Spy Kids was a joint program that I planned with one of the other librarians for kids in grades 4-6. We started by giving kids spy badges instead of “nametags” with their team colors on them. We did not let them pick teams. We told them we were doing a library spy scavenger hunt and luckily they were really excited because I’m not cheesy enough to be all dramatic and charactery.

Clue #1 Invisible Ink

We cut half-page white papers and wrote in our invisible ink: Go to J 652.8 section. This is the section in our library that talks about cryptology. To make the invisible ink, we mixed a solution of half lemon juice, straight from a lemon, and half water. Then we used a thin paint brush (you can also use Q-Tips) to write the message out. Then it took about 30-40 minutes to dry completely.

We thought maybe the kids could make their own messages in another program, but for these pages to dry and for the message to be a secret message they had to decode, we made them ahead of time.

 

To review the message, we had a hair dryer and the kids would hold the message on an angle and blow dry the paper. The lemon juice is acidic to the paper and the heat activation reveals the message. It didn’t work as well as I thought. I would definitely check other mixtures or skip this next time. It seemed a lot cooler than it was. Also, if you look really carefully, since the lemon kind of puckered the paper a little bit, you might be able to read the message without doing anything. At that point, the kids rushed out of the room in their teams for the next clue. I was glad they were so excited about it. I think they actually thought they were spies.

Clue #2 Grilles and Letters

The team grabbed their color-coded grille and raced back to the room. At one of the tables we laid out the fake letters we had written ahead of time. We had several copies and everything was laminated so the excited ones wouldn’t destroy it and we could preserve the clues for a repeat program. The kids had to figure out which letter made a message on their grill.

The letters were made up camp letters from kids to family members about “spy camp.” They were super cheesy and lame but whatever. So the coded message was hidden in the words on the letter. We had to compose a letter that had the message words in order. Our message was: Read about Alan Turing a great code breaker. So each of these words had to be separate and in order in the letter. This was the hardest clue to make but I think it was pretty cool. So the kids would go to the bio section and find the book on Alan Turing. Next time, I would suggest making the number of letters that is half of your teams. So if you had 10 teams of kids, you should have 5 letters, 2 copies of each.

The grilles were the team color and the letters were on regular paper in font size 16+ or it will be hard for you to cut out the words. To make our grilles, we printed a letter, put a color (like red for red team) paper over it lined up, and put it on the kids light table. Then we took a pencil and drew squares around our code words. We took the grille back to our desks and used an exacto knife to cut the squares out, revealing the message when placed over the correct letter.

Clue #3 Sparta Skytales (skee-tall-eez) or Wrapping Texts

 

The skytales were the hidden clue in the stacks. The kids had to bring back their skytale to the table with the different width objects on it. We used 3 different widths that the kids had to test to find their message. We used two markers stacked end to end, a wrapping paper tube (cut in 10 inch sections), and a cylinder kleenex box (two of each type). We made ribbons of color paper (for each team) and wrapped it around the [wrapping paper tube]. Then we wrote out our message: J nine four zero point five four eight six. This is the section of the library that has books on Navajo code talkers in WWII. Then we filled all the blank spaces with random letters and unwrapped the ribbon. Note: it might help next time to just use a 1” width ribbon as the skytale for more precise decoding, otherwise you have to line up all your paper pieces and hope you tape them all in line. We laminated these and it was a disaster. Even though it’s a pain, you should probably just make new ones each time.

 

Clue #4 Morse Messages

Each morse message was hidden in the stacks in an envelope with the team’s name on it (red team). Teams grab their envelope and bring it back to the room to get their flashlight and morse decoder sheet. Half the team goes on one side of the room and half the team on the other. One side is in charge of transmitting the code with the flashlight. They got the ABC morse code sheet. To simplify, we had the kids move the flashlight sideways for a slash and make a chopping motion with their non-dominant hand to signal the end of a letter. They weren’t allowed to talk.

 

The other half of the team was in charge of deciphering the flashlight signals. The also had a Morse code cheat sheet and a pencil to write out the message. They were only allowed to say “repeat” or “next letter.” We had to okay their decoded message before their team was allowed to start the laser maze.

Station #5 Laser Maze

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About an hour before the program, we got out our red yarn and taped up a laser maze with masking tape. We made two wide rows of chairs face out and taped the string to the chairs. We taped about a third of the maze at a time so kids wouldn’t clothesline themselves or rip down the whole laser field (it would have taken a lot of time to put back up during the program). We made sure to have high, low, diagonal and straight across lines but also make it possible to do.

It was hilarious. One of the kids asked for a makeup compact so they could blow powder on the lasers and mirror deflect the lasers. I was like, it’s yarn, and he shouted, don’t ruin my dreams! I love tweens, what can I say. Then they proceeded to jokingly ask for scissors. Classic.

Station #6 Target Practice

After everyone had cleared the laser maze, they could either do it again or try target practice. They each got three shots. I drew three circles on the glass door with Expo markers, 1 for getting it stuck to the door and one additional point for each inner circle. We added up points by team for fun.

While we waited the last few minutes for parents to pick up, kids did the laser maze again and more target practice. Honestly, we had to push them out the door because they wouldn’t leave.

Notes:

  • Don’t forget to make an answer key for the clues! And carry around copies for helping staff and the YS desk.
  • We provided a post-it note for each clue table and pencils so kids could write down the decoded clue instead of dragging stuff around or forgetting the answer and having to come back.
  • We told them they could go from place to place without their entire team. Also, we were lucky and only had one kid out of 20 that wasn’t really into it.
  • Take out the books you are using to hide clues in in advance so no one checks out the book and then you have nothing to hide it in. We almost ran out of Alan Turing books!
  • Put out nonfiction and fiction books on spies for kids to check out at the end.
  • Make sure your bow and arrow practice leaves marks (like a color on a poster or suction cups that stick to the window) otherwise you might miss what their score was. We found a $5 suction cup/nerf crossbow at the dollar store!