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“I Spy” – Montessori Style

Sweet Pea was about 3 years old.
Eye Spy


From:  “I Spy” is a well known children’s game, but in this version, the clues are sounds instead of colors.  This is a classic Montessori activity that helps children begin to recognize phonetic sounds.  I first read about it in David Gettman’s book Basic Montessori Learning Activities for Under-Fives.


  • 3-10 common household objects that have different starting sounds.  Make sure they are simple objects that your tot will clearly be able to identify.  (For example ball, cup, fork, hat, sock, pencil, etc.)  Start with 3 objects if your tot is new to the game and then gradually add more as he gets more comfortable.  

I Spy - Montessori Style


  • Make sure that you know the phonetic sound of each letter of the alphabet.  (For example during this game, “B” should be pronounced <Buh> and not “Bee”.  See this page from Montessori Mom for a fantastic explanation and a list of how each letter is pronounced phonetically.)
  • Put your chosen object on the table or floor and sit near your tot.  
  • Tell your tot that you want to play a guessing game.   Explain that you are going to choose one object on the table and then you will give him a hint about which object it is.  He should then try to guess which object you are thinking about.
  • Choose an object (For the sake of this example, I will pretend to have chosen a ball) and say out loud, “I spy with my little eye something that begins with <buh>.  Do you know what it is?”
  • Wait for your child to guess.   When your child says the correct object, repeat the sound and object back.  “Yes, ball starts with “buh.”  However, if your child guesses the wrong object, tell him what sound that object starts with and ask him to choose again.  “Sock starts with <Sss>.  Can you find something that starts with starts with <buh>?

Observations:   Sweet Pea always loved this game.  After the first few times we played, I no longer had to set out a specific collection of objects and we could play it anywhere.  We often would play it at dinner with whatever was on the table at the time, but it is also a great “waiting room” game.    The game can even be changed to use ending sounds as your child gets older (“I spy with my little eye, something that ends with the sound <duh>.”)

This is a really great language game and I highly recommend it for all children who are pre-readers, starting around 2.5 years old.   It is so simple, fun and educational.  Sweet Pea has outgrown it now, but I know I have a lot of readers with younger children so I wanted to make sure I wrote a post about it.

Notes from the Trenches:  If your tot has trouble with this game or is very new to letter sounds, you can start with only 1 object.  Hold the object  (For example, a hat) in your hand so he can see it and say, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with <Huh>.”    Wait for him to say, “Hat”.  Play this way, with only 1 object for a few days before presenting him with 2 objects.  When you try with 2 objects, if he makes an incorrect selection, try not to say “No.”  Instead tell him what sound his chosen object starts with and ask him to choose again (“Pencil starts with <Puh>.  Which one begins with <Huh>?”)

Rating: 3 Stars * (Fun, Easy, Frugal)



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