6 Exciting Code-Breaking Activities for Kids - Camp K12 Magazine
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6 Exciting Code-Breaking Activities for Kids

Are your kids fascinated by James Bond or Nancy Drew? They will love ciphers and code-breaking! Children love the novelty of communicating in secret; it excites their imaginations and makes them feel intelligent! Code breaking is not just a fun skill to learn – it can easily be made into a play activity – but it’s also great for brain building, because it develops pattern recognition, deductive reasoning and abstract thinking skills. 

What are ciphers?

A great way to get into code breaking is to learn popular ciphers. A cipher is a system by which letters, symbols or numbers are rearranged to encode and decode messages. It is system that is used to rearrange the sequence of letters, symbols or a mixture of alphabetical letters to encrypt a message. Throughout history, opposing armies, spies, diplomats and more have used ciphers to transmit secret messages back and forth. In the present day, ciphers take a more complex form in data encryption, which is used to keep the information on our computers secure.

In this article, we give you 6 different ciphers that you and your kids can learn at home! 

Six historical ciphers

There are many types of ciphers that have been developed through history, and we have picked out six of the most interesting ones for you to explore! Click on a cipher to learn more about it.

1. Scytale Cipher

Scytale is a cipher-transcription technique that was invented and used by the Greeks and Spartans, first mentioned in the 7th Century BC. A long narrow strip of paper is wrapped around a cylindrical object, with the paper covering the entire length of the cylinder without a gap. Once a regular message is written on it and the paper is unwrapped, the message will appear to be garbled. The recipient must use a cylinder of the same diameter as the original cylinder in order to wrap and read the message.

2. Caesar Shift cipher

This cipher is named after the great Roman emperor Julius Caesar and was used by him to send encrypted messages to his troops. It is a substitution cipher, meaning that each letter in a message is replaced by another that is a fixed number of places away from it in the alphabet.

3. Book Cipher

First mentioned in 1526, these developed around 70 years after the first precise way of printing books in the 15th century. Due to their simplicity they were used by people for hundreds of years. With book ciphers, the message was transmitted in groups of three figures, which pointed to a specific word in the book. For this code to work with parties must possess identical copies of the same book. A good idea is to use something such as identical copies of a pocket dictionary.

4. Pigpen cipher

The pigpen cipher is known by many names, and is another ancient substitution cipher- each letter is paired with a geometric symbol. It involves two types of grids, with a letter written in each slot of the grid. To convey a message, you have to substitute the letters for the shape of the grid where they are placed. It is believed to have originated through Hebrew rabbis, and it has been noted that there is evidence suggesting the Knights Templar utilized this cipher during the Christian Crusades.

5. American Sign Language (ASL)

ASL serves as the predominant sign language used by deaf communities in the USA and certain parts of Canada. Originating in the early 19th century at the American School for the Deaf, it is a naturally evolved language that uses both manual and non manual features. Children learning ASL will not only be able to communicate secretly with others through gestures, but are also able to communicate effectively with those who face hearing issues. It’s a great way to teach your kids about the importance of inclusivity. 

6. Morse Code

Morse code converts numbers and letters into a series of dots and dashes. Its earliest version was invented by Samuel Morse in 1837 using electrical impulses and the silence between them, and at the time of its invention it was the fastest long distance form of communication available. Morse code is able to transmit messages in English and many other languages, as the alphabet for most languages can be mapped to its signals and be communicated with it. Each dash has a duration that is three times as long as each dot, and each dot or dash is followed by a period of no signal called a space, which is equal in duration to a dot.

It can be taught for relaying messages to others when there’s an emergency and you don’t want others with you to know what you’re sending. While it takes a bit of time and effort to learn, it is still popular with amateur radio operators around the world, and can be used to communicate through audio tones and even visually through the use of flashing lights. It can also be written.

How to use ciphers?

STEP 1: Go through our list above and pick a cipher that excites your and your kids

STEP 2 : Learn how the cipher works together

STEP 3:  Create a code and ask your child to create one as well

STEP 4:  Using ciphers, solve each other’s codes!

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