Secret Agent Missions: Covert Education

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Great ideas for sneaking learning into secret agent playEver since our visit to 20,000 Leagues under the Sea this summer, I have had a young secret agent in training. Luckily the cooler weather has made her uniform of black turtle neck and black jeans a little more appropriate than it was this summer. Of course no childhood phase goes without at least a small dose of “can you buy me this.” My daughter wanted a spy kit. We looked at them and we looked at the reviews; and I said, “No, sorry, I’m not buying this junk for you.”  I know, I’m a mean mom; but the spy kits online are either prohibitively expensive or plastic junk that doesn’t really work and is made to break.  We ended up making her one for Christmas. This was nice, because the kit itself was made up mostly of an old briefcase we had around the house and items from Axtman and thrift stores. Grandma added a couple expensive accessories later. The best thing about this gift is that the hard-shell briefcase has a locking feature and protects her expensive gifts from her brothers.

Secret Agent KitsGreat minds obviously think alike, because today Stef over at Non Toy Gifts just published an article on how to put together your own spy kit. She has a checklist with images and links to other websites for inspiration. This is a great place to start and even stop.

However, if you want to have extra fun with this and slyly add a bit of self-education to your little spy’s life, I recommend making missions for your secret agent in training. Once you set up the format, there is no end to the missions you can create. I mostly let the internet do the work for me and, although, I gave her a dozen missions with her spy kit, I’ve continued to mail her missions whenever I have a new idea. These missions are perfect for personalizing to your child’s interests, abilities and your own educational agenda.

Although these missions do have an educational agenda, they are not homework. She gets enough homework from school. I believe my job as parent is to keep my children excited about learning. I simply dangle educational opportunities in front of them and let them ultimately choose which ones to explore further. Many of these assignments have detailed instructions. Sometimes she follows them, sometimes she doesn’t. This is play; so she will not be graded.

For the most part, I’ve plagiarized my material from the internet. I created my own simple Mission Form like the one below. I used courier type because it gives the feel of 1960s spy movie. Obviously real modern spies would get their messages in some other format, but I like the typewriter look (and surprisingly my daughter noticed and mentioned that she also liked the font). That’s it. This is one of the easiest “crafts” I’ve ever made. Beyond that, you can make a dozen missions right away or you can do one-offs as the inspiration hits.

Learning about codes and cyphers as a secret agent

Below are some of the missions we’ve created grouped by my secret educational agenda and the links where I’ve found my inspiration.

Math for the Secret Agent:

Codes and cyphers are a form of mathematics. They are also a necessary skill of any good secret agent. I learned about codes and cyphers at the National Security Agency’s website (most government agencies offer pages for children). Then, I simply cut and pasted this information into a mission form and edited slightly for context.  If you don’t want to do this, you could also just send them a secret email with this webpage also from the NSA.  This is more of a video-game version of the same information. The Code’s and cyphers training actually filled three missions.  I didn’t get any positive feedback, so I let this mission go.  At some point, I may bring it back around by using this cryptogram maker to create her missions. I think if she may find it fun to have to break a code to get her mission.

Science for the Secret Agent:

Is your spy-in-training a little Dr. Krieger (minus the creepy parts)? Give them some science projects in the form of missions. We made invisible ink and finger print dusting powder. The internet is full of both recipes. Admittedly, the ones I tried did not work very well, which is why I’m not linking. For a child with an inquisitive mind, it could be very fun to try the various recipes until they find one that works and then figure out why it worked better than the others.

Learn a little history while playing secret agentHistory, Research and Writing for the Secret Agent:

My favorite mission so far has been a mission I created to get my daughter excited for Bakken Museum‘s upcoming Women in Science series. Eastern Illinois University has this helpful webpage with short biographies about several women scientists. I am sending her just enough information that she can google and find the identity of the scientist (“the person of interest”) and then give her the mission to research and report back with as much information as she can possibly find on this person of interest. Since I’m kind of a geek about writing, her mission included the steps in this Write a Biography page from Scholastic. This is such good information, I hope she holds onto it and can use it in middle school and high school.

These were my favorite missions. Some of my missions were hits, some were misses but they all covertly introduced some educational concept and, until this phase runs its course, I will continue to look for opportunities and inspirations to send more.

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About the author

Joy Peters

Joy Peters - co-creator and writer for

Besides Family Fun Twin Cities, I spend my 9 to 5 at a day job pursuing my weird passion for calendars and organizing things as a legal secretary. When I get home I spend my time with my four kids, 10, 6, 4 and 1. My amazing husband is both a full-time musician and full-time stay-at-home dad. Together we run a small radio empire — SiaNet Radio — playing, promoting and enjoying the wide variety of local music and art in the Twin Cities. I juggle all this while writing about exploring the Twin Cities with kids. I couldn’t be happier.

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