How to Help Your Kids Make a Top-Secret Time Capsule for Their Future Selves

Do your kids ever wonder what they’ll be like when they grow up?

Are they obsessed with time travel (or at least intrigued by the idea)?

Do their jaws drop open when you tell them what life was like when you were a kid?

Until someone invents a time machine that works, today’s adventure is the next-best thing to time travel. But hang onto your seat: This adventure won’t be over until your child has his birthday—10 years from now. (Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait!)

In this article I’ll show you how to help your kids create a top-secret time capsule that their future selves will treasure for a lifetime.

Help your kids create a top-secret time capsule that their future selves will treasure for a lifetime.

Why Make a Time Capsule?

Time capsules are a fantastic way to take a slice of the present and preserve it for the future.

Today’s adventure offers an opportunity for your kids to reach out to their future selves. What might your 10-year-old daughter say to her 20-year-old self? What special memories will that 20-year-old girl uncover when she opens the birthday time capsule from her younger self?

Make a time capsule and find out.

I buried a time capsule once. Have you? When I was 12, my twin sister and I buried one on our farm.

We filled a metal lunchbox with items popular with kids in the 1970s. Things like a bucket of Slime (something from the toy store that looked and felt like snot). A plastic Shrinky Dink I’d colored and baked in the oven. Barbie doll stuff, a painted pet rock, shells from our grandma’s beach. And of course a note.


A Shrinky Dinks commercial from the 70s.

We’d heard that someday the city would expand and our farm would be overrun with streets and houses. We wanted people to know about the girls who had lived there in the past.

Years later, long after Dad sold the farm and we moved away, we heard they were going to tear down the house, so my sister and I asked if we could dig up our time capsule.

We gathered our husbands and all of our kids and trooped off to the old homestead for a real-live treasure hunt.

vintage lunch box

We buried a lunchbox full of 70s treasures and dug it up 34 years later. What will today’s kids include in a time capsule? (photo by Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons)

After 34 years, pulling our treasures from the rusty old lunchbox felt amazing. Each item was a magical key to the past that unlocked forgotten memories—stories we could share with our kids.

Just think how much more powerful our experience might have been if we’d created our time capsule with ourselves in mind as the recipients! That’s what your kids will do in this activity.

It’s both fun and meaningful to make a time capsule.

Let’s get started!

You Will Need

  • A sturdy box for each of your kids (like a shoebox-sized storage box)
  • 3-5 sheets of white and colored cardstock
  • 3-5 sheets of scrapbook paper
  • 6-8 envelopes in sizes from miniature to letter-size (can be made or store-bought)
  • 1 roll of colored duct tape
  • Paper label tags (to tie on and label mementos)
  • Ribbon or string
  • Pen/pencil
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Alphabet and number stickers
  • A blank card with envelope (blank on the outside too, so it can be decorated)
  • Birthday-themed stickers or other decorative decals
  • Small label stickers (to label envelopes)
  • A letter from you to each of your kids (see step #1 below)
  • Memorabilia that represents your child’s life today (see step #5 below)

    supplies collage

    All the supplies you’ll need for this no-mess paper project.

Preparation Time

  • 30 minutes for you to gather up the basic supplies, while your kids gather mementos and memorabilia
  • Additional time: Step #1 will take additional time and should be done ahead—and the dedication before sealing the capsule will take additional time (This can also be a separate event if you want, but it should happen shortly after the capsule is finished.)

Activity Time

About 2 hours

Location

Inside the house

Encourage your kids to take their time. After all, they’re creating a gift for one of the most important people they’ll ever know: themselves.

#1: Write a Secret Letter to Each of Your Kids

Before you start this activity with your kids, take a few minutes to write a short letter to each child. Make the letters meaningful and heartfelt as you tell your grown-up kids in the future what they’re like as children today.

letter to child

Write a letter to your kids’ future selves. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Alicia Tasz, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you limit the letters to one page (or a half page), they won’t seem overwhelming. Just share the highlights.

When you’re done, seal each letter and set them aside. You’ll surprise your kids with them right before they seal their time capsules.

#2: Decorate the Time Capsule

Using colored card stock, scrapbook paper and birthday stickers, decorate the lid of the box. Make it look a birthday gift.

decorate the box

A good way to draw your kids into the project is to have them decorate the box first.

Then use the alphabet/number stickers to write Top Secret and Don’t open until (child’s birthdate 10 years from now).

decorate the box

In 10 years, your kids will be glad they created this box of memories.

While it’s not really necessary to decorate the box, it’s a fun part of the project to do with your kids. Creating a custom box will give the time capsule an air of importance and get kids invested in the project. And since the box will be sitting in your child’s closet for the next 10 years, you may as well make it something nice to look at!

#3: Capture Snippets of Who Your Kids Are Right Now

Cut pieces of card stock or lined index cards to fit into the miniature envelopes.

Using the ideas below, help your kids create lists and other written details that form a snapshot of who they are today.

writing lists

The small size of these cards will keep the writing activities short, while still capturing who your kids are and what’s important to them.

Title each card and slip them inside the envelopes, but wait to seal them. Your children will want to share them in a short dedication ceremony (discussed later).

address label

On the outside of the envelope, affix a label sticker and record the title of the card inside.

Here are some topics to write about on the cards (be sure to title and date each card):

List of favorite

  • Song artists
  • Songs
  • Foods
  • Games
  • Hobbies
  • Toys
  • Books
  • Movies
  • Celebrities
  • Sports teams

Other lists can include

  • Top ten family memories
  • Who your kids’ friends are
  • Wish list (could be anything)
  • Child’s age, weight, height
  • Prices for things like gas and food
  • Top ten song artists (not necessarily your child’s favorites)
  • Colors and styles of clothes that are popular right now
  • Technology being used right now
  • Words used now that mean “cool” or “not cool” (These are always changing!)
  • Dreams for the future (“When I grow up, I’m going to…”)

Other non-list prompts

  • Tell how they got their current nickname
  • Tell about who they most admire right now
  • Describe in 5 words (adjectives) their room, their pet, a sibling (or other family member), their grandmother’s house, etc.
  • Tell who their best friend is and how they met
  • Offer a piece of wisdom to their future self
  • Tell about something they did that got them in trouble recently
  • Tell about something they did that won them praise recently
  • Describe what a perfect day would look like

Encourage your kids to hand-write the cards. The more recording they can do in their own handwriting, the more meaningful this gift will be to their future selves.

The whole idea is for your children’s future selves to encounter their younger selves again. Messy, childish writing is part of that.

When you’re done, place the unsealed envelopes inside the box.

#4: Make a Birthday Card and Write a Letter for the Future

Since the time capsule will be opened on your child’s birthday, 10 years in the future, include a birthday card with this very special present.

Make a blank card from cardstock and use the craft supplies you’ve gathered to help your kids create a handmade birthday card.

making card

Making their own card instead of using a store-bought one is another good way for your kids to express who they are now.

Cut a piece of notebook paper to fit inside the card. This is where your kids can write a letter to their future selves. Here are some ideas of what to write:

Dear future (child’s name),

Happy birthday!

You are now (child’s age in 10 years). I am writing to you when I’m (child’s current age). I… (your kids can describe themselves—not just looks, but what they like, are good at, enjoy doing, etc.). When I think about you in the future, I… (dream of, imagine, want, wonder, hope, etc.).

(Signature)

letter to future selves

Have your kids write a letter to their future selves. Include whatever they think is important to share about their lives today.

Provide a separate piece of paper cut down to fit inside the handmade birthday card to help your child feel “safe” to write a longer letter without fear of messing up the card. (It’s easier to start over on paper than it is on the card.)

Encourage your kids to take their time writing to their future selves, like they might to a best friend. This letter will be very meaningful to them when they open it in the future—if for no other reason than simply learning what was important to the younger versions of themselves.

They should include anything they think is important for their future selves to know about their lives today.

birthday card

Place your child’s letter in the birthday card and seal it up to be opened in 10 years.

When they’re finished with their letter, your kids can decorate the envelope with birthday stickers. Label the envelope like the other smaller ones, but wait to seal it until after the dedication ceremony. Place it in the box.

#5: Gather and Label Memorabilia

Your kids have written down lots of good information about the present to share in the future but it’s also important to include some “stuff” that’s representative of their lives today.

hair hand collage

Kids’ hair can change a lot in 10 years. Including a lock might be fun. Likewise, tracings of their hands and feet will be fun to compare to those of their future selves.

Let your child choose items to include in the time capsule. Make sure everything fits in the box.

Important note: Avoid placing food, batteries or anything with moisture in your time capsule. These will likely ruin the contents over time. However, 2 or 3 small, clean wrappers from your kids’ favorite snack foods might be fun to include.

Ideas for mementos to include:

  • A current portrait of your child (like a school picture)
  • A current family portrait
  • Activity pictures of your child with friends and family, doing the things he or she enjoys right now in life
  • Place pictures, like of your child’s house, school, the car you drive, child’s room, etc.
  • Swatches of wallpaper, fabric and paint chips for textiles in your child’s room and your house
  • A favorite t-shirt, hat or other small piece of clothing
  • A recent piece of artwork by your child
  • A birthday card from your child’s last birthday
  • 3-5 empty clean wrappers from your child’s favorite snack foods
  • A price list for ten things such as gas, eggs, milk, a hamburger, a milkshake, your child’s favorite candy bar, snack foods, etc.
  • Lists of favorites, like favorite music, movies, books, foods, games, etc.
  • Front page of today’s newspaper
  • A favorite thing, like a small toy, book, piece of jewelry
  • CD, DVD, or Blu-ray (think about how fast technology changes!)
  • Letters, postcards, printed emails important to your child, received in the last year
  • Outlines of your child’s hands and feet, cut out of scrapbook paper
  • A self-portrait your child has drawn
  • A stat sheet of your child’s weight, height, age
  • A lock of hair (it will be interesting to see how it changes in 10 years)

Together, record the story behind each piece of memorabilia on label tags.

Your kids may think they’ll remember why they put a memento in their box, but in 10 years, they’ll be glad they wrote it down. Also, what they write and how they write it are yet another expression of who they are today

label all the contents

Label every item included in the box. Tell what it is and why it’s included in the time capsule.

On your tags, include where each item came from, why it’s important, etc. If it’s artwork, tell what the picture is about, when it was drawn, etc.

Attach the label with ribbon or string. Artwork may be rolled and tied to help it fit inside the box.

self portrait

A self-portrait is a wonderful way for your kids to express who they are right now. Artwork can be rolled, labeled, tied and packed into the box.

Be sure to include photographs not only of your kids but also of the commonplace things you see or use every day. Take a picture of your house, your car, your pets. Include a school or family portrait, photos of the kids’ school or room, of activities with family and friends, and of important events that took place in the last year.

label mementoes

Include photos of where you live. It may look a lot different in 10 years.

Make a simple photo album from card stock and be sure to include details about each photo.

Once everything is labeled, arrange all of your memorabilia in the box so it fits nicely. Now it’s time for the dedication ceremony.

#6: Hold a Dedication Ceremony

Invite the family to a small dedication ceremony where the kids present what is included in the time capsule. This can be the same day, or another time soon after your kids finish their time capsules. This doesn’t have to be a huge affair, but try to make it memorable. You might serve some kind of refreshments.

Give your full attention by asking questions like:

  • What made you choose to include this item?
  • What memories do you hope to share with your future self by including this?
  • Which part of making your time capsule did you enjoy the most?

    dedication

    Make the dedication ceremony memorable to your kids by showing interest with engaging questions.

When your kids are finished presenting, congratulate them. Then surprise them with the secret letter you’ve been holding back for each of them.

You might say, “There’s one more thing that has to be included,” and then present the sealed letter(s) they’ll have to wait 10 years to read.

seal envelope

Seal all the envelopes containing your children’s thoughts. They’ll be like tiny gifts to open in 10 years.

At the end of the dedication ceremony, seal all of the envelopes. Attach a small birthday sticker to each seal. Sweet! Each envelope is like a mini-present to open in the future.

seal time capsule

Sealing everything up is an important step. This will help ensure the whole 10 years will pass before the contents of the box are seen again.

Use the colored duct tape to help your kids tape the lids onto their boxes so nothing can get into or out of the time capsule.

#7: Hide the Time Capsule

Hide the time capsule indoors. Burying it outside may sound fun, but it’s much more risky. The location might be forgotten. Or the contents could get ruined (take it from someone who buried her stuff in a metal lunchbox: It didn’t hold up nearly as well as it would have indoors).

finished time capsule

Now it’s time to hide your capsule somewhere indoors.

Inside your house, choose a place where the time capsule will be safe, dry and not forgotten. Perhaps in a plastic tub in the attic, or in a corner of your closet. Record its location and file it away where you keep important documents.

Now, you and your kids can try to forget about it for the next 10 years!

Some Final Thoughts

Making a time capsule is well worth the effort. As my own experience with a childhood time capsule will attest, this adventure is one that really stands the test of time!

I hope you will make a time capsule with your kids and share the joy of making it now and opening it many years from now. You’ll be glad you did.

What do you think? Did you ever do a time capsule yourself? Have you ever wished you did? Now you can help your kids make one. What things will you and your kids include? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or see a picture of your box.

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About the Author, Melody Joy Elick

Melody Joy Elick homeschooled her two sons through 8th grade. She loves to write for middle readers and young adults. Discover her blog, Farm Girl Inspirations at www.joyelick.com. Other posts by »


  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ KJ Ammerman

    Beautifully done, Joy! Perfect activity for a child or tween!

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Melody Joy! No, I never made a time capsule but I did make scrapbooks as a kid, which I enjoy looking back upon. Love your suggestions for using small notes that won’t overwhelm the kids and for including information about everyday common things. My son will be 10 soon and this will be the perfect project to celebrate turning double digits.

  • Melody Joy Elick

    Thanks Kristin :-) Looking forward to hearing how it goes if you give it a try.

  • Melody Joy Elick

    Jennifer, I’m so excited you’re going to do this with your son. I too made scrapbooks, especially in high school. Hope you post back here with the results of your project with your son :-)

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