Want to get your kids to practice math, handwriting, sounding out words, sleuthing and have fun all at the same time? This secret code activity is for you. I've been wanting to do secret codes with the kids for a while, and since it fit the bill of this week's STEAM POWER theme of "compute," the timing was right.
I set up our secret code activity around superheroes, but you can certainly switch things up to suit your child's interest. Or, better yet, you can simply introduce the idea of secret codes and let them do all the creative work. (My personal favorite.)
The first order of business was to create a simple decoder for the kids to use. As I said, it's good to let your kids make their own, but since I was setting this up for a much needed after school distraction, I prepped the activity ahead of time. (Never fear, my fellow lazy parents, it took much less time than I thought.) I knew I wanted to include a math component for my computing-loving kids, and I had high hopes that a crack the code activity would be a fun handwriting activity for my youngest.
How to make the secret code generator
This secret code formula is a basic one you will no doubt recognize from your own childhood. I got the idea to use a slider from the Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing, a book my son has been enjoying from our list of Spy Books for Kids. It has all sorts of goodies in it for your spy-in-training.
You can probably figure it how to make it by looking at the photo, you are so clever. The key is to make the strip longer than the colored paper and to cut slits that are slightly larger than the strip, so it glides smoothly.
Write the alphabet on the colored paper. I put an alphabet on one side of the strip and a number line on the other, with extra letters and numbers on each end, as shown.
How to use the secret code generator
I probably don't have to explain how to create the codes to you clever, clever people. There are several ways to keep things interesting.
Line up the alphabet to the numbers so that A=1, Z=26, etc. This will help kids practice one to one correspondence. In other words, CAT would be written 3-1-20.
Ever so slightly more challenging code:
Lining up the alphabet to alphabet or alphabet to number line, the slider can be moved back and forth. A new code might be "number line +1" so that A=2 and so forth. So, CAT would be 4-2-21. "Alphabet +1" would be A=B, so CAT is written DBU. You can see how your kids can use this formula to come up with different codes.
Decoding activity for mathematicians:
For my youngest son I kept the codes at the "ever so slightly more challenging" level, but for my older kids, a fun way to have them practice their "power facts" (as they are called at our school) is to add a computing level to the decoding process. So for example, using the A=1 code, I would write the clue for CAT as 1x3 1x1 4x5. You can, of course make these equations simple or complex to suit your child's skill. And perhaps, your child will even write something in code for you to crack!
MORE: Teach your kids how to write in the Pigpen Cipher!
Secret Code Hunt Activity
I made several messages for the kids to decode, but then I hit upon the idea of a scavenger hunt with superheroes.
I created coded messages for the kids: "Find Batman" and "Rescue Green Lantern" and wrote a series of clues, which I then hid around the apartment. The boys decoded each clue, which led them to another coded clue, and so on until they found their action figures.
I was really surprised at how much they adored this activity! My youngest did not even ask me to do the writing for him, which was completely and totally awesome. He also worked hard to sound out words (something he hates). In fact, they begged me to create a new one for the next afternoon. (Which I did, thank you very much.)
So there you have it. A super successful activity that combines math, handwriting, a bit of fun and perhaps a superhero or two. My next challenge is to get the boys to create coded scavenger hunts for each other. We shall see.....