Much has been written about the purposes of interpretation. Here are some of the more commonly agreed upon goals as expressed by interpreters. You will see that they are quite similar to the goals of the visitors: (1) To help park visitors understand that the place they’re visiting is related to the place they call home. (2) To help visitors understand the interrelationships among as many aspects of what is being observed as possible. (3) To help visitors have an inspirational, relaxing, good time. (4) To arouse curiosity and sometimes satisfy it. (5) To conserve park resources through an understanding and consequent appreciation of them. (6) To provide visitors with an escape from the pressures which assault them. (7) To show the relationship of what is being observed (experienced) to the lives of the observers. (8) To give the kind of interpretation which will encourage visitors to figure some things out for themselves. (9) To give accurate, interesting information which forms the foundation for an interpretation of data.
We now have goals for interpretation from two points of view – the interpreter and the visitor – and we also know something about how visitors learn. When these elements are put together, we find certain items referred to several times. They are Primary Elements of Interpretation.
They are the following:
Did you note how often the park visitor was involved in the examples of interpretation? Visitors were panning for gold, making relevant connections between past and present, doing role playing, becoming part of an historic scene, using atlatls to throw spears, singing at campfire programs, making “SAVE ENERGY” buttons, asking questions.
Involving the visitor in interpretation is vital and can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Here are some suggestions:
What To Do First When you arrive at the place where the activity you’re conducting
is to take place, begin getting acquainted with your group. You find out who they are, why they’re there, what special interests or backgrounds they may have that are relevant to that which is being interpreted. You establish a rapport that will encourage more intimate give-and-take. You let the visitors know who you are, what your special contributions can be. You establish the mood, the framework within which the interpretation will take place. In any interpretive situation, what is first communicated is absolutely vital to that which follows.
Making Use of Visitors’ Knowledge and Interests If, at the beginning of your activity, you find out what the interests of your group are, what kind of work they do, you can incorporate this information into your presentation. A pharmacist, for example, could probably comment on the use of plants in medicine, someone interested in history could perhaps tell how earlier peoples were more dependent on plants for medicines, an engineer could comment on the structure of an historic building. As you proceed with the activity, you could ask mothers how they think particular living conditions would have affected the way they dressed their children, cooked their meals, did their shopping. (The assumption is that the role of “mother” was more clearly defined in times past.)
Use of Questions Questioning can encourage involvement and is accomplished in three primary ways: (1) by asking questions, (2) by encouraging visitors to ask questions, and (3) by your manner in replying to questions which are asked.