A Mind Game

By: Other | July 21, 2017

Written by Joy Francisco, Ph.D.

Mindfulness, meaning focused awareness, is a concept of increasing popularity among mental health professionals. Mindfulness training for clients focuses on internal and external experiences in the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness interventions can be beneficial in everyday life.

Not only adults stand to benefit from focusing awareness on the present moment. Research shows that mindfulness exists as a powerful intervention for many behavioral challenges in children. Mindfulness practices can benefit children for the same reasons it helps adults, particularly by reducing stress, improving sleep quality, and heightening focus.

Mindfulness is introduced to children by directing their attention to things in their environment with a simple game of I Spy.

I Spy, a fun and family-friendly guessing game, can be played by children of any age. No tools, accessories, cards, or boards are needed to play because I Spy is a call-and-response game, meaning it can be played anywhere and anytime provided that there are at least two players. I Spy tests and develops perception and observation, expands vocabulary, and can be used to teach young children about letters, names, shapes, and objects.

How to Play I Spy

Step 1

Choose the players.

Step 2

Select the Spy. For each round of I Spy, there is one person who is the spy.

Step 3

The Spy silently identifies an object in the immediate environment with the aim to get the other player(s) to guess what that object is.

Step 4

The Spy thinks about the characteristics of the object that make it noteworthy. The Spy then uses those noteworthy features to develop hints for the other player(s). Good hints might include adjectives that relate to the object’s:

  • Color
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Texture
  • Geometric features
  • First letter
  • Material
  • A word that it sounds like

Step 5

The Spy provides the hint by saying, “I Spy with my little eye, something that…”.

Step 6

Once the hint is provided, the Spy allows the other players to look around, find the object, and finally give each player a chance to guess what object was chosen.

Step 7

If necessary, the Spy provides another hint, choosing a different adjective this time, and concentrating on a different feature.

Step 8

Let the player who guesses correctly become the next Spy.

Playing I Spy can teach children to focus on things in the present moment they might not have noticed before. This process of mindfulness is also a fun way to pass time on a road trip, while waiting for a train, plane, or bus, on a family holiday, in a waiting room, while shopping, or looking for something to do with friends.

I Spy can also be incorporated with a mindful walk through the neighborhood. Instruct your child to pay attention to the sensations. This could include the feeling of the ground beneath them, of the wind or breeze, the warmth of the sun, even the way their body feels while in motion. Then spend one minute together quietly listening to the sounds around you.

Such mindfulness practices slow the thoughts racing through our minds simply by practicing to take time, note, and observe each thought. The goal is for children to apply this mindfulness technique whenever they need to calm themselves and refocus their energy and attention.


Langer, E. J. and Moldoveanu, M. (2000), The Construct of Mindfulness. Journal of Social Issues, 56: 1–9. doi:10.1111/0022-4537.00148
David A. Klingbeil, Tyler L. Renshaw, Jessica B. Willenbrink, Rebecca A. Copek, Kai Tai Chan, Aaron Haddock, Jordan Yassine, Jesse Clifton, Mindfulness-based interventions with youth: A comprehensive meta-analysis of group-design studies, Journal of School Psychology, Volume 63, 2017, Pages 77-103, ISSN 0022-4405, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2017.03.006.


Image: Bernard Spragg. NZ on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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