Spy Code: Beginner Mode

I have a “secret spy code” activity that I do with lots of kids at different times. I love it for lots and lots of reasons: it’s a fun writing and reasoning activity that doesn’t feel like “handwriting practice”. I make the “code” something with lots of foundational pre-writing shapes, so that kids who struggle to form letters correctly can work on the skill that comes *before* learning to form letters correctly. Plus, who doesn’t love to feel like a spy?

For the child that I made this specific iteration of this for, I was worried that too much challenge would be…well…too much. This is a child who feels super threatened super easily by everything that is Much Too Hard about writing. But this child and I have been writing/drawing each other letters back and forth and leaving them in a mailbox for the other…and I thought that giving my super secret spy code a try might be worthwhile. I scaled the difficulty way down. This is an activity that could be done with the whole entire alphabet, and that’s how I usually do it — but here I couldn’t take the chance that that would immediately overwhelm them and turn them off the entire thing.

I picked the simplest message I could think of that would manage to convey encouraging positivity with the fewest possible letters, be readable by someone with fledgling literacy skills, but also still feel like a worthwhile message and an accomplishment. This is what I settled on.

You can see that I made the symbols extremely different from one another, so there would be no ambiguity possible. I also color-coded the spy symbols, just to add one more layer of help decoding just in case they needed it.

And they solved it! And they loved it!

[Image description: A picture of a piece of white paper with a handwritten letter on it. The letter reads, “I made up a secret code…can you find out what it says?

There are 7 blanks, each with a symbol under them. There is a decoder with the same symbols, showing that one symbol correlates with the letter O, one with the letter R, the letter Y, the letter U, the letter C, and the letter K.

At the bottom, it says “Love, Ms. Kelsie. PS: It is OK if somebody helps!”

The child has decoded the message and written in the blanks: “YOU ROCK”, which is what the secret message was. Then I wrote next to that, “You did it!!!” with a heart and a smiley face.

End description.]