T-f-d-s-f-u-d-p-e-f-t!! Many will remember the fun of using secret codes to send messages. Children as young as second grade (or whenever reading and writing skills begin to develop) can enjoy and benefit from this activity. Codes provide practice with spelling skills, reading skills, and phonics as well as logic and reasoning. And perhaps even more important, they add elements of intrigue and fun that may motivate your student to learn and practice vital skills.
The simplest codes are created using substitution: “a” becomes “b”, “b” becomes “c” and so on, as in the phrase above. Another simple code can be created by substituting numbers or symbols for letters. If you have a personal computer, check your available fonts for symbol sets like Wingdings on most PC’s. These will print various symbols instead of letters as you type. These types of codes make it easy to uncover the translation.
Your young child who is learning to read and spell will practice these skills by matching coded symbols, letters or numbers with a key that you provide. Pig-Latin, Op-Talk and other oral codes build understanding of spelling patterns. Sign language finger spelling also encourages children to improve their spelling skills. Your older student will be challenged by trying to decode the message without a key. He or she will have to use knowledge of the English language
(what letters often go together? What suffixes or prefixes might be on the words?) and will learn about letter frequency. Did you know that “e” is the most common letter in English? “S,” “r,” “m,” “t,” and “n” are other very common letters to try. You can add a little zing to messages by writing them in code, and help your child practice many academic skills at the same time.
When your student is older and more experienced, you’ll want to provide a greater challenge. Try a Tic-Tac-Toe code, for example. Build the encryption key by making three tic-tac-toe boards. Number them however you wish (one number for each puzzle board). Now, put the numbers one through nine in the small squares in each board. Put the letters of the alphabet into the squares as well. Now you can assign each letter a puzzle board number and a square number, so if you’ve put everything in sequence, the letter A becomes “11” and D becomes 14. That’s assuming you put the letters A-I in the first grid, working from left to right and top row to bottom. The J would be coded as 21 because it is in the first box of the second grid. You can get creative by mixing up the letters when you put them in boxes, or by labeling the grids differently.
There are some amazingly complex codes in existence, as well. Keys can be made from favorite books, from mathematical sequences or equations and many other things. Your older student may well enjoy a bit of research into how codes are used in espionage and how codes have been used throughout history. Who knows, you just may help your student towards a career in cryptography!
7-9-22-5 9-20 1 20-18-25! 9-20’19 6-21-14!
(translation: Give it a try! It’s fun!)
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a note or leave me a comment with questions or suggestions!