Learning about Binary

“I taught myself how to program computers when I was a kid, bought my first computer when I was 10, and sold my first commercial program when I was 12.” - Elon Musk


When computers read code they don’t read letters. They can only read the numbers 1 and 0. The 1 represents "On" to the computer. 0 represents "Off". Each letter in the alphabet is translated into a special pattern of 1s and 0s. When the computer sees a number like 01000001 it knows it’s an A. The number 01000011 is the letter C and the number 01010100 is a T. Putting these groups of numbers together can spell out a word. For example, 01000011 01000001 01010100 will spell out the word CAT. This is how binary works.


Try using binary to write out different words. You can use coins, beans, scraps of paper or any other small object. Use one color, like blue, for the number 1. Use another color for the number 0 and a third for the spaces between the words. Give it to someone and see if they can read it using a decoder. What kind of words can you write? Can you make a sentence?

If so, next, try writing your name in binary. If you have different colored beads and some string, you can even make a bracelet. Then you’ll have a fun colorful bracelet with your name written in special binary code!


This program has been designed for you to share with your child. Read the material together, ask questions and encourage your child to ask questions. Then nurture their curious mind by doing the activities with them. Books included are available via CPL’s digital library (with a library card).