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WEEKLY ADVENTURES

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WEEK
01
DAY 1

History’s Mysteries

Secret Codes + Languages

Secret codes have been used for centuries to protect some of our world’s greatest mysteries. They’ve signaled for help and kept top-secret information confidential. But did you know that modern-day codebreaking was developed during World War II—and that women and Native Americans were leaders in cracking codes? Today, you'll learn some of their secrets and even try some code-making of your own.

what you’ll need

  • A computer, tablet, or mobile phone and access to the internet

  • Paper
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils

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FOR PARENTS

Ask About Today

Can you tell me about the codebreakers of World War II? What did you learn?

Dinner Discussion

What are some of the unique ways our family communicates, or “codes” we use when we talk to each other?

Skip the Ads

Unfortunately, online videos often start with short advertisements. Remind your campers to click the "Skip" button as soon as they can to move ahead to the video.

explore

30-60 minutes

Before you can become a master of code-making and codebreaking, you’ll need to understand some of the roots of secret codes in our modern times. Start with these short videos to learn about the history of codebreaking.

01

World War II

Tune in for a quick animated history of World War II from Simple History.

WATCH

Remember: Online videos often start with advertisements. (Annoying, we agree!) Click the "Skip" button as soon as you can to move ahead to the video.

02

Hitler’s Enigma Machine

In this Smithsonian video, learn about one of the most complex codes in history, created by Hitler’s Enigma Machine. Find out how it worked and how it was eventually cracked.

03

Code Girls

Meet the “Code Girls,” the women codebreakers of World War II.

04

Disguising Your Identity

Head over to the International Spy Museum and try disguising your identity by changing your walk, your voice, or by blending in with your surroundings.

For younger explorers

A Kid Explains History

Kids are the teachers in this short video about World War II.

create

15-45 minutes

Secret codes, also known as ciphers, have been used for thousands of years. It's time to make your own.

01

Make a Cipher

Julius Caesar, the Roman general and ruler, used a simple substitution cipher. He substituted each letter with the letter three places further along in the alphabet. So “A” was replaced with “D,” “B” was replaced with “E,” and so on. (For example, “HELLO” would be written as “KHOOR.”)

Create a substitution cipher using Caesar’s rules (or your own), then try sending a message to your family. For example, what do you want for dessert tonight? Tell your family using your cipher and see if they can figure it out.

Pro Tip:

Write out all the letters of the alphabet on one line, and then write your substitutions underneath. And remember, you don’t have to use just letters. You can use numbers and symbols, too!

For younger explorers

Code Your Own Message

The Navajo Code Talkers were US Marines who created a code based on their native language to keep military secrets during World War II. The Navajo language was a difficult language to learn, and very few people outside Navajo lands spoke it. The Navajo Code Talkers played a key role in the United States’ victory over Japan. Their code was never broken.

Can you decode the message in the picture above using this code with numbers and letters?

A = 1 B = 2 C = 3 D = 4

E = 5 F = 6 G = 7 H = 8

I = 9 J = 10 K = 11 L = 12

M = 13 N = 14 O = 15 P = 16

Q = 17 R =18 S = 19 T = 20

U = 21 V = 22 W = 23 X = 24

Y = 25 Z = 26

read

15-30 minutes

Learn more about some of the most famous codes—and codemakers—in modern history.

01

Meet the Code Talkers

The Navajo Code Talkers were instrumental in helping the Allied forces win World War II. By using their native language, Navajo, to make coded messages, the Code Talkers were able to send and receive messages the enemy could not break. Explore this Britannica Kids article to learn all about the Navajo Code Talkers.

02

More About Code Talkers

Read on to learn about the key role the Navajo Code Talkers played in World War II history.

03

Popular Codes

What are the most-used codes in history? Read about some of the most popular systems of secret messages.

For younger explorers

The Secret Code Book

Listen to this read-aloud of The Secret Code Book.

play

30 minutes

The world’s best cryptologists probably like to keep their brains sharp by playing word games. Why not try it?

01

Word Scramble

Try your hand at deciphering as many scrambled words as you can. If you’ve got siblings at home, grab some paper, scramble some words of your own, and compete to unscramble each other’s. Who can unscramble the most words?

For younger explorers

Send a Code

Use the code from today's CREATE activity to send your own messages to a family member. Try writing your name, address, or something about your day. Now you’re on your way to becoming a code talker!

move

30-60 minutes

What if you had to make a secret code or language with no letters or numbers...only body movements?

01

Talk Through Dance

Make up a dance to communicate something important to you. Think of each movement as part of a code: For example, clapping your hands might mean you're happy, or a spin might mean confusion or sadness. Bonus points for recording or performing your dance for your family. Can they figure out what you're trying to say?

more to explore

45-60 minutes

Can't get enough codes? Explore some more!

01

Kryptos

Ever heard of Kryptos, the mystery right at the CIA’s own headquarters?

02

Crack the Code Game

Brush up on your code-cracking with this game from National Geographic Kids.

03

Morse Code

Before LOL and IDK, there was Morse code. Morse code is a communication system that represents the alphabet and numbers with a series of dots, dashes, or a combination of both to transmit messages. Ideal for signaling an emergency, it was widely used by navigators and even our military.

Use the Morse code chart below to write a family member a secret message. Place a comma between each code (or letter) and draw a line (_______) or leave a big space to indicate a space between words.

04

Funny Cryptograms

Love puzzle-solving? Try some daily funny cryptograms.

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