Learn While Creating Family Memories During This Historic Pandemic
Making a time capsule is a fun activity and a great way to preserve memories. When you open it years later, it’s like looking at photo albums, going though old yearbooks, or opening a box of childhood mementos. A time capsule generally centers around a specific event or moment in time. Sometimes these events are simply a birthday or a new year, while others focus on life-changing or history-making events such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Time capsules can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. You may choose to include a lot of different items, or just a few signature things. Your family might want to chronicle just the moment in time they started sheltering at home or choose a timeline that includes before, during, and for a set amount of time afterward. You might want to include photos, drawings, objects, letters, articles, and personal writings and observations, or just a snippet of information. Each person may want to create their own, or you can do one as a family. It’s your capsule — you get to choose!
As the name suggests, a time “capsule” is a container of some type that holds all these memories. That container may be as simple as a cardboard box or a flash drive, it can be sturdy and/or locked, or you can build something from scratch. You can be creative and make it into a spaceship or time machine, decorate it with mementos or seasonal images, or just leave it plain.
Before choosing the receptacle, you should determine what will go inside so you know how big it needs to be, if it requires security to keep important items safe, as well as where it will be kept so you know how what type of material to use (tip: if you bury a cardboard box, there might not be much left when you dig it up). You might choose to scan documents, take photos, and use other digital files and images that may then be store on a flash drive in a safe place within your home.
Time Capsule as a Cross Curricular, Multi-Age Learning Activity
As independent study families, we find the best activities are ones that blend several different school subjects. These are called “cross curricular activities,” and they tend to be more useful as teaching tools because children learn how all the things they are studying actually combine in every-day life. By including art, photography, writing, research, science, math, life sciences, history, social studies, and/or public speaking into the project, you make this an even more meaningful activity. And don’t feel like you have to include every subject. Just do what feels right for your students.
For families, it also helps if a learning activity can be tailored to students of various ages so the entire family is working on the same thing. Time capsules are a perfect example. Some activities may be too difficult for younger children or not possible in your situation, so simply leave them out. Older students may want to do research or really get into a certain aspect — let them!
Natalie Long, a Cleveland graphic designer and mother, created a fun time capsule for her young children that she called “My 2020 COVID-19 Time Capsule.” To help other families, she shared the worksheets on her Facebook page, LONG Creations. The worksheets can also be downloaded here.
While young children might include drawings and toys and need help from parents to record their thoughts and ideas, older students might decide to include:
- Research and reports about what caused the pandemic
- Differences in the people who contracted it and those who haven’t
- Statistics that show how many people have contracted the coronavirus in different areas, age groups, or blood types
- Daily or weekly totals of how many have been affected in a given area
- Writings about how the event is affecting the world today
- Thoughts about what will happen in the future
- Hypotheses about how your lives, community, or world will change as a result
Additional Ideas for Families Schooling at Home
- When possible, include all family members in the decisions about what food to buy (given the scarcity of some items and your financial position) and what meals to make, and have everyone pitch-in and help with the cooking and clean-up.
- Encourage students to share their stories, reports and images with the family orally. This way, students are practicing public speaking, and the family may share their points-of-view and feelings.
Sample List of Things to Include in a Time Capsule
Still not sure where to start? Here are some ideas of items you might include in your COVID-19 time capsule. Remember you don’t need to include all of these, and the ones you include can be as simple or complex as needed for your situation.
- Photos of you/your family doing activities you wouldn’t normally do
- Drawings of what’s going on in the world or at home
- A daily or weekly journal that includes what life was like before, during, and/or after the pandemic
- Interviews with various family members about how this is affecting them (This can be done virtually, so be sure to contact Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Joe, and people you know who live in other places for their input.)
- Things you’re looking forward to doing when life goes back to normal
- Your vision of what life after the pandemic will be like
- What you’re doing to help during the crisis
- How you celebrated special events differently than you usually would due to the shelter-in-place order
- Physical mementos of the time, for example: photos, a plastic glove, a face mask, or a piece of toilet paper or other hard-to-get necessities
- News articles, especially ones that affected your family, like: school closures, social distancing, or how different people are coping with the shelter-in-place order in both positive and negative ways
- Other, similar historic events and how the world was changed by them
Putting Things in Perspective
Today’s events might be stressful for children (and parents!). Try putting it in perspective for them. A brief history lesson can often help. For example, you might want to discuss with your children how similar this is to what happened during World War II when daily necessities were hard to get and people were limited in where they could go and when; the Spanish Flu or the Plague when entire households were quarantined, shops closed, and the government prohibited events and activities from taking place; or natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Although these were all trying times, people survived and life continued.
Example Time Capsules Based on Historic Events
The Original Time Capsule
The term “Time Capsule” was first used by the Westinghouse Corporation during the 1939 World’s Fair held in Queens, New York. The company developed an 800-pound, bullet-shaped container and included items they felt represented America in 1939. They buried the capsule on the fairgrounds for people from the year 6939 (5,000 years in the future) to open. Considering the fact that the world was still experiencing hardships from the Great Depression and the dawning of World War II, can you imagine what types of things they chose to put in their time capsule? The items might surprise you. According to the New York Times, some of the contents of the capsule included:
- A Kodak® camera and microfilm loaded with examples of popular art, literature and culture
- A microfilm player and instructions on how to make one in case the one included no longer works
- A pack of Camel cigarettes
- A toy car
- Tooth powder
- A shingle made with asbestos (which we now know is highly carcinogenic)
- Textiles and materials
- News reel
- Fountain pen
- Alphabet blocks
- Metals and plastics
- An American flag
September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack on America
I remember the day terrorists attacked the United States. I was getting ready for work and had the news on in the background. Suddenly they began showing images of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City. As I watched it burn and wondered what happened, the second plane struck. Then suddenly they switched to the Pentagon, then a field in Pennsylvania. Then back to the Twin Towers as they started to collapse. All I could do was sit on the edge of my bed and say over and over, “oh my gosh… oh my gosh….” My son, who was 12 at the time, came into my room and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t even answer. I couldn’t grasp what was happening. I just sat and hugged him knowing the world would never be the same.
So much has changed since then. In some ways, Americans lost some of their freedoms. When meeting someone at an airport, we used to be able to walk right up to the gate and watch them deplane, but no longer. Now you have to have a plane ticket and identification to enter the terminal. Then, you and your belongings are x-rayed, and in some cases, you must remove your coat, belt, watch and shoes, and maybe even be physically searched. Metal detectors and/or personal items searches are almost everywhere that crowds form: concerts, fairs, events, and public buildings. It has become our new normal — many of our children don’t remember when these things didn’t happen.
In some ways, the world changed for the better. People banned together, supported each other, helped strangers, and looked after each other. They helped and honored the fallen and the first responders. People from across the globe sent aid. Families grew closer. American pride swelled with flags flying everywhere — homes, autos, and even on clothing. Although something terrible happened, it brought the country closer together and made us proud to be Americans.
We were actually ‘homeschooling’ with Horizon Charter Schools at the time, and I wish I had thought about having my family create a time capsule. It would be interesting to open almost 20 years later. If we had done a time capsule around that event, it might have included:
- Photos or drawings of the New York City skyline before and after the attack
- Articles about all the ways people helped each other
- Our thoughts about what happened, how it made us feel, and what we thought the future would bring
- Journal entries for the day of the event and a few weeks afterward
- A list of ways we helped people in need during the crisis
- A toy airplane
- An American Flag
- A replica of the World Trade Center and/or Pentagon
May 18, 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens
I’m originally from Portland, Oregon. I was a teen when Mount St. Helens went from being a beautiful, snowy mountain that I saw every day to an active volcano spewing ash everywhere. The mountain actually started steaming a few months before it erupted. At first everyone was frightened, but as time went on and nothing else happened, we almost forgot there was a volcano in our backyard that could blow at any moment. One man, Henry R. Truman, 83, who owned and operated Mount St. Helens Lodge, refused to leave his home even though the state ordered him to evacuate.
I will never forget the day the mountain finally erupted because it was my sister’s birthday. We were getting ready to leave for her party. I went to turn off the television just as the news broadcasters broke in and announced the volcano was erupting. My sister’s party became a very different event!
This was the largest and most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history. Portland was soon covered in ash, and the ash continued to fall for what seemed like ages. For weeks afterward people were wearing face masks to avoid breathing in the fine ash. Bottled water, face masks, and a lot of staples of everyday living were hard to find in stores (sound familiar?). I had to carefully wash my car every morning to keep the ash from ruining the paint. But most of all, the mountain had gone from a beautiful, round mountain to a very jagged peak.
My time capsule from this event would include:
- News articles about the eruption and its aftermath
- An article about Henry R. Truman
- My journal entries about the days leading up to the eruption, the day of the eruption, and how different life was after the eruption
- Information about volcanic eruptions and the other volcanoes in the Cascade Range (St. Helens is not the only volcano in the range)
- Photos of the mountain before it erupted, it steaming during the months preceding the event, what it looked like the day it blew, and how it looked afterward
- Photos of my car covered in ash and me washing it (I was not happy)
- Photos of people shoveling ash
- A photo of my grandfather with the bottles of ash he collected (he was sure it was going to be worth something one day, so he bottled up a lot of it and gave it to friends and family)
- A face mask
- A container of ash
- A birthday card
The Most Important Parts of a Time Capsule
Please keep in mind this should be a fun activity for the entire family. It’s also a great way to share feelings and to help children work through what is happening. Don’t stress about making sure you include everything. Do the parts that fit your family.
Also, remember to choose a date to open your family’s time capsule. Depending upon the age of your children, you might want to do it on the one-year anniversary of when you started to shelter in place, or wait for five, ten or twenty years to see how much has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More Independent Study Tips from Horizon Charter Schools
If you’re looking for other home study ideas for your children while schools are closed, please visit our Resources for Learning at Home post, which includes activities, virtual field trips, helpful links to online resources, and other tips to help you home teach your children. You may also want to visit Horizon’s News page and select the “Teaching Tips” category. Be sure to check back in the days and weeks to come as we will be adding more activities and ideas.