideas seem well considered
  • are confident in their self-awareness and have well-developed perceptual skills
  • can formulate complicated abstract ideas and make solidly based judgments and decisions
  • are interested and interesting
  • if engaged and well-mannered, can be toured as though they were adults in most circumstances.

Margaret Love has served as a volunteer guide, or decent, at The Art Gallery of Western Australia, in Perth, Australia, since 1978. This article is excerpted from her honors dissertation, entitled “The Role of the Voluntary Guide in Public Education Programmes.” Other excerpts have been published in The Docent Educator, including “An International Overview of Art Docents,” which appeared in the Spring 1994 issue.

Love, Margaret. “Communicating at Age Level,” The Docent Educator 5.3 (Spring 1996): 5.


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