Although it is a classic, it’s time to reimagine the way we can play I spy.

I spy with my little eye, something red.  
Ok, I spy with my little eye something round.  
Hmmm…I spy with my little eye a mom who is B.O.R.E.D. – oh yeah, you guessed it!  That’s me.

We all know how to play, but why not have a quick re-cap?

  • Use colors, shapes, textures, or any other descriptive adjective to point out something in your environment.
  • Guess using Yes or No questions to find out what the other person spies!

While I liked to play I spy as a kid myself, and appreciated when I could start playing it with Nathaniel (around age 3), I’ve grown a tad weary of it.

So, when you do this new version of the classic, you play I spy with an imaginative twist and you get a jolt of mindfulness that will calm down bodies and center brains!

Play I Spy Like an Animal

The following are some Tips on Playing

  • First, kids (and you) claim an animal.  Play around with getting into the body of the character.
  • Next, take turns sharing what you see as that animal!
    1. For example, a fly (as viewed by a snake), a stuffed bear (as viewed by a frog), a glass of milk (as viewed by a cat), all take on new drama and excitement.
    2. You can go back-and-forth between animal sounds and words.  Additionally,  and really for more on play with language and sounds to release the play silliness and confidence.
  • Alternatively, you can play the typical “I spy” game where one person guesses what the other person sees.  Feel free to combine this with another classic guessing game, 20 questions!

When you play I spy in this way, kids are engaging their creative imaginations, making believe that they themselves are imagining the animals and viewing their environments afresh.   Why does this matter?  Well, this kind of playing is essential for developing both our kids brains and characters!
If you haven’t yet seen this amazing TED talk on your brain on imagination, check it out.

Why Naming What You See is the Perfect Jolt of Mindfulness

Dr. Belinda Bellet of Brooklyn Heights Behavioral Society explains it all so well here.  Watch her explanation of how simply identifying objects around us has a calming affect.

Furthermore, the MindUP™ Curriculum: Brain Focused Strategies for Learning – and Living has this lovely explanation about why mindful seeing works:

“As students practice mindful seeing exercises, they become increasingly attuned to observing details by slowing down and focusing their attention.”

If you aren’t familiar with MindUP™  or the Hawn Foundation’s amazing work, check it out. There are plenty of inspiring guides and data-based activities on their website if you want to do a mindfulness deep-dive with meaning. These are especially geared for classrooms and schools, so teachers, take note!

Become a Mindful Detective with these Observation Games

That said, these are games that we love to play at Child’s Play NY, or ones that I love around my home.  Some I even remember from my childhood!  They all connect this idea of “mindful seeing” with creative play.

What’s missing? game

  • Kids look around the room, observing everything in great detail.
  • They leave the room.
  • You take one thing away, or change the location of one thing.
  • When they return, they have to look at the room and correctly identify what has changed.

This is also a great birthday party game if you are doing a party DIY in your home!
Alternatively, I love to play this game for rainy day play and to help develop that crucial Executive Functioning skill:  Working Memory.

Alien Newscaster Game

Pretend you are a news anchor from another planet reporting on the objects you see here. You are talking to your alien friends back at home, find a funny voice or physicality for yourself through improv if you like!

Describe simple thing:  Usually objects that we see everyday and may take for granted are the best, and the silliest such as markers, beads, feathers, pom poms, coins.  These are similar to the objects I recommend when we play our mindful sensory game: test your touch).

Go on a treasure hunt

Who says that Easter Egg hunts should happen only at Easter?  I am a huge fan of “hunts”.  You can play these outside or indoors.

  • Get objects, I like small things that fit the theme! For example in the past I’ve used small plastic lizards or snakes, pretend gold coins, or even playing cards.
  • Hide them in places with at least a portion visible.
  • Release your kids into the area that you’ve done your hiding!  Help them use their powers of observation to recognize how you’ve hidden or camouflaged the objects.
  • Let them hide the objects for YOU to find!

Note: this game is highly addictive for kids, and even though it is great to play outdoors in a backyard, it is also a fantastic rainy day game for indoor playing.

Best Games for Observation

The following toys and tools for mindful seeing are some of my favorites.  These aren’t paid endorsements at all, just my take on some cool products out there if you want to take this to the next level.  

I love the I Spy series from Scholastic. These are an incredible series of board games, puzzles, card games and even books that sharpen visual perception while still being fun.  There’s a real variety in terms of the kinds of tools they offer so depending on your child’s age and interests you’ll likely find something that fits well!

Another fun tool for observation is the Ladybug Land from HearthSong.  Observe them in your habitat and then set them free in your garden (or a community garden if you are a New Yorker like me!).

The Optic Explorer from Magic Cabin is a beautiful streamlined telescope/microscope.  This 2-in-1 tool is great for backyard observations, field-trips, or just to examine an everyday object with scientific inquiry and wonder.  I truly appreciate its compact size so it can fit in your pocket or backpack easily!

Hope you enjoy this new version of I Spy and let me know what other ways you love for Mindful Seeing!


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