When I was growing up I always knew I would go to college, though I don’t remember setting foot on any campus until I was a teenager. To my mind, nothing could have been more natural.
Now I know better. Many perfectly capable adults don’t get a college education even though they could find a way to pay for it. I think one reason is that college just isn’t part of their experience while they’re young. But when young people don’t seriously think about colleges until they are in high school, they are missing a great opportunity. So are their parents.
I’m going to see that my granddaughter, now 6, doesn’t miss that opportunity. Over the next 10 or so years I’ll make sure she gets ample exposure to campuses. By the time she is done with high school, she’ll feel at home on a campus filled with young people having fun while they follow a huge variety of interesting pursuits. Whenever I have her for an excursion, I’ll try to find a nearby campus with something interesting going on. I’m pretty sure we’ll find much more than just classrooms and laboratories.
When I began thinking about this, I worried that after the museums and libraries, my granddaughter and I might get bored. So I spent a couple hours of easy “research” using Google and Bing. Totally at random, I chose seven colleges and universities. For each, I typed the name of the college and the word “events.” That was all it took to unlock a world of interesting things going on.
At one university, in addition to basketball, volleyball, football and a swimming/diving meet, I found an art exhibition with works by Picasso, Chagall and others and a Rick Steves travel lecture. At another I found a violin recital, a wind symphony concert, an all-day campus game called “humans vs. zombies,” a tamale feed, final exams (fortunately I can skip them), and a bring-your-own-computer-games party.
A state university’s scheduled events offered domestic and international film festivals, family language classes, a career fair, a Native American crafts show, fiction readings, and a dance marathon. Elsewhere I found a lecture in a planetarium, a symphony orchestra concert with the university’s children’s choir, an improvised play delivered in the style of Shakespeare, and an opera version of The Grapes of Wrath.
At a university in Tacoma I found an evening of (I am not making this up) kayaking in the university swimming pool. A small liberal arts college in Boston offered a multimedia fairy tale about a janitor, apparently inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story.
If I could find all this at just seven institutions, imagine what else is out there. And don’t forget community colleges, which offer all the same types of things, usually on a smaller scale.
Any parent can follow my simple plan. When the family travels to a new city, get in the habit of checking out colleges as naturally as movie theaters and sports parks. Older children can do the finding on their laptops and smartphones.
I know I have merely scratched the surface of campus activities, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper with my granddaughter. Over the next 10 years or so, I think this cultural smorgasbord will be as good for me as for her.