Visiting the Harvard Museums with Kids: Mummies, Glass Flowers & Totem Poles
Our list of 25 things to do in Harvard Square with kids includes two stops at Harvard University's museums, and with good reason: They encompass loads of fascinating collections! So many in fact, it might be hard to choose which one to hit first. When planning a visit, it's important to keep in mind that the options for exploring these museums are almost endless. If you've only got an hour to burn on a weekday, you can stop by one of the smaller museums, or plan a full weekend day that includes one of the larger museums and a lunch break at a nearby restaurant. You can even make your own museum week by visiting a different one each day.
Please note that while all the Harvard museums are kid-friendly, including whistle-clean bathrooms and elevators that accommodate strollers and wheelchairs, some of the collections might not be as interesting to younger kids as they are to older ones. Also, there is a cafe at the Harvard Art Museums, but not at the others, and food and drink are prohibited in the galleries. Read on to discover which of these museums are the perfect fit for your family!
Harvard Art Museums
The Harvard Art Museums are a delight to young art lovers. Once three separate museums, the recently-completed renovation has resulted in a breathtaking space that charms even the smallest visitors when they enter. Paintings by world-renowned artists are on display, as are beautiful sculptures, artifacts from the ancient world, and a lightbox gallery where kids can locate pieces they recognize from the floors below. Perfect for all ages, this museum takes a good couple of hours to visit. All Massachusetts residents get in free on Saturdays from 10am to noon, and Cambridge residents and youth under 18 are always free.
Galleries at the new Harvard Art Museums, with works from the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum (August 4, 2014). Photo: Peter Vanderwarker.
Harvard Museum of Natural History
The Harvard Museums of Science & Culture are made up of four individual museums that offer oodles of surprises to young visitors. One of the best bets for families with kids of all ages is the Harvard Museum of Natural History. With everything from gigantic skeletons to an enormous amethyst geode to the prized collection of meticulously accurate glass flowers, kids can all find something they love from nature within the exhibit halls. This museum also offers tons of fantastic programming for kids, including classes on drawing insects or prehistoric animals. All Massachusetts residents get in free on Sundays from 9am to noon and Wednesdays from 3pm to 5pm (September to May).
The 42-foot Kronosaurus at Harvard Museum of Natural History is the only mounted full skeleton of this apex predator from the time of the dinosaurs anywhere in the world. Photo by Tony Rinaldo.
Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology
Connected to the Harvard Museum of Natural History is the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology. This museum focuses on cultural artifacts of native peoples, and probably most appealing to kids five and older, but it's still worth a visit with younger kids if you're already next door. From towering totem poles to a Day of the Dead altar, authentic objects give visiting kids a rich picture of world history. All Massachusetts residents get in free on Sundays from 9am to noon and Wednesdays from 3pm to 5pm (September to May).
Penobscot canoe at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (Image used with permission of Harvard Museums of Science & Culture).
Harvard Semitic Museum
The Harvard Semitic Museum had my kids at "mummies". Also most interesting for kids five and older, this museum houses a wealth of artifacts from the Near East. With each floor dedicated to a different region, highlights here include a reproduction of an ancient Israelite house, an impressive sarcophagus, and countless artifacts from Mesopotamia and Cyprus. This museum is always free, but is only open weekdays from 10am to 4pm and Sundays from 1pm to 4pm.
Sarcophagus at Harvard Semitic Museum. Photo by Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.
Collection of Historical and Scientific Instruments
Families with children eight and older are the perfect audience for the Collection of Historical and Scientific Instruments in Harvard's Science Center. To make the most out of this museum, have kids play a guessing game to imagine the purpose of an object before reading about its actual use. Though the space is relatively small, many objects are on display, so it helps to focus on only some of the instruments rather than trying to learn about all of them in a single visit. A temporary exhibit upstairs includes navigational tools as well as a fascinating film. Offering tips people can use to orient themselves outdoors, it captured my whole family's attention! This museum is always free, but is only open weekdays from 11am to 4pm.
Objects at the Collection of Historical and Scientific Instruments (Image used with permission of Harvard Museums of Science & Culture).
The 1,642 pound amethyst geode at Harvard Museum of Natural History (Image used with permission of Harvard Museums of Science & Culture).