Building Mindfulness Through Games

Children begin to explore the world and problem solving through play. Caregivers and adults can use play in a purposeful way to help children learn and practice skills that will help them throughout life. First, let’s consider the game I Spy. This game helps to build observational awareness and as adults, we use observational awareness every day: driving our cars, in the grocery store, or walking on an icy sidewalk. We are always looking around aware of what is in our immediate surroundings. This skill keeps us and others safe. However, let us take this a step further. I Spy also helps practice mindfulness and can be a great tool to self-regulate, build cognitive flexibility, and inspire imagination.

How Does Playing I Spy build Mindfulness?

Mindfulness, at its very basic form, is focused awareness. I spy requires each player to focus in on the smallest or largest details of their immediate surroundings. This is one very small part of mindfulness called mindful seeing. This can also help us to stay calm and regulated during times of high stress by refocusing our brains and bodies to
remain present on the here and now.

How to Engage Your Child

Caregivers can introduce this game at any time. To familiarize the child with the game you can begin using it at home during playtime or low-stress events such as waiting in line. This will allow time for the child to learn the game in a more secure low stressful setting. With younger children, you can focus on colors and increase difficulty depending on your child’s ability. Don’t make it too hard or too easy or the child can easily lose focus. Once the child is familiar with the game it can be easily played during times of higher stress such as going to the doctor or the dentist. Most of us know or have played I Spy as a child. With no accessories or game pieces, it can be played anywhere! This game can be played with multiple children at once and with the varying ways to describe objects it is a great game that can be modified to be used with children and adults of any age.

A quick recap of the game:

  • Use colors, shapes, textures, or any other descriptive adjective to point something out in your environment.
  • Guess using Yes or No questions to find out the answer.
    • Is it big?
    • Is it small?
    • Is it the red flower?


I Spy Emotions

Taking I Spy to the Next Level,  I Spy can be modified in so many ways. Each modification has a slightly different goal. One additional way to play I Spy is with emotions. I Spy Emotions helps children and parents express and identify emotions and how emotions influence bodily sensations, thoughts, and actions. For example, a child may say “I Spy something that makes me feel happy” (the child is looking at a picture of a cookie). Once the object is identified caregivers can begin to explore further by asking open questions such as: What does happiness make your body feel like? When you feel happy what are some other things you think about? Can you show me how that cookie makes you feel? If some emotions are harder such as fear or anger caregivers can ask open questions to identify what the child needs to feel safe. For example, the child is scared when they see a picture of a bee. The caregiver could ask “What can I do to help you feel safe?” “What are things you do to stay safe from bees on the playground at school?”.   When the roles are reversed caregivers can model healthy skills to the child by sharing their own ways of staying safe or coping with stressful emotions.

Play and imagination are so important through all stages of life but for our children play is essential in developing lifelong skills. Children are always playing with a purpose now you can too.