I spy box
Education,  Montessori theory

M is for May’s Montessori Materials: “I Spy” box

Hatfield Montessori hosted a Thursday Zoom talk with the Head of Monaghan Montessori, Martin Pinchen. This inspired our team to explore the importance of building links in our community. He mentioned this could start by linking the home and the school environment through understanding and curiosity. As we turn our hearts to the children in our community, we thought we might start building these links by sharing some insight on our materials in the classroom. To start this journey, we thought we should begin with our most popular box in the class: the I Spy box.

The I Spy Box

It is a little box containing 8-10 various objects. In our box we have a miniature pig, key, ceramic heart, zip, table knife and miniature trumpet. Do you notice how all of these words – pig, key, heart, zip, knife, trumpet – have different starting sounds and ending sounds? The objects are chosen each week precisely for this reason. The objects are beautiful and fragile so they speak to the child’s interest.

I spy box
The I Spy Box

The I Spy box is one of the first direct preparations for written language. Writing is a skill a child develops, it is not a natural development such as speaking, listening or walking.

Montessori Language Methodology

Montessori speaks about the importance of children themselves experiencing language before learning how to read and write. She wrote that it is through the training of the senses that the foundation of literacy development is built. Working with the I Spy box children are training their auditory sense, not only by hearing the sound but also by producing it back again.

Spoken language surrounds the child on a daily basis, and language itself comes naturally to the child. Montessori decided to build on this foundation to lead the child to writing and reading. This is done through phonemic awareness. In other words, the guide is offering an awareness of the sounds that encompass our language, so that the child can realise she is surrounded by words. Phonemic awareness is part of our spoken language ‘area’. We practice this by singing songs, reciting poems, singing rhymes together, creating rhyming words, etc.

I Spy is done after much spoken language and introduces the child to the sounds that make up our words. The game begins with the starting sounds of the object. Both the child and the guide will name each object in the box as they are laid out, emphasizing the starting sound. After we have identified them the guide will start by saying, ‘I Spy something beginning with …’

Other Fun Options

For children who have just started this game, it is challenging to hear and make sounds in isolation. If this is the case, another game might be played. This involves walking around the classroom and naming what is seen by song.

The song goes like this:

“Table, table, tuh, tuh tuh

Shelf, shelf, sh sh sh”

Songs are a great way for this child to grasp the concept of the sound, through a simple melody. There are lots of giggles and enjoyment as they absorb the sounds that are produced by the shape of their mouths. The child is also working on strengthening the muscles that produce sounds, which will assist in developing their articulation.

Once everyone in the little group has had a turn, the guide might ask one of the older children to be the spier and the game continues without the guide being directly involved, but observing closely.

This little box establishes the foundation for reading and writing. Once the child is able to identify the starting sounds, the end sounds and the middle sounds of the words, they move on to the sandpaper letters. This is when we introduce the symbols for the sounds the child has become familiar with. By holding on to the experience of hearing and saying the sounds, the child is able to link this to the concrete symbol by means of a quick lesson.

Establishing Value

The I Spy box holds a great value of not only being something beautiful and interesting to the child but also connecting the children through work. The sound game is done in small groups of mixed ages. The younger children observe the older children and the older children are encouraged to guide the younger ones, or lead the I Spy when they’re ready.

The I Spy is a great hit in the class, and I believe that it is a wonderful material that feeds children’s hunger for beauty, simplicity and community – all whilst introducing them to the wonderful sounds of our language. Magic!

Food for Thought

Do you remember your introduction to the alphabet or the sounds that make up our languages? It might be a bit different, but you can support your child’s exploration by singing songs, making up rhymes/riddles and exploring the world of language together. If your home has more than one language, discover the different sounds in both languages together.

20 May 2022Ellen-Anne Williams


  • Annette

    Weekend activity loading…

    The ride home from school is usually when I am told about sand letters , and playing, and tree climbing , and playing …play is the predominant activity. On one of these rides home I was floored to hear my little person reading three letter words to me. Now she actively takes part in reading three letter words in our bedtime stories. 😁

    The I Spy game will be a great way to increase letter recognition. Thank you Hatfield Montessori

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