Holiday Activities Archive

Cool Spy Gadgets for Kids to Make: Decoder Wheel

Posted April 20, 2016 By Puzzle Mom
Secret Decoder

Updated April 20, 2016 – I’ve been racking my brain trying to find a fun way to introduce cryptograms for kids.  Then I remembered why I got interested in cryptograms in the first place.  I wanted to be a Super-Spy when I grew up, of course!  And part of being a Super Spy is being able to read secret messages, just like cryptograms.  So I thought, why not combine the two and make decoder wheel a part of solving our cryptograms?  And of course, a secret decoder is one of the must-have cool spy gadgets for kids who are SERIOUS about being Super Spies themselves.

 

 

Introducing the Kids Puzzles Online Secret Decoder!

 

So, for Kids Puzzles Online’s beginner cryptograms for kids, we are introducing the concept of the Decoder Wheel.  The decoder wheel is based on the famous Caesar Cipher, named after Julius Caesar who used such a wheel to send secret messages to his many spies throughout the Roman Empire.  But here at Kids Puzzles Online,  we will also be using it as a tool to teach kids how to solve cryptograms by 1) starting to get the kids used to deciphering codes of course, and 2) by using simple recurring words and letter combinations in our puzzles (such as the, and, is, in, in the, is the, str, ie, etc.), we expose them to common word formats, sentence structure and grammatical patterns which will help to develop their skills in deciphering cryptograms – and all this without making it a long drawn out English lesson!  WHEW!

 

But even better, a Decoder Wheel is so easy to make and a fun activity to do with your child.  So, spend a nice afternoon to make decoder wheel, and then reward them with the fun puzzles they can solve using the wheel.

 

Plus, if your kids are into the spy thing like mine are, why not have them also custom-make decoder wheel to give to their BFF (or spy team), so they can write secret notes to each other.  Click Here for the Kids Puzzles Online Secret Decoder or enter your email below so I can send you a blank customizable template.

Please send me my FREE BLANK DECODER TEMPLATE

 

 

How to Make a Decoder Wheel

 

You will need:

  • Print out of the Decoder Wheel Template  on cardstock is best.  If not, you can glue on cardstock or leave as is)
  • Scissors
  • String (wool or thick string is best) – long enough so you can easily tie a knot (7”-10”)
  • Needle (with hole big enough to fit the string you are using)
  • 2 buttons (or beads)

Putting it together:

Cryptogram_wheel_diagram

  1. Cut out the outside and inside wheels from the template.  (Note: if you are gluing to cardstock, do it first and wait for glue to dry before cutting)
  2. Thread needle and string.
  3. First sew in the back button.
  4. Then, going from the back of the outside wheel, poke the needle through the center (where the dot is).
  5. Next, from the back of the inside wheel, poke the needle through the center (where the dot is)
  6. Then sew in the front button.
  7. Now you go backwards.  If you have a button, poke the needle through the other hole first, then continue onto the next step.  Otherwise, if you have a bead, just skip this step.
  8. With the needle, poke back into the front hole of the inside wheel.  Then the front hole of the outside wheel.
  9. You’ll now end up with your needle and thread at the back of your wheel.
  10. Finally, poke it through the other button hole (if using a button), or simple tie a firm knot.  The front and back beads/buttons will stop the string from going through.

And that’s it!

You should now be able to spin the top wheel

and start solving cryptograms for kids.

 

Check out some other cool spy gear and activities for kids:

 

        

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Ultimate Guide: How to Create a Scavenger Hunt for Kids

Posted October 3, 2014 By Puzzle Mom
Dog Detective

Kids love scavenger hunts.  Even at the age of three, most kids already know the concept of looking for clues which will eventually lead to a bounty of treasure.  Mention a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt to a group of children and you’ll be rewarded with squeals of delight and eager faces. 

And it’s not just for the young ones either.  Although your teen won’t “squeal with delight,” I guarantee their fingers will at least stop mid-texting and if you’re lucky, you may even be rewarded with their eyes actually leaving the screen for a split second showing signs of curiosity and veiled interest.

 

So, for your next party, why not put together THE ULTIMATE scavenger hunt?

 

I know what you’re going to say.  It’s too complicated.  It’s too much effort.  But I promise you, it’s really easy.  I’ll show you that with very little effort, you’ll soon be an expert on how to create a scavenger hunt for kids, and guaranteed to make your next party a roaring success.

 

PLANNING STAGE

Scavenger Hunt Checklist

1)      Determine the level of difficulty for the hunt

This is pretty obvious, but here’s what could happen when you forget this step.  I was so caught up in creating all these creative princess-themed clues on pretty pink paper before realizing…oops, these are five-year-olds who can barely read.  Lesson learnt: work out what the majority age group is and their reading level, and design a hunt with appropriate level of difficulty to suit.

For younger kids or beginner readers, I would suggest either recruiting a “reader” to tag along to read the clues or using picture-clues instead of words.

 

2)      Determine time frame

A simple hunt will typically last around 15-20 minutes for 7-year-olds or younger, but can go for much longer for the older children.  I have hunts that can last for an hour, but that’s because the hunt was for older kids and I had them go all around the neighborhood.  It really just depends on your schedule of events and who the participants are.

But remember that younger kids have shorter attention spans.  So if you want to make your hunt last longer, do so by using more clues, as opposed to making the clues more difficult to solve or find.  Otherwise, they will get bored and give up.

 

3)      Determine location and boundaries

Indoors or outdoors?  Backyard or playground or some other location?  If indoors, look around to make sure you don’t have any breakables, because scavengers can get pretty rowdy and rough.  Unless it is a small group or your family, I always suggest hunts stay outdoors.  Look around to make sure the hunt area is safe and identify any unsafe or off limit areas.  Make a note of these boundaries so you can let the kids know later.  If the kids are older, surprise them with a hunt that takes them all around the neighborhood.

 

4)      Prepare the treasure

For a children’s party, I like to make the goody bags the treasure, secured and labeled with each child’s name, then put into a box and seal with tape.  I then plan the treasure hunt to be the last party activity so they can have fun finding their own goody bags.  However, the treasure can be anything.  Just be sure that there is enough of it so no child misses out.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate and certainly should not be expensive, but please make it “worthy” of the effort they put into finding it.  Even a competitive hunt for older kids should include a small token gift for all participants.

 

CREATING YOUR HUNT

ScavengerHunt

5)      Find a cool location to hide the treasure

Make sure it is well-hidden and not someplace where someone can accidentally find it while playing around or hunting for the other clues.

 

6)      Make a list of hiding places for each clue

List and number each location in order of how you want them found, with the last location being where the treasure is of course.  Try to space locations appropriately so kids don’t accidentally find the wrong clue at a location which is too close to another.

 

7)      Create the clues

Using your list above, write out each clue (or take photos), making sure that each clue leads to the next clue on the list.

HELPFUL TIP:  Some people make the mistake of putting the clue where the answer states.  This would be incorrect.  The clue pointing to one location should be placed in the previous location on the list.  To avoid accidentally putting the clues in the wrong location, put the location number next to your clue during this planning stage, so you know exactly where to place them.  This helps when you have a lot of clues.  See how in our example below, the number next to the clue match the locations list, telling me WHERE each clue should be placed.

Scavenger Hunt_clues

 

Level of difficulty for the clues depends on age group – the older the kids, the more complex the clues.  Number of clues to use depends on length of hunt and difficulty of clues.  However, on average, I usually end up with about 10-15 clues.  This number also works with more difficult hunts where each clue takes longer to solve or find.

Word of advice: Some people tend to get bogged down with the clues.  My suggestion is to keep it simple.   Especially if this is your first hunt or for really young kids.  Yes, rhyming clues are fun and clever, but not all clues have to rhyme.  Some can be fill in the blanks, or a picture of part of an object.  For themed events, simply mentioning a character in the clue gets a great response.  E.G., This is where Rainbow Dash wipes her muddy feet on.  Or, Elmo likes to hang up his clothes to dry on this.  Get creative but don’t over-think it either.

 

8)      Almost done!  Now it’s time to hide the clues. 

Use your best judgement.  Don’t make it too easy to find, but don’t make it too difficult either.  In general, young kids are not too observant.  Once I thought I was being clever and stuck a clue on the lid of the mailbox, but when the kids lifted the lid, they only looked inside and found nothing there.  It took several kids looking before one eventually noticed the clue stuck ON the lid and not sitting IN the mailbox.  And it took all of my will power to bite my tongue and keep from shouting out “The lid!  The lid!”

 

HUNTING DAY


9)      Ground Rules.  

Ground rules are a good way to kick off the hunt.  It serves two purposes.  It ensures that things go smoothly and minimizes tears or bad sportsmanship.  But it is also an opportunity to build up the hunt and add some drama.  Especially for themed parties – get theatrical!  Here’s a sample of basic rules I use:

  • This is all about teamwork and working together.
  • This is not a race.  You have to work as a team and help each other.
  • No snatching clues from each other.
  • It doesn’t matter if you don’t find any clues yourself because at the end, EVERYONE gets to share in the treasure!
  • State off limit areas
  • Other rules, depending on how you’ve modified your hunt.
  • Anybody not playing by the rules will have to sit out.

 

10)      Give the first clue and off a-hunting we go!  

Kick-off the hunt by giving the first clue.  You can simply read it out after the ground rules.  Or for added drama, my favorite option is to challenge the birthday boy/girl to “win” the first clue.  (I like to pick a game or activity they are good at or love, like the first to shoot 5 basketball hoops or who can keep the hula hoop going the longest, etc).  When they win, you then reward them with the first clue.

treasure-161753_640

And that’s it!  Because of your preparations (admit it, they weren’t so bad, were they?) you can simply relax and enjoy watching the kids run around looking for their treasure.  Oh wait – don’t forget the camera!

 

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful and I hope you really give this a go for your next party.  I know the kids will really enjoy it.  I have had a lot of success using this simple format and it is easy to modify to suit any party theme or age group.  But if you really want to go crazy, you can also build on this to make it more complex by incorporating such things as puzzle challenges, physical challenges, or turning it into a competition with teams competing for the treasure.  Really, the options are limitless.

 

But most of all, I hope you have fun, and HAPPY HUNTING!

 

Sig

 

 

 

 

 

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Crazy Ideas For What To Do During the School Holidays

Posted September 15, 2014 By Puzzle Mom
Bored

School holidays are usually met with mixed feelings at our household.  On the one hand, everyone is looking forward to a break from our daily routine (especially the stressful morning madness, and the rushing around after school and weekends for sports activities).  But on the other hand, it also means anxiety of a different kind – what are we going to do for the next two weeks?  And…HOW am I going to keep the kids from overdosing on screen time without creating world war three? Read on for Five Crazy Ideas we will be doing during these school holidays….

 

Crazy Idea #1 – Make your own crossword puzzle HK CrosswordI know it sounds crazy, which is why it’s my #1 crazy idea, but making crossword puzzles with your kids can be fun.  Seriously.  But first, let’s get one thing straight.  You can’t just come out and say, “Hey kids, I’ve got a great idea.  Let’s make crossword puzzles today!”  I guarantee, you’ll get blank stares or worse – the evil eye from your too-cool-for-anything teen.  Remember.  It’s all in the presentation.  For example, think about turning it into a crossword swap game, or even better, a craft activity by making a series of themed puzzles to put into a booklet to give to friends.  Older kids can get involved too, and if they think making booklets for friends is a lame idea, they can make one for an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or a younger sibling instead.  My daughter is working on a Hello Kitty booklet and is having fun collecting Hello Kitty images and stickers to decorate her puzzles with.  And because it’s crafts, this activity can last all morning or afternoon…at least until snack time.  And don’t forget to make a stunning cover to complete the booklet!

Click here to learn how to make your own crossword puzzle for any occasion using a free online crossword puzzle maker.

 

 

Crazy Idea #2 – Open up a kids toy store MyToyStore Well – kinda… I don’t know about you, but my kids love going to markets and garage sales.  And even though we’re not really out to buy anything, they just love to rummage through the various boxes to see what goodies they might find there. So for this crazy idea, the kids will set up their own toy store/garage sale selling their old toys.  They will be the “shop keeper” and get to keep all proceeds from the sale as well.  We’ve held several garage sales and the secret to our success is promote promote promote.  Promote with friends and relatives, neighbors, local paper, flyers, etc.  Ask local schools if you can put a flyer or notice in their school newsletter or bulletin board.  Make invitations for your child to give out to their classmates.  And, to ensure success, keep toy pricing under $1.  The idea is that other little kids should be able to afford to buy something with their own pocket money and if you price toys too high, that won’t be possible.  If you’re really ambitious, you can even throw in a bake stall with a lemonade or cordial stand.  Get creative.  Have fun.  It’s the holidays, after all!

 

Crazy Idea # 3 – Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt ScavengerHuntWe did this for my son’s 10th birthday party since it was only a small party with a few friends.  We had the boys complete both brain teaser/riddles as well as physical challenges (with the challenger always being dad).  We had them go around the neighborhood and luckily, my parents live down the road so their final clue ended up there, where the wizard (my dad) gave them the final riddle, and they were rewarded with cake and ice-cream. I love activity because the kids can invite several friends over making this a “mini party” of sorts.  To make this an all day activity, think about several locations within walking or scooter distance.  Plan the trail and leave clues a day in advance (without the kids’ knowledge of course).  If you live near a local retail strip like ours and are familiar with the store owners, it would be great to have them hold a clue or ask if you can do one of the challenges at their store.  Make sure the final destination is a rewarding one, worthy of their efforts – like a picnic at a park, where the “treasure” is a basket of goodies and picnic lunch, an ice-cream store where they get to pick their favorite ice-cream, or like ours – generous grandparents’ willing to host a bunch of loud, excited kids.  Happy hunting!

 

Crazy Idea #4 – Paint, Paint, and More Paint Painted child handsAnd I don’t mean on a canvas…although, you could do that if you want.  No, I mean, let’s get down and dirty and paint the walls.  Or the dining table.  Or the bookshelves.  I know, this involves a little more planning, but what fun to get the kids involved and actually achieve a task from your to-do list (admit it – we all have one of these listed…kitchen redo, redecorate the kids bedrooms, redo dining room, etc.).  I know it can be a huge job, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep your expectations realistic.  Only let them paint areas which allows a little room for error (eg., have them paint the entire wall, but leave the edging to you, or they can paint their desk any color they want, even if it’s not your preferred choice).
  2. Depending on what you will paint, this project can take more than a few days.  Be prepared to live in a bit of a mess.
  3. If painting a child’s bedroom, let your child be involved in color choices.  If it really offends your sense of style (like fluoro pink or jet black on the walls), perhaps suggest a compromise, like painting an accent wall instead, or even better, use one of the free online designing tools such as http://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/for-your-home/personal-color-viewer which lets you upload a photo of your room and view it in different paint colors.

As long as you keep things simple, this can be a really fun project for the entire family and return pretty amazing results for everyone to enjoy. P.S. If you have really little ones, PLEASE find a small area or piece of furniture for them to paint and put their own stamp of signature.

 

Crazy Idea #5 – Host a Dinner Party table_Setting_yellowThis can be as simple as a dinner party for the family, or a little more elaborate to include a couple of friends or relatives.  Have the kids decide on the guest list (rule of thumb – the smaller the crowd, the less stressful J ) and the menu a few days in advance.  They can then email or hand deliver their invitations.  Keep the menu kid-friendly, easy to prepare and simple to cook.  Some ideas are spaghetti or meatballs, spring rolls, noodles and fried rice, taco salads or hamburgers and store-bought fries.  Dessert can include an easy-bake cake with fruits on the side, or ice cream with fresh berries.  Of course, a big part of the fun is laying out the table, so let the kids get creative with a pretty menu card, fancy table arrangements, napkin folding creations from youtube, and fresh flowers.  If you have any kids that are not really interested in cooking, they can still play an important role by being the server or the host, refilling glasses, or clearing dishes away. With such a busy schedule, we rarely have time for a nice, sit-down meal as a family, but simple pleasures such as this always reminds us of the value of family-time.  And don’t forget to finish the evening off with a game that everyone can enjoy, such as our family fav – UNO! So there you have it.  Five crazy things my family will be doing over the school holidays.  Do you have any ideas of your own?  If so, we would love to hear from you.  Please share with us below or visit us on our Facebook page.

 

Enjoy your break!

Sig

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How to Make Your Own Crossword Puzzle

Posted September 14, 2014 By Puzzle Mom
Make a crossword

So you want to learn how to make your own crossword puzzle for any occasion?  Well, you’ve come to the right place. Making your own puzzle is easy these days with a reliable, free online crossword puzzle maker.  You simply enter your clues, the answers, click a button and voila!  You get a fully functional, printable crossword puzzle.

But, as with any free product, there are limitations on what you can do – for example, for our kids puzzles, we like to include a lot of fun graphics and use our own fonts and layouts.  For this, you would need to purchase the full upgrade which can run around $30-$40.  Which is fine if you are looking to generate a lot of puzzles, but if you’re only doing this occasionally, then there is an alternative way to get awesome customized puzzles using Microsoft Word in addition to the free online crossword puzzle maker.  It does mean a little extra work, but personally, I think it’s worth it to get a puzzle to look exactly how you want it to.  Plus, it’s free!

Here’s how I do it…

1) Open up to an online crossword puzzle maker. Our favorite puzzle maker can be found at Puzzle-Maker.com.

2) Enter a simple title. Don’t worry too much about it since we will be editing this later anyway.  Just put something that reminds you which puzzle this is.

3) Enter your words & clues in the format stated.  In this case, it is Answer word / Clue.  I like to list down all my words first for both the “answer word” and “clue” section just so I can generate the puzzle quickly.  This way, I can take my time to make up tricky clues later.  However, this is simply a preference and you may choose to do it all in one step here.  For a good-sized puzzle, I would recommend at least 12 words.  Here’s one I’m doing for the U.S. Capital Cities, which will be 50 clues and make a really nice study puzzle.

Make a Crossword - Step 3

 

4) Once done, click the “Create Puzzle” button. This will take you to three options.  Select that FREE tab, then click on the Print/Next button on the left hand side.  Follow the prompts until you get to the completed puzzle page that looks like this.  See what I mean by not really nice looking?

Make a crossword - Step 4

 

5) Go ahead and print this to PDF and save to your local hard drive. Make sure to print the solution page as well.

6) Open the PDF to determine the number of columns and rows.  Do this by starting from left to right and counting the number of squares across, then do the same from top to bottom.  In the example below, we have 45 columns and 31 rows.

Make a crossword - Step 6

7) Open up a new Word document and insert a table with the correct number of columns/rows as above.

 Make a crossword - step 7

You’ll end up with a grid that looks like this showing only gridlines:

Make a crossword - gridlines

 

8) Next we recreate the free puzzle by highlighting boxes and putting in the borders.  Using the PDF as a guide, follow step 1 thru 3 per diagram below.

Make a puzzle - step 8

 

 9) Once all boxes have been re-created, copy and paste the clues beneath the puzzle. If you didn’t create proper clues earlier, this is the chance to start making them up.  You shouldn’t get confused since the actual answer will be in the correct spot.  Simply replace that with an appropriate clue.  Here’s what mine looks like.  For example for 3 ACROSS, I would simply replace the text with an appropriate clue, such as “Capital city of Montana”

 

Make a crossword - Step 9

 

10) Finally, since it’s a word document, you can format it as you please.  Have fun and feel free to insert images, add color or change the background.  Just as good as the paid version.

And that’s all there is to it.  A little fiddly, I know, especially if you have a huge puzzle like I did with the 50 clues.  But the end result is definitely worth it – check it out.

Of course, if pressed for time, you can’t beat the convenience of the paid software.  Puzzle-Maker.com allows you to pay per puzzle, which is great for one-offs.  But if you are going to be creating puzzles on a regular basis, I would suggest purchasing a fully paid version to download to your desktop.  My #1 recommendation in this case is Crossword Weaver, which runs for US $39.95 or US $29.95 with an educational discount.  They even offer a package version which generates wordsearch puzzles as well.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful, and thanks for stopping by!

Happy puzzling,

Sig

 

 

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