Learning Marbling and Empathy at the Foundling Museum

What I love London most for is how it brings out the curious child in me. With the city bustling with museums and galleries, it’s hard not to enter one and get lost in the story it offers. Even without us realising it, Little B and I are turning into museum fanatics. We like hanging out at one. And yes, ‘hanging out’ is just the right word for it. We don’t get serious about it, we just ‘hang out,’ look around, explore and before we know it, we had passed an entire day at a museum.

We have already covered many of the popular museums here and therefore we have started ‘hanging out’ at the not-so-popular ones. We have been to a few of small-sized museums like Museum of London Docklands and Geffrye Museum of the Home and even those amazed us and kept us engaged. They might have less to offer than let’s say the Natural History Museum, and yet their take on history and their way of presenting it is unique in its own way. And obviously because they are centred on their own specific theme, the events and activities they have for the families are unique as well.

We started Little B’s summer vacations this year by visiting a small museum near King’s Cross Station – the Foundling Museum. Foundling Museum organises many events for the families over the holidays and that is why I was interested in visiting it with Little B. Its summer events this year are dedicated to the famed Hetty Feather book and television series. The event from their summer calendar that caught my eye was Miss Smith’s Books because it involved using “traditional bookbinding methods” to create a journal or sketchbook. Sounded interesting, so off we went!

Foundling Museum Event for Families

Foundling Museum is not just a small museum; this one is the smallest museum that we have visited yet in London. From outside, it looked just as big as a big house.

Foundling Museum’s Holiday Event for Families

Miss Smith’s Books activity was all that Little B could ask for. It involved water, colours and getting hands messy and isn’t that perfect for kids! Little B was taught to marble cotton paper and later use it as the cover of an accordion-styled traditional book. The instructor facilitated the event rather well with volunteers helping whenever needed. Resources were plenty for a large group to share around.

Foundling Museum Event for Families

museums in London for families

Little B created some good patterns –

Foundling Museum Event for Families

After the event, we explored the museum and got overwhelmed with what we found.

The Foundling Hospital

Before coming to the museum, we knew that the Foundling Museum commemorates the Foundling Hospital that was located at the same place in 1700s. And we assumed that this Foundling Hospital was, as the name suggests, a hospital. However, we found out that the Foundling Hospital was in fact UK’s first children’s charity and was dedicated to care for babies at risk of abandonment.

Mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds used to come to the Foundling Hospital with the hope that the hospital will accept their baby thus giving their baby a sound place to sleep and feed. If the hospital accepted the baby, the mother had to break off all of her ties with the baby. She was only allowed to leave a token of love for the baby (kind of like a souvenir for the baby to remember her/his mother by). The baby would then be rechristened and send to countryside till she/he turns 6 to live with a foster family. After that, the child will return back to the Foundling Hospital and continue with her/his education and training. After the training, children as young as 9 year old were sent out to work.

museums in London for families

Considering London in 1700s, a place like the Foundling Hospital was a respite for single mothers or unwed mothers who were unable to provide for their babies. But at the same time, the hospital was not a place where children often found love and comfort; it was instead a regime and an institution that was merely preparing them for adulthood. The hospital was not the best place for kids to grow up in, but it was better than growing up on streets.

museums in London for families

Had I known about the history of the museum beforehand, I might not have considered visiting it on the premise that Little B might be too young to appreciate a delicate moment in history like this, where to avoid abandoning babies on the overcrowded streets, parents were abandoning their children at a charity. It is not an easy concept to grasp and I might have felt that Little B wasn’t ready for something like this.

Little B is six and a half years now and I know that her emotional understanding of events is increasing every day. However, what happened at the Foundling Museum surprised me. Little B was able to empathize with the kids at the Foundling Hospital and with the mothers that left them there. Of course, I should appreciate the museum for their descriptive exhibits which picked up little nuances from the history which kids even as little as Little B can well appreciate.

museums in London for families

Picturing Hetty Feather Exhibit

Especially good was the exhibit dedicated to Hetty Feather called Picturing Hetty Feather. It showcased life of a girl inside the Foundling Hospital in around 1800s. The exhibit had meal charts, time table, uniforms, handwritten notes, sleeping beds, crockery and many such items from the hospital which Little B could relate to or compare with her own life. This entire exhibit was presented keeping children in mind and therefore it was easy for Little B to grasp what is going on. The exhibit also had multiple stations encouraging children to draw or write their perspective on the life of a child at Foundling.

museums in London for families

museums in London for families

Foundling Museum Event for Families

Now that Little B loves to read all by herself, her experiences at a place like this are richer than before. There are bits and pieces that she reads and joins together to make her own understanding. After we were back from the museum, Little B told me about something that I had missed there myself. Little B told me that the mothers while giving away their babies at the hospital, were whispering in their babies’ ears – ‘you have my heart, though we must part.’ The voice that Little B used while saying this made me realize that she understood not just the concept behind such a hospital but also the difficult choices mothers in London in 1700s faced.

Foundling Museum Event for Families

Little B was able to put herself in someone else’s shoes, she was able to see a situation from someone else’s perspective, she was able to empathize. Of all the things about Little B that I am proud of, her achieving this developmental milestone is what I am the proudest about.

To learn more about the Foundling Museum and the Foundling Hospital, click here.

The Foundling Museum organizes activities for the families around the year and especially during school break. Check out their upcoming family activities at our events calendar here.

More places to explore London here.

Foundling Museum Event for Families

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