How to Entertain Kids With the ‘Time Travel Game’

Just be sure to brush up on your history first.

An illustration of 4 soldiers holding the American flag and a girl saying 'Hello!' representing the ...

Got a bevy of rambunctious kids clawing at your ankles? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just zap them back (or forward) in time? That’s what we used to do with my cousin, all thanks to the magic “time machine” in my grandma’s attic, the inspiration for one of the best activities for kids that I play with my little ones.

Full disclosure: the time machine was a giant garment bag with a rusty zipper and peach-colored flowers on the front. Even fuller disclosure: the garment bag wasn’t a time machine. That didn’t stop me and my older cousins from convincing the younger ones that they could step out from between the zipper and instantly be walking among dinosaurs, fighting in the Civil War, or riding a hover board.

The best part? You don’t even need an old lady’s garment bag to play. Just close your eyes, and boot up that imagination.

Prep Time: 0 minutes (maybe one minute, depending on how long it takes you to scan Wikipedia for details about a certain time period)

Entertainment Time: 30 minutes (infinite minutes if you actually invent a time machine that works)Energy Expended by Child: Minimal physical, High mental

What You Need:

  • Some sort of “time machine.” This can be a garment bag, like the one we used, a closet, some random object, or even a simple blindfold. If you can trick out the closet with blinking lights, maybe some safe fog, or other sorts of “high-tech” trinkets and baubles, even better.
  • Cursory knowledge of history. Dinosaurs were most closely related to birds, we won WWII, Jesus came back after a few days)
  • An ability to make believe/suspend disbelief.

How to Play:

Start by telling the kids you have access to a time machine. But, really sell it. REALLY, REALLY sell it. Tell the kids that only a few people in the country know about the time machine, that you’re the only one who knows how it works ⏤ stuff like that. The trick is to get the kids to close their eyes ⏤ or somehow begin the game in total darkness ⏤ so that their imagination can rev up. Take a cue from Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness if you need a little help.

Tell them how the time machine works. First, it’ll make some noises (you, with assorted “Beeps”, “Bleeps,” and “Boops”). Then, it might shake a little bit (you, rustling the garment bag, banging on the closet door, or slowly spinning the kid in a circle while he or she is blindfolded). Then, when the machine stops, the kid will open his or her eyes and magically appear in whatever time period he or she imagined! How do you make it feel that way? Well…

1) Ask questions! (PSST: You don’t even have to know the answers!) Just try to get the kid(s) to describe the environment out loud.

2) Draw! You can either let them draw what they see or ⏤ and this might be more fun ⏤ take the markers and draw what the kids describe to you.

3) Dress up! You don’t need accurate costumes, just items of clothing that can be imagined (described and drawn) as accurate costumes.

4) Learn! If the kid picks a time period, but doesn’t know a ton about it, use your special Time Computer 2000 (aka: smart phone) to look up interesting facts and bits of trivia he or she can take back to the future. (Or the past.)

Wrap Up:

You’ve gotta get back to present day! That means getting back “in” the time machine, and making an even bigger production than when you departed. More beeps. More boops. More flashing lights. And now, more memories of the past (or the future) to talk about with your kids.