We sat down with our Director Inge Laino to talk about our favorite family tour for exploring the city —Paris Discovery Walk.
Your interactive walk is designed for families with children ages 6-12. What do you hope children will learn on this tour?
With our Paris Discovery Walk, we encourage families to discover all the fascinating stories that buildings, monuments and cityscapes have to tell. The idea is to be a keen observer so as not to miss out on those stories. So often, we walk through a city without really seeing it. Our goal with this tour is to sharpen children’s eyes to the world around them. And to have fun while doing so!
Sometimes kids can feel a bit dragged around on vacation. How does this program give them a sense that they are actively “leading” the way?
On Paris Muse family tours, it’s all about the kids! We believe that children learn best when they take an active role, and are given the chance to be in charge for a change. On this tour, kids are equipped with compasses and they solve riddles which help to lead their family to their next stop. We place them at the helm to foster leadership skills. It empowers them and boosts confidence. For once they get to tell the adults where to go next, not the other way around.
Your walk starts at the Place des Vosges in the Marais, and the first activity takes place at the home of French writer Victor Hugo. What role does Hugo play in the program?
Aside from being one of France’s most beloved storytellers, Victor Hugo was also politically engaged and an early advocate of preserving historic monuments. We use Hugo and some of his stories as a common thread that weaves in and out of the tour. We learn about events, such as the July 1830 Revolution that was the backdrop to one his most well-known tales, Les Misérables. We also learn about how Paris has changed over the years—with structures disappearing and evolving. So Hugo’s conviction that historic monuments serve to nurture a collective memory is very relevant to today’s Paris.
Tell us about your favorite stop on Paris Discovery Walk, and what activity you do there.
We stop at one of the most well-preserved 17th-century townhouses in the Marais, the Hôtel de Sully, to admire the mansion in all its Baroque splendor as well as the elegant backyard gardens. It’s an oasis of beauty and peace just a stone’s throw away from the neighborhood’s most bustling street. There, children and their families examine the carved symbols on the building’s facade and decode their meanings. There are figures representing the seasons of the year, for example. It’s always fun to figure out who is who.
One of your goals is to teach children how to read the stories that buildings tell us. Where you can see the story of a historic event like the French Revolution in the Marais?
One of the most fascinating buildings in the Marais is the Hôtel de Sens, which was built for clergy in the 15th century in late Gothic style. During the July Revolution of 1830, the building was used by revolutionaries for shelter from the fighting taking place in the streets all around them. The building was badly damaged, and when it was finally restored, a cannon ball that had been lodged into one of the building’s stones was left in place, along with an inscription of the date, to remind people of those heady days. I must have walked by that building a hundred times before I ever noticed it.
You’ve trained a wonderful team of Paris Muse educators to lead this new walk. What qualities make for an effective family educator?
Our fantastic team of family guides all have two things in common: they have a passion for learning, and take great pleasure in watching other people – especially children – learn, too. Their enthusiasm for history, culture and learning is positively contagious. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun on these tours – the families or our guides!