Halloween Mystery Boxes


Sometimes teaching kids about technology happens best in a real-world setting. Halloween provides a great opportunity to help kids understand online identity.

Did you ever play the Halloween game of reaching into a box labeled "Monster Eyeballs?" Did you scream when your fingers touched the cool, slippery orbs inside?

It's time to bring it back!
a great opportunity for helping kids understand online identity
Here's what to do.
Note: An explanation at the end ties this game to online identity.


Find some empty boxes.
Shoe boxes, small shipping boxes, tissue boxes — anything big enough to put a kid's hand into.

1. Each box needs a hole.
The hole should be big enough for a kid to reach into, but small enough to not see inside. You can tape a "curtain" of black felt or fabric over the opening to help hide what's inside. You can also tape a rubber glove to the opening, so they reach in and have a glove-covered hand touching them. 

2. Decorate the boxes.
Turn the outside of the boxes into Halloween decor. Spray paint them black, cover them with Halloween wrapping paper or black construction paper; whatever suits you and the materials you have handy.

3. Plan the contents and signs.
Each box will contain harmless objects, along with a sign on the outside saying what it "is." Things that feel gross or unfamiliar are extra fun. Make the signs ahead of time, and add pictures for extra fun!

Since many of the object ideas are perishable, you'll want to wait to put those in the boxes right before playing the game.

Mystery Box Items:

  • Mummy ears: dried apricots
  • Monster eyeballs: peeled grapes or olives
  • Spider legs: pipe cleaners
  • Brains: steamed cauliflower with a thin layer of oil
  • Guts: cooked spaghetti or canned spinach
  • Heart: a whole peeled canned tomato
  • Scabs: potato chips
  • Liver: canned peaches
  • Fingers: string cheese
  • Maggots: cooked rice
  • Ear wax: peanut butter
  • Fingernails: slivered almonds
  • Dead hand: rubber glove filled with flour or corn starch

Be creative and run wild when filling up the boxes. You can add ketchup, cooking oil, honey, or water to things for maximum grossness. You may wish to put a plastic liner in any boxes that will have wet things, or put them on a plastic tablecloth to manage leaks!


To play

The idea is to guess the actual items inside of the boxes. Make a big deal of reading the signs out loud, and tell a story about how hard it was to collect the contents.

Ask each kid to feel inside the box and write down what they think it is—even if they don't think it is what the label states.

The kid that guesses the most correct items wins!

Teachable Moment

At the end, while revealing what things are and tallying scores, you will have their attention. Especially if you have a prize to award! During that time, you can work this into the conversation:

Talk about how challenging it is to make sense of something when it's clearly labeled; how you read the sign and part of your brain believes the sign and the words on it. You feel inside, and your fingers say, "Well, this could be monster eyeballs, but that seems unlikely!"

Your child will want to see what's inside the box., and use more of their senses to see if the label is true or false. It's almost irresistible to avoid peeking, because the words on the sign aren't enough to know for sure.

Labels can lie. 

Connecting the Dots

The next day, take the opportunity to talk about online identity.

When you meet someone in real life, you have all of your available senses and more context to help you figure out what kind of person they are. When you meet someone online, you only have the label that they gave themselves, and maybe a picture.

But the label and the picture might not be who that person really is. Remind them of the "Monster Eyeballs" label. It could have been actual monster eyeballs, or it could have been peeled grapes.

Grown-ups have been practicing "identifying stuff inside the box" longer and are more likely to be able to tell if it’s monster eyeballs or not. This means that grown-ups can help children navigate online spaces where there may be strangers that claim they are the same age or gender. Grown-ups can help decide if the label matches the truth.  

The Big Picture

When you approach teaching in this way, it helps build kid's digital savvy over time. Use real life moments, tied to virtual skills. Make it as fun and bite-sized as possible (lectures tend to be forgotten!). But monster eyeballs or a similar exercise? There's a much higher chance they'll remember the lesson of online identities when paired with such a fun and memorable real-world activity.