Harvard Museum of Natural History

Gem and Mineral Collection, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge

Gem and mineral collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Last weekend, I went to see the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s a popular exhibit, back from a lengthy renovation.

Since there is no extra charge for admission to the display, this exhibit is an affordable option for a weekend tour of Cambridge. You can even see it for free! Tickets purchased before noon on Sunday are free for Massachusetts residents, and teachers can get in for free during any open hours if they present a Massachusetts teacher ID.  

Passing Time in Line

When I visited, the line for this exhibit wrapped around the perimeter of the room next door (which houses the entrance to the Earth and Planetary Sciences wing). Glass cases line the wall – each displaying a range of colorful gems and minerals ranging from browns and greys to vivid greens and reds. Near the center of the room, a large glass case holds a gypsum sample the size of a small child.

When I first saw the line, I couldn’t tell if the wait would be long or short, so I took out my phone – determined to pass the time as quickly as possible. 

A small family waited behind me in line. I saw a woman with two children – a girl in her young teens and a boy of about 10. 

“Find me some gypsum.” The boy ducked out of line. A few moments later, he came back. “I found it!”
Harvard Museum of Natural History

“Great!” The woman behind me said, “Oh, what could we look for now?”  

The girl whispered something to the woman and she added, “Find me some pyrite. That one’s really cool. It’s also called ‘Fool’s Gold.’”

“It’s right there.” He pointed to a case nearby.

“That was too easy. Okay, you ready for a tough one?”

He nodded, “Now, find me tourmaline. It’s all red and green and it looks just like a watermelon.”

The boy ducked out of line again and carefully walked around the gallery, looking for the mineral she had suggested. Every so often, he would come back and either ask for more hints or for something new to look for, eager at what he could find.

What’s so brilliant about this treasure hunt is that it could be applied to a variety of other settings–both inside and outside the museum. Change the gemstones to dinosaurs and the game would have continued in the Romer Hall of Vertebrate Paleontology with just as much enthusiasm. I tried to keep to myself, but after we traveled most of the way through the line with my not-so-subtle eavesdropping, I had to admit that I was impressed. I hadn’t really noticed how interesting the minerals were until this family had pointed them out.

I finally turned around: “That is such a cool way to keep your kids engaged.”

The woman smiled. “Well, I do beading, and I just knew of some gemstones I remembered that I like. Seems to keep them busy and . . . well, it’s more interesting than waiting.”

“Way more interesting than waiting,” I agreed. This is how it starts, I thought. This is how you teach children to love science.

Long lines are only a waste of time if you waste time while you are in them. Turn them into a treasure hunt.  You just might find that it becomes the highlight of your trip.

More Information About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard’s Natural History Museum is just a short 10 minute walk through the historic Harvard Yard from the Harvard Square MBTA Red Line T station.

Open daily, 9 am – 5 pm 361 days/year and handicap accessible, the museum costs $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for children ages 3-18.

For more Cambridge museums, click here!

[pw_map address=”26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA”]

– Meredith Bradfield, Content Writer