Ideas for Pre-Readers, Beginning Readers, and Great Readers!
My children and I have been reading and listening to a lot of secret code and solving mystery things. From Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth and Adventures in Odyssey to the Famous Five. And nothing makes books come more alive than getting to do similar things in your own life. And there’s a sneaky little mom added bonus! It encourages the children to print and then read! What? A fun way to encourage children to read and write??? Yes, friend. I know. It’s so exciting. In fact, in all the codes I’ve made for my going-into-grade-four-reading-hater, he has only once complained that he had to read a spy letter, and has N – E – V – E – R complained about the printing! Here’s the first one I made – I am improving and learning as I go, so don’t judge the whole post based on this first code- they get better!
Look at this code⬆. This was my first secret message, and it is not a great one. Let me talk you through the problems:
- The alphabet isn’t all in one line. This isn’t horrible, but I think it would be helpful to for my son to see it all in a row because it emphasizes letter order, and is less confusing.
- It was so confusing for me to make, I had to try to keep straight whether I should be writing the top or bottom letter – and I totally screwed up. I know my son had a hard time with it, but it was the first one and he was so excited, so he overcame it!
Code 1 for Medium Skilled Readers:
One awesome thing about these codes is that I can give them to the kids while I’m not even home. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not even there when my kids solve these mysteries. So here’s how it goes: I write a letter that leads them to a code that they have to crack in order to find their lunch or snack. I have had appointments since restriction for covid-19 have lightened up. I have been to the hairdresser (hurray!), the dentist and the doctor and, obviously, haven’t been able to bring my children. The wonderful detail of this new situation is that my husband is working from home now, so I can leave the kids at home with him. Of course, he’s still working, so I have to keep them occupied while I leave. This was a conundrum, but now it’s problem solved! I usually give them some work to do, then reward them with a mystery. I leave an envelope somewhere they can find it, or I give it to my husband to give to them at an appropriate time.
So for this one, I had a dentist appointment. My husband gave them this letter when they finished their chores. It led them to the top of the stairs:
(Now, full disclosure, this balloon thing was not my idea. I saw it on Pinterest, but I cannot, for the life of me, find the original pin! If you know where I found it please let me know so I can credit the original poster. Thanks!) Folded up inside the balloon was this child-friendly secret code:
So they all went to my room and found it in the laundry hamper in a lunch bag. This was awesome because I didn’t have to feed them lunch when I got home. It was all done ahead of time.
This code above is much better because the alphabet is all in one row at the side, and it doesn’t have a symbol for every letter. This makes it much easier for children to find the right letter, and it takes much less time to make.
Code 2 for Medium Skilled Readers:
To make this map look like it’s on old paper I put it in the oven, and burned the edges with a map the way I showed you in 3 Ways to Age Paper.
I had another appointment, so I left this with my husband. Lesson learned: when it’s your children’s first map put way more detail so they can figure out what it’s a map of!!! My husband was so frustrated because the kids kept coming in to ask him for help. I thought it was obvious, but I guess between it being their first map, and me not labeling very much they were far more inclined to give up. Anyway…
My husband gave them the letter, which led them to their bathroom where they found the code in the bathroom cupboard (note the different coloured shapes as the code. This worked extremely well). The code led them to the living room where they found the map in the cedar chest. And the map (eventually) led them to three points in the basement where the found cheese strings, applesauce and Oreos.
Code 3 for Medium Skilled Readers:
To make this map look like old parchment I used the coffee technique I showed you in 3 Ways to Age Paper.
I gave the kids an envelope with this puzzle inside. They had a hard time with it until they discovered that the coloured lines connected. I hid the map under the kitchen table. It is a map of our main floor, with 9 Xs. As discussed above, I put way more detail on this map. It was much more enjoyable. At the Xs I hid one cheese string each, one little box of goldfish each and one box of 9 chocolate chips each.
Code for Beginner Readers
Now, this was the most recent code we did, and by this time the little girls (ages 3 and 5) were clambering for their own codes. For a second I was stumped. How on Earth was I supposed to make codes for two little girls who can’t yet read? My oldest is getting pretty good, she knows all the sounds, so if I just used simple words she could figure them out. Her code looked like this:
For her I felt it was important that it were something she could solve on her own. So, I only put the letters that were in the words and I made sure she could read the message. She absolutely loved it.
Code for Non-Readers
My littlest can’t read at all. She knows some letters, but I didn’t really think that would be very helpful in this situation, so I decided to find something in my house that fit these criterium:
- something that would be easy to hide a treat behind it
- something that there weren’t duplicates of, like beds and couches,
- something I could actually draw- to say that I’m not a gifted artist would be a gross understatement!
I decided on the fish tank. Even if I didn’t do a great job, she still couldn’t be too confused about what it could be. Then I cut it into four for her to puzzle together. She absolutely loves puzzles!
After completing the puzzle she decided it could either be inside the fish tank, beside the fish tank or behind the fish tank. After carefully searching the area she found her treat behind the fish tank.
- Kids like to open envelopes. Whenever you can put an introductory note into an envelope DO IT!
- This is a great way to get kids to read and write, but if it’s too long they’ll still get frustrated. The introductory letter is a great way to set the stage, and get them reading!
- Hide things you would give them anyway, such as lunch or snack. You don’t need to always give them special treats, or toys. My kids have never been disappointed by what they’ve found, and it has never been anything super special.
- If you don’t use every letter in the alphabet in your code, don’t feel like you have to include it in your chart, especially for early readers. It can look too daunting if you have the whole alphabet.
- Put the alphabet on one side of the page, top to bottom. Searching through an organized alphabet will help your child learn their alphabet.
- Carefully choose the words in your opening letter and code. Make sure they’re words that aren’t phonetically beyond your child’s grasp.
- Use scrap paper. Every single map, letter and code I have done are on the backs of already used paper. They will just get recycled anyway!
- Put their names on whatever you can. It’s an extra way to help them to become familiar with recognizing their names.
- If you think you’ll do this lots make a cipher and laminate it (or protect it with a page protector or tape) to re-use. This would save a lot of time in the future.
Your Turn to Play!
Would you like to give your kids a shot at Morse Code? Here’s a free printable for you to try it out! This is kind of a long code, so if you think it’s too long feel free to print it, cut it after “shelf” and recycle the rest. But be sure to tell your child that they can’t leave the kitchen, that way they’re not checking all the shelves in the house. You can find a Morse Code cipher to go with this by clicking here. To download the file click below:
The very shocking thing about these codes is how short a time it takes to make them. I can hammer one off in 10-20 minutes. If you have any awesome ideas of where to hide things I’d love to hear them! I hope you enjoyed this awesome way to entertain kids without screens during isolation! What do you like most about this? Do you have any great spy kids books for my family to read? Happy sleuthing!