How to Help Your Kids Make a Top-Secret Time Capsule for Their Future Selves
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Then use the alphabet/number stickers to write Top Secret and Don’t open until (child’s birthdate 10 years from now).
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.
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).
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.
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),
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.