How to Play I Spy

Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

I Spy is a popular game for all the family that can be a useful way of keeping kids occupied during journeys or while you're waiting to do something. You can play the game for long periods or for a few minutes to fill in time, and you don't need anything to play apart from some willing players. The traditional version of the game requires players to have some letter and spelling awareness. You can make things easier for younger children, or harder for older ones, by playing variations of the game.

Set Your Game Rules

If you're in one location when you're playing I Spy, you may not need to set any special rules. Players can only choose fixed objects that everyone can see. However, if you're playing during a journey, it might be worth setting a rule that players can only spy things that can be seen for a long time. If a player spies a truck that quickly disappears from view, for example, other players may get frustrated. Alternatively, you can set a rule that players can only spy things in the vehicle. It's also worth telling players that they can't change objects once they've picked them.

The Rules of I Spy

Pick a player to be the "spy." He picks an object and gives other players a clue as to what the object might be by telling them the first letter of the word. For example, if he picks a table, he says "I spy something beginning with the letter T" or "I spy with my little eye something beginning with T." Players then take turns to try to guess what the object is. A player who guesses correctly becomes the "spy." If nobody guesses correctly, or if players give up, the "spy" wins the round. You can either have him take another turn or give another player a turn. If you want to keep games short, set a limit on the number of guesses players can have.

Adding Questions to a Game

If "spies" become too good at picking obscure objects that are hard to guess, let players ask questions to get clues to help them out. For example, they can ask if an object is a certain color or shape. The "spy" can give yes/no answers or can say that the player is "hot," "warm" or "cold." If you take this route, you may want to limit the number of questions players can ask in a round so that they don't get too much of an advantage over the "spy."

I Spy Variations

Younger kids may find traditional I Spy tricky to master, and it may be easier to switch the game to use colors instead. For example, the "spy" would then say "I spy something that is red." Other variations of the game can be a useful way of consolidating skills -- you can teach kids about shapes or sounds by spying by object shape or the beginning sound of a word. If you're playing with older children, you can stretch them by spying the last letter of an object rather than the first. I Spy Bingo is a good way to keep kids occupied on a long journey without having to play along yourself. In this version of the game, you make a list of things that kids might spot during the journey. When they see something on the list, they tick it off. The first player to spy everything wins.