Last Thursday i stumbled across the foundling museum in in Brunswick square, a short walk from my old Uni SOAS (where I had just enjoyed a free curry from the Hare Krishna trailer, delicious). I was getting bored picking up unripe conkers with my son in the park when a sign caught my eye – I thought it said foundling and hedgeling museum which made me think that babies found in hedges are called hedgelings, but it turns out that it didn’t say that at all… I am just stupid and need to get my eyes tested. It rang a faint bell because my great grandfather had been a foundling, a fact which fuelled reams of childhood fantasy about my lost heritage/ exciting gene pool. I remember finding a distinct similarity between my jawline and that of the royal family at one stage. My great-grandfather also had a hook instead of a hand, but that came later, and is another story entirely. His surname was Plast, because he was the last child to be admitted to the ‘P’ wing, or so the story goes.

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This was reason enough to go in and have a look, not least because I needed shelter from the wind. It is a small collection with one floor dedicated to art, and another to the composer Handel. I didn’t stay long in either because my son has a ‘hands -on’ approach to art. The collection that caught my attention was the foundling collection on the ground floor which contained, among other things, a simple glass cabinet displaying small objects. This one was locked so I could spend more time looking at it without fear of Jimmy eating/breaking any of them. They were objects left by the poor mothers who were giving their children up (or trying to, not all babies were accepted) in the hope that one day they would return to find them. They were tokens of love. Those mothers were literally pinning their hopes onto their children. The objects ranged from the ornate and precious, a mother of pearl heart with carved initials, to the desperate – a pot of rouge – to something that looked like a beer label – it read ALE and I don’t know if these were initials or it was simply a bottle label. It was white and smooth, perfect for a child’s hand, so could have been either. Hardly matters I suppose. It was heartbreaking.

I have included some above, the images of the ring, the ale label, the heart and the wooden tray all kindly provided by the museum. The others are my own objects.

These were objects imbued with meaning. They were identity, hope, a plaything, treasure. They were amulets.

That small tray of tokens remained on my mind. It reminded me of the objects I had horded as a child. When I was young I read Jean M Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear (great book, especially the sexy bits, but terrible film – whatever you do do not watch it), and that book introduced me to the idea of amulets and objects as powerful tokens. I began to keep my own small bag of objects, things found and given. I went to find that bag today. In it I found a shiny stone that I found at the bottom of a waterfall, another stone of which I have no memory, an ornate crucifix given to me by my favourite nun teacher from lower school (and I distinctly remember being given one more fancy than the girl beside me, and feeling proud) a small silver pot, tarnished now, a fob watch given to me by a beloved friend and a donii- a clay mother earth figure made and given to me by my first boyfriend. Those objects spanned at least a decade of my life.

These objects were meaningful, and I had almost forgotten them. I kept them to remind myself of things I had learnt…like breadcrumbs into the future. I kept them to mark lessons and events.

In the past year I have stumbled across a two innovative ways of using objects for learning. The British Museum is helping us to explore the history of the word in 100 objects with the BBC allowing us to add our own here . BBC four are also covering it. Think of the things these objects could teach us about ourselves and the world. If you took an object a week and really considered it, you would have in your brain a slideshow of human civilisation in under two years. The current object is an Easter Island head. It was sent to England when the people of Easter Island had tired of the old fella and instead decided to worship a birdman. Seems a shame. Apparently they used to wear hats, these Easter Island statues… or at least, I think I read that once. Don’t quote me.

The other is the use of objects as a basis for Enquiry-based learning in the classroom, something that Learning Futures is exploring with Dr Ruth Deakin Crick from the University of Bristol and Vital Partnerships. The use of an object as a starting point for an enquiry can be meaningful for a young person (or, indeed, any person). Try it. If you were to pick an object that is has most meaning for you what would it be (an object, not a person). Consider it for a while – why did you pick that object? what does it represent to you? Who made it? Where did you get it? What will people make of it in 100 years time, 1000 years? What went before? If you were to design an enquiry project around it what would it be? What about a career? What does that object say about you? The chances are it would be something meaningful to you. This can be a fantastic technique for getting young people engaged with a project of their choosing, or like the foundling tokens above, for introducing an object to get people thinking around a topic. I’m going to the Uni of Bristol tomorrow to learn more, so will keep you posted. Objects can spark projects in history, design, creative writing or film making. Objects have books and films and dissertations hidden inside them. There’s power in objects.

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