Create a time capsule with your kids for their future selves.

Whether you home-school your kids, or just want to enjoy a meaningful activity with your family, this activity is perfect:

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 activity 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 (birthday) time capsule their future selves will treasure for a lifetime.

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

Your kids will have the opportunity 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. (READ the entire story here).

We filled a metal lunchbox with items popular with kids in the 1970's. 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...

What are Shrinky Dinks?
Shrinky Dinks were invented in 1973.
Watch this short You-Tube video to see Shrinky Dinks
 in action.

Fun farmgirl fact:
According to Wikipedia, Shrinky Dinks were first invented
by two housewives (Betty Morris and Kate Bloomberg) 
from Wisconsin in 1973. Once the women's homemade
kits became popular, the product was licensed and
manufactured by the major toy companies of the time. 

...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 found out they were going to tear down the house, so my sister and I asked if we could go 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 fun and super meaningful activity.

Let's get started!

You will need:
  • A sturdy box for each of your kids (like a shoebox)*
  • 3-5 sheets of white and colored cardstock
  • 3-5 sheets of scrapbook paper
  • 6-8 envelopes in sizes from miniature to letter-size
  • 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 inside and out)
  • Birthday-themed stickers or other decorative decals
  • Small label stickers (to label envelopes)
  • A letter from you to each of your kids (step #1)
  • Memorabilia representing your child's life today (step #5)
* You can find plain shoebox size storage boxes at craft stores.

       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.


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.

Write a letter to your kids' future selves.
iStockphoto / arekmalang

If you limit the letters to one page (or 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 cardstock, scrapbook paper and birthday stickers, decorate the lid of the box. Make it look like a birthday gift. 

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

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

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

#3: Capture snippets of who your kids are right now.

Cut pieces of cardstock 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.

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.

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.

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 in the country right now
  • Colors and styles of clothes that are popular right now
  • Technology being used right now
  • Words used now meaning "cool"--"not cool" (Groovy!)
  • Dreams for the future ("When I grow up, I'll...")
Other non-list prompts...
  • Tell how they got their current nickname
  • Tell about who they most admire right now
  • Describe in 5 words their room, pet, family member, etc.
  • Tell who their best friend is and how they met
  • Offer a piece of wisdom to their future selves
  • Tell about something they got in trouble for recently
  • Tell about something that earned them praise recently
  • Describe what a perfect day would look like

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).

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

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 their own card, instead of
using a store-bought one is another good
way for your kids o 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.).


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.

Place your child's letter in the birthday
card and slip it into the envelope, 
but wait to seal it until later.

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.

You 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. 

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 
  • A current family portrait
  • Photos of your child with friends / family doing fun things
  • Place photos, like of your child's house, room, your car
  • Swatches of wallpaper, fabric and paint from your home
  • 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 favorite snack foods
  • A price list for things like gas, eggs, milk, a burger, candy
  • Lists of favorites, like music, movies, books, foods
  • Front page of today's newspaper
  • A favorite thing, like a small toy, book, piece of jewelry
  • CD, DVD, or Blu-ray (think how fast technology changes!)
  • Letters, postcards, printed emails important to your child
  • Outlines of your child's hands and feet, cut out of paper
  • A self-portrait your child has drawn
  • A stat-sheet of your child's weight, height, age
  • A lock of hair (it'll change a lot 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 further expressions of who they are today.

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.

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 your kids' school or room, activities with family and friends, and important events that took place in the last year. 

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

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

Once everything is labeled, arrange all of the 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 their time capsules. 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?

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 them!

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.

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 metal lunchbox: It didn't hold up nearly as well as it would have indoors).

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! (Read my entire time capsule story here.)

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. 

Joy--Fearless Farm Girl,

"Farm girl: it's a verb, because it's what you do."

Note: I originally wrote this article for My Kids AdventuresIt first published on their website January 6, 2014. Now, it is republished here.

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