Writing in secret codes or ciphers feels dangerous, even rebellious, to kids. As a result, it gets them writing. Even reluctant writers. (Especially if mom and dad don’t know how to break their code. Mahahaha.)
Learning About Secret Codes and Ciphers
1. Introduce ciphers. Have kids make their own reverse alphabet cipher (letters replacing letters) out of recycled cereal boxes and construction paper. A = Z, B = Y, C = X. I used these directions on the Crayola website to make the code breaker.
2. Give kids simple three letter words to decipher. Words like “fun.”
3. Ask kids to write the word “book” in the cipher.
4. Pair up and write each other notes in cipher. (I wrote everyone extra notes about books I thought they would like.)
5. Then, we wrote codes (numbers for letters) and changed partners.
It’s nice to have a copier handy so you can make extra copies of their codes to give to their partners. One parent emailed me the next day and said her two boys spent the entire afternoon and evening writing in code. And still were going strong the next day!
code – for each letter of the alphabet, you substitute a number
decipher – breaking the code back into normal words
encrypt – writing a message in code
cipher / cryptogram– for each letter of the alphabet, you substitute another letter
Motivate with Extensions
Learn Morse Code.
Learn Pig Latin.
Learn about Hieroglyphic Codes.
Learn American Sign Language.
Go to the National Security Agency’s Crypto Kids website.
Buy a wooden decoder from Etsy.
Learn more or solve the brainteasers.
Learn about code breakers throughout history.
Write with invisible ink.
NonFiction Book Recommendations
Can You Crack the Code? by Ella Schwartz
Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Martin Gardner
Spy Science: 40 Secret-Sleuthing, Code-Cracking Spy-Catching Activities for Kids
Fiction Book Recommendations
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Explorer Academy by Trudi Trueit