DIY Sensory I Spy Bottles for Kids

I Spy was one of my favorite "quiet" games when I was a child. It was the perfect anytime, anywhere game. I remember playing it our living room, in the backyard, in the car, at the playground, EVERYWHERE! My brother and I would always try to find new ways of making the game more and more challenging the older we got. No matter where we traveled our eyes could always find something new and exciting to spy.

When I started my teaching career I remember finding a the Find It! game at a teacher's supply store. It was a large clear bottle full of colorful beads and many small treasures hidden inside. The bottle came with a card that showed a picture of all the treasures that were hidden inside. I desperately wanted one of these bottles for my pre-kindergarten class but as a first year teacher with limited budget for my inner city classroom I just could not justify spending $50 on one game (no matter how awesome I thought it was). Now you can pruchase these games for about half the price but if you are crafty and frugral like me you can make your own for much less!  

I have spent the last few years researching cost effective ways to create many educational toys at home. This past fall in our Intellidance Babies classes we created sensory bottles after finding some great ideas on Pinterest. Not only were they a hit with the babies and caregivers in our classes, but they  inspired me to create my own I Spy bottles with Malia to give away to her friends this past Christmas. The frugal mama in me loved that each bottle cost under $2! Even better, the I Spy bottles were a hit with Malia's friends (and their parents) and she felt proud giving them something she made herself. 

These I Spy bottles would be great giveaways (and activity) for a children's birthday party, as a Valentines day gift (or pretty much any Holiday/Special Occasion), or a great addition to your preschool/childcare centre/home!

What You Need:

  • Clear bottles (We bought ours at the dollar store for $0.50 each. You could also just reuse a plastic water bottle)
  • Rainbow rice (here is the recipe we used to make our own at home)
  • A variety of small treasures (again we hit up the dollar store and found many fun treasures)
  • Crazy glue
  • Ribbon
  • Paper (for printing out your cards)
  • Laminating paper (optional)

How to make your I Spy Bottle

Start by filling your clear bottle half way with rainbow rice. Malia (age 4) was able to do this step herself with the help of a funnel. This project made me realize I don't own a funnel (and really should get one, they are very useful) but we easily made on ourselves by rolling up a piece of scrap paper. 

Once your bottle is half full with rice, pick out the treasures you want to put inside. Before placing them in the bottle arrange them in rows on a white piece of paper and take a picture. Malia very much enjoyed picking out treasures for each of her friends' bottles. It was a thoughtful process thinking about each friends' favorite colors, interests, etc. Since we were making these as Christmas gifts we also included a small Santa and Gingerbread Man in each bottle. 

After you take a picture of your treasures carefully place them in your bottle. Again this was something Malia enjoyed doing independently. As we continued the activity I could see her pride increasing knowing she was making the gifts herself! What a wonderful confidence booster for a preschooler!

Once all your treasure are safely in your bottle carefully pour more rainbow rice on top, leaving at least a half an inch of empty space at the top of your bottle. The next step will need to be done by an adult, as I don't recommend letting children use crazy glue. Carefully squeeze a thin line of glue along the top rim of your bottle and the edge of your bottle. If using a screw on lid, put a thin coat of glue along the top of your bottle before screwing on the lid. Secure your lid firmly and wait a few minutes for the glue to dry. This step will ensure that there are no accidental spills of rainbow rice during playtime. 

After your glue is dry you need to SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL! This mixes your treasures in with the rainbow rice, hiding treasures throughout the entire bottle. Malia had LOTS of fun doing this step. 

When all of our bottles were done we printed out the pictures we had taken of the treasures on small cards. To ensure the cards would stand up to play time we laminated them, however you could also print them out on card stock. The nice thing about laminating the cards is you can then use dry erase markers on the cards during playtime to make off found treasures. We then punched a hole in the corner of each card and secured it to each bottle with a ribbon. Voila! A wonderful toy to enjoy over and over again!

Game Ideas  

I Spy Original Play: The simplest version of the game is simply to find all the treasures. Use a dry erase marker to cross off the items you have found. Want to play again? Just shake up your bottle!

Play with a Friend: For a simple version, play as described above but pass the I Spy bottle back and forth, each player crossing off the treasure they find.

For a more challenging variation incorporate the game I Spy. Player 1 picks a picture on the picture card and says, " I spy with my little eye something that is red!". Play 2 guesses what treasure player 1 is referring too. If Player 2 is right then they try to find that treasure in the bottle, if they are wrong Player 1 will provide another clue. 

Timed Play: If playing alone use a stopwatch and time how long it takes you to find all the treasures in your bottle. Shake up and bottle and try again! Did you beat your original time?

If playing with friends each player will time how long it takes them to find all the treasures. The player with the fastest time wins! Or use a cooperative approach and have everyone working to find the treasures at once. Play a second time and see if the team can beat their initial time. 

Alphabet Play: For older children challenge them to find all the items in alphabetical order! Depending on what you put in your bottle you could also find treasure by color, shape, number, etc. 

Bottle Variations

Seasonal Bottles: Like we did when we created our Christmas bottles, create your bottle around a holiday or seasonal theme. With Valentines Day coming up make red rice and combine with plain white rice and fill with small Valentines related treasures. 

Alphabet Bottles: Fill your bottle with same plastic or foam letters. Younger children learning their letters can simply find each letter in the alphabet. Older children could find letters to create words. 

Color Bottles: Fill your bottle with treasures that are all the same color. Or make a rainbow bottle and fill it with treasures in all colors in the rainbow. 

Personalized Bottles: Create a personalized for the child who will receive it. Include the letters that spell their name and treasures of colors, food, animals, and pass times they enjoy. I can think of a few little girls I know who would love a pink and purple, ballerina, princess bottle!

Curriculum Bottles: Create a new bottle each month to accompany any themes or curriculum you are studying in your classroom/childcare centre. Ocean, seasons, sports, animals, food, etc! For older children use these curriculum bottles as a writing prompt for poerty, journaling, research projects, etc.