Visiting Cambridge when on a family vacation in Boston is a must-do for most, but in our family the outing had a special meaning. My husband is a Harvard University graduate, as is his father, his sister as well as two of my cousins and my uncle. You bet my daughter has been gifted Harvard onesies then little t-shirts celebrating this prestigious university and its ties to our family. In fact, she even received one from Four Seasons Hotel Boston at check-in!
My husband believes that his Harvard University degree changed his life. Even my 7-year-old daughter was game to take the very short subway ride to Cambridge to check out this place she’d heard so much about.
Depending on how much walking your kids are willing to do, you could spend an entire day in this hipster college town with conveniences like Starbucks, cool pizza joints, retail outlets like the Gap and even the world’s only Curious George Store. However, our half-day Cambridge itinerary included these things to do at Harvard with kids.
1. Visit The COOP in Harvard Square
Exit the Harvard Square MTBA subway station and cross the street to The COOP, Harvard’s book store (though there are locations serving MIT students). A cafe and bathroom are both inside should you need to make an emergency stop. In addition to textbooks, there’s a younger kids’ section, fiction and non-fiction novels and all of the Harvard gear you’d ever need.
We walked across the hall to where my husband used to buy his textbooks. With school out for the summer, it was empty.
2. Harvard Museum of Natural History
The Harvard Museum of Natural History, the public face of the university’s three research museums, deserves a post of its own. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much (insert husband shaking head) but it’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to for children of elementary school age. No joke.
The museum isn’t large but it’s dense with creative, educational exhibits your kids will go crazy for including tons and tons of crazy-looking bugs, fossils, animals, gems and just so much more. Pick up the Look Listen Touch guide when you purchase tickets to help kids experience the museum in a multi-sensory way.
We allowed ourselves an hour—our typical allotment for a small museum—but could have spent double or triple that, easily. Admission also allows entry into the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which would also add on more time. I had to call my husband, who was off exploring his old haunts, to arrange later meeting times.
3. Walk Through Harvard Yard
The somewhat famous John Harvard statue is located in this central green in between dorms and other important buildings. We passed on the obligatory photo next to the statue because there were more people surrounding it and snapping photos than there were during our visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
If heading to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, you can cut through Harvard Yard on your way. It’s the oldest part of the university and now sprinkled with multicolored Luxembourg lawn chairs for all to sit and enjoy Boston sunshine during the fall, spring and summer.
Do you think she’s pondering that it will cost us over $440,000 to send her here? (I figured this out by using ScholarShare’s college calculator.) No, she’s not thinking about her ScholarShare account (I was). Shes waiting for me to hand her a snack bag of Pirate’s Booty. We’ll give her some time.
4. Soak Up the University Vibe
Exit Harvard Yard into The Plaza and you’ll hit the Harvard Museum of Natural History by walking a few more minutes. In The Plaza, students were playing bean bag toss games, life-sized chess, reading books and generally having a good time. It’s here that she started asking more questions about Harvard University—it started to look more and more like a fun place to her. How do you decide where to go? Why are kids here during the summer?
On our way back to Harvard Square, food trucks had arrived in The Plaza. How fun.
5. Eat Well
During a previous Boston trip, I indulged my husband in a nostagia-fueled eating and drinking bonanza. So, this time, he went to the internet to find Mr. Bartley’s, a burger restaurant in Harvard Square, featured on one of his favorite Food TV shows, Diners Drive-ins and Dives. This funky cash-only, alcohol-free joint is a homier and smaller version of Hodad’s in San Diego, with signs marking where famous people have eaten in the restaurant. Speaking of famous people, burger names include The Kim Kardashian, The Justin Bieber, The Fiscal Cliff, The Hashtag and more.
I present my husband’s The Charlie Baker burger with bacon, American Cheese, onions and jalapenos. I highly recommend this place but go early as it gets packed.
Why Tour a University With Young Kids
My ambassadorship with ScholarShare, California’s 529 college savings plan, has reinforced that it’s never too early to start saving for college so, perhaps, it’s never too early to start talking to kids about it, too. My favorite statistic is that kids who know they have a college savings plan are more likely to go to college… and I’ll keep repeating it until I’m blue in the face because it’s such a simple reason to start a college fund, big or small.
Going to a university like Harvard requires hard work and a huge commitment from parents of both time and money. The message we left her with was… study hard and good things will happen. Is it a guarantee? No, but she’s only seven and we can nuance the conversation later. A little motivation doesn’t hurt.
The money saved in her ScholarShare 529 college savings plan is going to pay for the college she chooses—Harvard or otherwise. My alma mater, UC San Diego, isn’t too shabby of a choice either. I’m curious to see where she’ll go.