15 Interesting Ciphers And Codes For Kids To Learn

Interesting Ciphers And Codes For Kids To Learn

Image: Shutterstock


Children love speaking in codes — it makes them feel clever. They use codes when they want to communicate something secret. In general, they love anything that requires breaking codes and solving puzzles. It gives their brains a good workout and boosts their confidence as well.

Using secret codes helps children develop communication skills and social and abstract thinking skills. These skills are crucial for their cognitive and emotional development and will prove helpful in all stages of your child’s life.

We bring you a comprehensive list of the best secret codes for kids. But before we get to the list, let us understand the history of cryptography.

History Of Cryptography

Cryptography is the science of keeping information secret and safe by transforming it into a form that only the sender and intended recipient can understand. The earliest examples of cryptography were found in the forms of scrolls in Egypt and dated back to around 1900 BC (1). Cryptography was also used by the Assyrians, Chinese, and Greeks, and more extensively by different countries during the Second World War.

While some forms of cryptography were in the form of non-standard hieroglyphs, others were a combination of images and writing. In 500-600 BC, Hebrew scribes developed the reversed-alphabet substitution cipher called ATBASH. The Greeks invented the Polybius square, while in the later years, cryptography was extensively studied, and many forms of it were developed and used all over the world.

What Is The Difference Between A Code And A Cipher?

A code is associated with words, whereas a cipher is associated with individual letters or numbers. For example, the sentence, “It is raining,” could be code for “I am sad” or “I need a hug.” Codes are used when the other party too is familiar with the terminology. You can assign any phrase or word as code for something else.

In the case of a cipher, the letters of a word are rearranged or substituted. Thus, you would be looking at a meaningless word that will get translated into something when you decode it. For example, ZMMQV can be translated to APPLE using the ATBASH cipher. Some ciphers use numbers or symbols for substitution.

Although they are different, the terms codes and ciphers are often used interchangeably.

15 Secret Codes For Kids To Learn

Here are some of the best secret codes for kids. They are easy to teach and learn, and your children will have fun using them with you.

1. Morse code

Morse code

Image: iStock

Morse code is a secret code in which a series of dots, dashes, and spaces represent the letters, numerals, and punctuation marks. Each letter and number has a unique combination of dots and dashes, and the message can be conveyed by tapping against a surface or using a flashlight. The duration of a dash is three times that of a dot.

You may download printouts from the Internet and make your child memorize the sequence for different letters and numbers and then send across the message in a series of dots and dashes.

2. Pigpen cipher

Pigpen cipher

Image: iStock

The pigpen cipher is a substitution cipher that is quite simple. In this cipher, each letter is paired with a geometric symbol. It consists of two types of grids, and a letter is written in each slot of the grid.

If you wish to convey a message, you have to substitute the letters for the shape of the grid where they are placed. You can use this cipher as a fun way to keep your children occupied.

3. International phonetic alphabet

International phonetic alphabet

Image: Shutterstock

The IPA (international phonetic alphabet), also known as the NATO phonetic alphabet, has been traditionally used to transmit messages over the radio. You might have come across this cipher in movies, where pilots in fighter planes or helicopters communicate with each other using the IPA.

Here, each letter is assigned a word. For example, A is Alpha, B is Bravo, C is Charlie, and so on. When your child wants to say a particular word, they will have to use the IPA, and you have to figure out what the word is. For example, for BAT, they will have to say Bravo Alpha Tango.

4. Tap code

The tap code is a variation of the Morse code. In this code, you pass a message by tapping on a surface. Each letter is assigned two numbers.

You need to pass on a message using the number of taps associated with each number. X is usually used to end a sentence and start a new one, and the letter K is equated to the letter C.

For instance, to specify the letter D, you need to tap once, pause, and then tap four times. So, If your message is “dog,” the cipher would be

1, 43, 42, 2

This code was popular among prisoners to convey information to each other.

5. Scytale


Image: Shutterstock

Scytale was invented and used by the Greeks and Spartans for cryptography. In this cipher, a transposition cipher is used to convey information. All you need is a long and narrow strip of paper and a cylindrical object.

Roll the strip of paper over the cylinder (a pencil would do) so that the paper covers the entire length of the pencil without a gap. Write a regular message across it and then unwrap the paper. The message will appear to be garbled. When the other party rolls the strip over a pencil of the same diameter, they will be able to read the message.

6. Grid code

Grid code

Image: Shutterstock

A grid code is one of the easiest codes you could teach your child. All you have to do is draw a 5×5 grid and write the letters A-E on the left-hand side of the table and the numbers 1-5 on the top of the table. Then, fill the grid with the letters of the alphabet. You can put the letters I and J in the same box.

Give your children a sentence to code and watch them find the coordinates and create a cipher all on their own.

For instance, if the word is “cake,” the code would be A3A1B5A5.

7. Numbers for letters

Numbers for letters

Image: Shutterstock

If you want something super simple for young children, the numbers-for-letters code is the best option you have. Instead of making them draw symbols and grids, ask them to substitute each letter with its corresponding number. For instance, A is 1, B is 2, and so on.

Make a small chart and write numbers in place of letters and let your children work out the corresponding letters and the word. They will have lots of fun with this one.

8.  Atbash cipher

Atbash cipher

Image: Shutterstock

This cipher is done by simply substituting each letter by its corresponding letter from the other end. It was originally done in Hebrew but was later adapted into English. In this cipher, Z stands for A, Y stands for B, X stands for C, and so on. You can write the letters of the alphabet from left to right (as you usually do) and then write them from right to left so that each letter is beneath its corresponding letter from the other end.

This cipher is highly entertaining for children. Let them pass super-secret messages at the dining table using this code.

9. Half-reversed alphabet

Half-reversed alphabet

Image: Shutterstock

If you are short of time (or paper), you can use this variation of the reversed alphabet. In this cipher, divide the letters of the alphabet into groups of 13 each. Each letter of the alphabet corresponds to the letter that is 13 places before or after it.

For example, A stands for N and N stands for A, B stands for O and O stands for B, and so on. Thus, APPLE will be NCCYR, and ZBBA will be MOON.

10.  American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language

Image: Shutterstock

ASL is excellent for communicating secret messages from far away or through the glass. Teaching ASL to your child is similar to introducing a new spoken language to them. Once they learn the basics, they can communicate with gestures alone.

ASL also allows your child to communicate with people who have difficulty hearing and enables them to be more inclusive in the future. Besides, ASL communicators are also in high demand in the job market.

11. Key cipher

Key cipher

Image: Shutterstock

This is another simple but effective way to communicate secret codes. In this substitution cipher, you need to add a unique word or “key” to the beginning of the alphabet. Omit the letters occurring in the “key” from the alphabet.

For example, if you select the word “write” as the “key” add it before the alphabet as W R I T E A B C D F G H J K L M N O P Q S U V X Y Z.  Notice how the letters in the word “write” do not reappear.

Now, W stands for A, R stands for B, I stands for C, and so on. Thus, if you want to write the word “Enjoy,” the cipher will be EKFLY.

12. Caesar shift cipher

Caesar shift cipher

Image: Shutterstock

The Caesar shift cipher is named after Julius Caesar, who invented and used this cipher extensively to encrypt messages. It is a relatively simple cipher in which all you need to know is the value of the rotation of the letters

In this cipher, each letter is shifted down by two to three positions. The shift is called rotation or ROT. For example, ROT2 means that C stands for A, D stands for B, E stands for C, and so on, while ROT3 means that D stands for A, E stands for B, F stands for C, and so on.

13. Book code

Book code

Image: Shutterstock

If you and your child have the same book, you can send codes that involve words in the book. Decide on a message and then look for the words in the book. Then, on a strip of paper, write the page number, line number, and word number.

This code requires much precision to decode, and both the books must be from the same publication and edition.

14. The reverse alphabet code

The reverse alphabet code

Image: iStock

You can try this very easy code with younger children. Just write the words backward, and you are done. If your children haven’t figured the code out yet, it will take some time for them to solve.

For example, you can write “HAVE A GREAT DAY” as “YAD TAERG A EVAH.” You can even remove the spaces to up the challenge quotient.

15. Skip a letter code

Skip a letter code

Image: iStock

In this code, you have to skip every alternate letter to get to the message. This is a great way to pass messages between friends because those who do not know the cipher will not be able to decipher the message.

Choose a sentence you want to encrypt and divide each word into half. If a word has an odd number of letters, put the extra letter in the left half of the word. Write the first letter of the first group, followed by the first letter of the second group. Then, write the second letter of the first group and the second letter of the second group, and so on, until all the words are encrypted. For example, if your sentence is “SECRET CODES FOR KIDS,” it will be encrypted as “SREECT CEOSD FRO KDIS.”

These secret codes for kids will give your children something to chew on. They will have lots of fun creating new ciphers and codes for you to decode and feel very clever to have confused you successfully. So, try these secret codes with your children, and let them enjoy being a mini secret agent.


MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. History of Encryption; SANS Institute

Recommended Articles