Years ago, I had a young secret agent in training. One whole summer she wore nothing but a black turtle neck and black jeans. As a pre-teen, she was at a great age for this passion and I encouraged her interest by mailing her missions in a top secret envelope every few weeks that summer. I’d include a mission folder, with instructions and she would send messages back to her mysterious spy network through me. While the games only lasted one summer, her interest lasted well into high school, where she dabbled in forensic science and seriously considered a career with the FBI before finding new interests in her later high school years. We had so much fun that summer that I’ve shared my ideas here.
Make Your Own DIY Spy Kit
Of course no childhood phase goes without at least a small dose of “can you buy me this.” My tween wanted a spy kit. We looked at them and we looked at the reviews; and decided we could do better on our own with quality items that would appeal to older children. We ended up making her one. 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 with a couple expensive accessories added at Christmas. The best thing about this gift is that the hard-shell briefcase had a locking feature that protected her gadgets and goodies from her younger brothers. Some of our favorite items include:
- Invisible Ink Pens.
- A small container of cornstarch for making fingerprinting powder
- A good magnifying glass (this has so many other uses, too)
- Night goggles
- A small flashlight
- A package of fake mustaches
Great minds obviously think alike, because about the same time I originally published this article, Stef over at Non Toy Gifts published an article on how to put together your own spy kit. She offers a checklist of additional items to add to your own top secret spy kit and links to other websites for inspiration.
The spy kit is great for younger kids and older kids alike. However, if you are working with tweens and want some extra fun spy games while slyly adding a bit of education to your young 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 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. If you don’t have access to a printer, you could email or text missions, use a typewriter or even leave handwritten notes. Beyond that, you can make a dozen missions right away or you can do one-offs as the inspiration hits.
Below are some of the missions we’ve created grouped by my secret educational agenda and the links where I’ve found my inspiration.
Secret Agent Math
Codes and cyphers are a form of mathematics. Learn in Color offers 7 Secret Spy Codes for Kids. This is a good place to start together. Once everyone has the hang of it, try using this cryptogram maker to create code names, secret messages to fellow agents and to encrypt secret agent missions. Once learned, new missions could be issued in code!
Family Fun Ideas:
- If your kids like games and puzzles like the ones in these secret missions, they may be ready to take their spy training on location with a family visit to an escape room.
- Kids may also enjoy geocaching or other scavenger hunts.
Science Projects for Spies and Detectives
Is your spy-in-training a young scientist? Give them some cool science projects in the form of missions. We made invisible ink and finger print dusting powder.
- Try this invisible ink recipe from our favorite local scientist, Liz Heinecke, the Kitchen Pantry Scientist.
- She also shares a fingerprint project here.
For a child with an inquisitive mind, it could be very fun to try various recipes from the internet until they find the one they like best and then figure out why it worked better than the others.
Family Fun Ideas:
- Get to the Sherlock Holmes Exhibit at the Minnesota History Center before it is gone after April 2, 2023.
- Check out Spy Camp at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting. Two of my kids participated during our secret agent summer. During this camp, they will learn cyphers, encryptions, radio-jamming and make their own concealed listening device and two-way communicator. Our kids made listening devices in lunch boxes that they bugged the house with.
My favorite mission so far has been a mission I created to get my daughter excited for Bakken Museum‘s Women in Science series. We were basically “spying on” and researching historical figures. A Mighty Girl has this helpful webpage with short biographies about several women scientists. I sent her just enough information that she could google and find the identity of the scientist (“the person of interest”) and then assigned her the mission to research and report back with as much information as she could possibly find on this person of interest. Depending on your goals and the age of your child, you can ask them to give you an oral or written report on the subject in question.
These were my favorite missions. Some of my spy missions were hits, some were misses; but they all covertly introduced some educational concept and, until this phase ran its course, I could always mail new missions when I came up with ideas.
Good luck agents and spymasters. We would love to hear how it goes for you. Leave us a message and let us know which completed mission your kids liked best, which ones would you do again, which would you skip?