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I Spy Bottles: Engaging Sensory Independent Play

How to make simple I Spy bottles.

Every mom needs an activity that keeps her child engaged, happy, learning, and quiet. Let’s be real, sometimes we need to get things done without kids in our hair. And while screen time has its place, we can’t ignore the benefits of real play.

You can’t always just send kids outside alone, either due to weather or just safety. Sometimes the usuals like coloring and play doh get old. It’s time for a new and engaging play challenge. (And don’t worry, it’s easy to put together!!)

Make an I Spy Bottle!

This is going to be a favorite in your house. This simple bottle will amuse your child endlessly while working on important skills. These are perfect for a rainy day or even on the go. Here is how to make a DIY I Spy bottle yourself.

picture of 3 holiday I Spy bottles

What's In This Post?

How To Make I Spy Bottles

Truth time. I think it is very important to understand why activities and toys are good for kids. But realistically, we all want to know how to make them first. So let’s do that. Then I will dive into the why of I Spy Bottles.

Components of a Quality I Spy Bottle

A good I Spy bottle has several options for your child to seek and find. I have found there are 3 main components. You can customize each component to your child’s interests, ability level, and of course how into your theme you are getting.

Here are the 3 parts to a good I Spy Bottle.

One: The Main Filler

In order for sensory bottles to work well you need a main filler. This is the bulk of the bottle and the medium the items you are seeking move around and hide in.

Rice is a go-to favorite for me. It’s easy, cheap, and you can easily dye it to any color you need. (Learn how easy it is to dye rice here: How to make colored rice.)

But rice isn’t the only option. Any sort of bulk sensory tray filler will work for this.

  • Rice
  • Dried Beans
  • Dried Pasta
  • Cotton Balls
  • Puff Balls
  • Beads

These are just a few suggestions. You can use whatever you like. I just suggest it be small so the I Spy items can peak through and cheap because, well, budgets.

materials for i spy bottles

Two: Colorful and Theme Based Extras

You get to be creative here. Anything colorful or shiny draws kids in and makes your sensory bottle interesting to look at. These pieces can range in size from small to medium. Think small puffballs, bits of ribbon, colorful sequins.

The goal is to make your bottle interesting to look at. These are objects that your child can seek out, count, and compare. Think colors that stand out against your main filler. You can use anything you have handy for these items.

Here are some ideas of what to add:

  • Puff Balls
  • Buttons
  • Ribbon Pieces
  • Piper Cleaner Pieces
  • Sequins
  • Glitter
  • Fake Gem Stones
  • Beads
  • Alphabet Beads

Three: Unique Items

The final items to add are a couple of unique items. Small toys or fun small erasers are perfect for this. You only want one of each type, like one toy wheel from a car and one small toy monkey. Unique items for your child to seek out.

For young children, I like these items to be a decent size. The goal is for your child to find them. But as your kids get older and better at finding things you can add smaller, more challenging unique items to your bottles.

I like starting with this one because these are the favorites and most personalized parts of your I Spy bottle. These are going to be the main items kids love to seek and find. These can range in size from tiny and therefore super hard to find to bigger and easier for your youngest seeker to find.

Here are some ideas for your unique items:

  • Toy Car
  • Fun Erasers
  • Small Ornaments
  • Coins
  • Game Tokens
  • Small Magnets
  • Bells

How To Make Your I Spy Bottle

Putting together these bottles is easy and fun.

You need a plastic bottle of some sort. Empty, dry water bottles can work really well. The only downfall is the small opening for fitting in fun items.

Dollar stores have fun plastic jars that are perfect for this sort of activity. You can fill then empty and refill your bottles to keep them fresh and interesting.

  1. Add some of your fun extras to the bottom of the bottle along with one or two unique items.
  2. Layer on some of your filler.
  3. Add more fun extras.
  4. Add a layer of filler.
  5. Continue until your bottle is almost full.

You are going to want to leave a little room in your bottle and not fill it completely. This way there will be room for the parts to move around, which is how your child will find them.

Put on the lid and hand it to your child to seek and find!

how to make I Spy Bottles for Valentine's Day

Tips for your Seek and Find Bottle

A few tips to make this sensory bottle work for you.

Glue The Lid

I like using jars because it makes it easier to update and change our I Spy bottles. I feel like we don’t waste things and I can easily add to the challenges if needed.

However small children have a fun way of opening up bottles they aren’t supposed to. You don’t want small children getting into the bottles as the small pieces can be choking hazards. And the rice just makes a big old mess to clean up.

If you have concerns about this you can put a line of glue around the top of your bottle after it is filled then put the lid on to keep the jar sealed.

Teach Your Child To Use the Bottle

Some children will grab a bottle like this and just adore looking at it for hours. Others will need a little guidance. So don’t be afraid to teach your child how to use the bottle a bit.

Ask leading questions and tell them some specific items to look for. This can be helpful for getting them to focus on their bottles.

What Learning Is Going On?

So we made these bottles, great. They are a great quiet time activity, but what are kids really learning from them?

Attention To Detail

These bottles have a lot going on, and if your child isn’t looking carefully they can miss something. Being able to pay attention to the details is an important skill, and these bottles encourage it.

Compare and Contrast

I Spy bottles give you the perfect chance to talk to your child about what they are seeing in the bottle. What is different about the objects? What is the same? How do the unique items differ from the main filler?

Even without guiding questions your child is learning to compare as she moves the bottle and sees how some objects fall right to the bottom and others hide more effectively in the filler.

Observation Skills

This learning opportunity is pretty obvious. Your child is learning to observe carefully. They need to look closely at the bottle. They are also learning how to manipulate the bottle to make it easier to find objects.


These bottles aren’t always easy. It takes time and patience to find things in them. If you get impatient and shake up the bottle you have to start all over. I Spy bottles encourage children to take their time and be patient.


It is so easy to give up if we can’t find something easily! But these bottles give children a chance to practice perseverance. They need to stick with it to find all the fun items within the bottle. This activity isn’t about instant gratification.

Make Your Seek and Find Bottle Today!

Making these bottles will be a favorite in your house. You can theme them out any way you choose and find new ways to play with them. It’s a scavenger hunt in a bottle!


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