How to Play I Spy

A classic guessing game for kids ages 2 and up

Boy Looking I Spy

Preschoolers and young school-age kids love playing I Spy. This popular and very simple guessing game is free and can be played anywhere, so it's perfect for car trips, airport layovers, train rides, city strolls, nature hikes, and countless other situations.

How to Play I Spy

You can play I Spy with two or more people.

To begin, one person spies something and keeps it a secret. The item must be something that all the other players can see, and preferably something that will stay in sight for the time it takes to complete a round. For example, a motorcycle that whizzes by and disappears around a bend is not an ideal item to "spy."

The "It" player recites the line "I spy with my little eye, something that..." and ends with a descriptive clue, such as "...is red" or "...begins with the letter B."

The other players then take turns asking one question each. "Is it inside the car?" "Is it round?" "Does it have wheels?"

The player who is "It" can only respond with "yes" or "no."

If a player thinks he knows what the mystery item is, he can use his question to guess directly: "Is it that barn?" "Is it that pickup truck?" "Is it Dad's sunglasses?"

When somebody guesses correctly, then he or she becomes "It." The game moves forward with the new "It" spying a different item and beginning by reciting "I spy with my little eye, something that..."

This game can keep little kids happily occupied for a very long time.

More Road Trip Fun with Kids

Looking for more classic travel games to play with kids? Here are some others to try:

  • Sound Effects Story (best for kids 3 and up) lets the whole family tap their silly side while they tell a make-believe story. How to play: Player 1 begins a short story, replacing key nouns and verbs with sounds. For example, "Once upon a time on a farm, a [moo] was [munch munch] grass when along came a [woof woof] and a [meow]." Player 2 then picks up the story, "The [meow] jumped on the [woof woof]'s back and invited the [moo] to join them on a picnic." Player 3 continues, "The three friends found a meadow then suddenly they heard a [buzz buzz]." And so on. There is no "winner" to this game, but players should encourage each other to make the storylines crazier and more inventive.
  • 20 Questions (best for kids 4 and up) is a classic guessing game for 2 or more players. How to play: Player 1 thinks up an object that can be classified as animal, vegetable, or mineral. The other players take turns guessing what the object is by posing questions that can be answered with a "yes" or a "no." Keep asking questions until 20 questions have been asked and answered. At any time, the players can guess what the object is. The player who guesses correctly then becomes the person thinking up the object in the next round. If nobody guesses correctly after 20 questions, Player 1 wins and thinks up another object in the next round.
  • The Alphabet Game (best for kids 5 and up) is a non-competitive group search game that is great for kids who know their ABCs. It's a good bet for a long road trip because it's guaranteed to take up a fair amount of time. How to play: Player 1 looks around for something that begins with the letter A. For example, "automobile." Player 2 then searches for something visible to everyone that begins with B, like "bridge." The game continues until you've gone through the entire alphabet. Note: for tricky letters, such as Q and Z, feel free to spy license plates containing the letters.
  • I'm Going on a Picnic (best for kids 5 and up) is a great car game to play with beginning readers. How to play: Player 1 kicks it off by saying, "I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing..." followed by something that you can eat that begins with A, such as "...apples" or "...artichokes." Player 2 repeats what the first person said, but adds a food that begins with B. "I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing apples and bananas." Continue with Player 3, repeating the line with the first two items and adding something that begins with C. And so on, until the alphabet is completed. When playing with younger players, it's okay to remind them of some of the earlier items if they forget to include them.