(Clock) Promote an appreciation of history by collecting historical items into time capsules and unearthing them in the future


This activity involves collecting historical items, putting them in "time capsules", and "unveiling" these capsules at some sort of public forum in a number of months or years into the future. Can be conducted as a class/school project or as part of a community or county event.

Participant Requirements

This intergenerational activity is an inclusive one; participants of all ages, and with varying levels of physical function and moderate-high levels of mental function, are likely to be able to make a contribution to this group activity.


  • Promote an appreciation of history
  • Stimulate intergenerational dialogue focused on societal changes in how people spend their time in leisure, work, etc.

Academic Connections/Life Skills

Social studies, math, historical perspective-taking.


2-5 large garbage containers with lids (to be used as time capsule containers); various assorted objects representing each of the highlighted eras.


Although there are several ways to conduct a time capsule activity, the basic framework involves three steps:

  1. Collecting artifacts: As a school, community, or family project, have participants collect historical artifacts. The number of "time capsules" created should be determined by the group of participants. If possible, create one time capsule for each of several decades -- the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. If this project is part of a school or youth club activity, have the young participants request assistance from their older family members in collecting items from these decades. (So that individuals can later retrieve items of value, keep record of item contributors items.)
  2. Plan the display ­ or "unveiling" event: Agree on a place to store or bury the time capsules, and a date to open them. This can be a matter of weeks, months, or years after the capsules are sealed.
  3. Open the capsules: At some sort of public forum, such as a community festival or an event held to celebrate a day of historical significance, open the capsules. Place the capsule contents in public view and encourage event participants to examine and discuss the items. In planning the event, try to ensure participation from all age groups (this should spice up the dialogue!!) and make sure to invite representatives from the media. With any luck, news of the event will appear in local newspapers, radio or television shows. As the items of each generation are removed, call for participants of each generation to comment on the meaning of the item. If a long period of time has passed, ask youth participants (who are now older) if they have a different understanding of any of the items in any of the capsules.


This activity can also be done as a family event. Just make sure to include items for the capsule(s) that reflect family history and identity. Try to have each family member contribute at least one item for retrieval at a later date. Also include items that reflect life in our contemporary society such as grocery store circulars, automobile brochures, magazine advertisements, candy bar wrappers, and movie listings from the newspaper. Although our day-to-day lives today may not seem so interesting, future generations of children (and any scientists and scholars on hand) are likely to find items that reflect how we live today to be very interesting. Make sure to pack the items in a box and write "Time Capsule" on it, with the note, "Do Not Open Until _______ (the date you have chosen, e.g., 20 years from the date it is sealed). Put it away in the attic or some other safe storage place until this date.

However the "time capsule" activity is organized, it presents tremendous opportunities for intergenerational discussion. In the time capsule activity described in Barbara Friedman's book, "Connecting Generations" (1999), emphasis is placed on facilitating discussion about the vast changes that have taken place in our society in terms of technology, medical advances, and daily living conveniences. Friedman also suggests the exercise of having participants refer to books and use the Internet to identify events, discoveries, or inventions that have occurred since the 1940's.

Kaplan and Hanhardt, 2003

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging