Phonics I-Spy Discovery Bottle

Make a phonics I-Spy discovery bottle for hours of playful literacy fun at home, in the classroom or even when travelling! A great activity for learning beginning letter sounds and matching phonemes to graphemes, for preschoolers to school age kids.Phonics I-Spy game

There’s been a lot of emphasis in our home recently on learning letter sounds and beginning to sound out small words to read and write independently. The girls are often able to play together and yet use the activity to reach their own independent goals at their own level of ability, which makes me very happy.

I love making resources for them which can be played with and reused  any times and that use simple materials from around the home. We have a whole collection of homemade toys, games and resources here that you can check out, to see what we have made so far.

Phonics I spy game objects

We have made some sets of Baby and Toddler Discovery bottles before, and this time I put together a Phonics Discovery bottle for them to play an I-Spy game at home and when we are out and about, as it is completely self-contained and portable.

I went on a hunt for little objects around the house beginning with each letter of the alphabet and that were small enough to fit through the next of the bottle I had collected. (For UK readers, this is a large Innocent juice bottle, which is nice and spacious for this type of activity!) Many of them are from Playmobil sets, as well as lots of other bits and pieces I’ve picked up along the way (I’m a miniature-things-hoarder so that helps!)

Once I’d found them all I laid them out and took a photo of everything before it went into the bottle, then printed this image out A4 size for them to use as their guide when they played. I’ve now laminated this so it will last for future games too.

Playing phonics I-spy game

Next I simply popped the objects into the bottle and added 1/3rd full of dry, coloured rice (still saved and reused from this Golden Cinnamon sensory tub from last Christmas! See this post to see how to dye the rice.) Then the lid was sealed (you can use a glue gun or super-glue) and the contents were shaken to hide them a little.


I quickly wrote out the alphabet and chopped it into small cards and let them choose which one they wanted to start with. Then they had to say the sound out loud (the sound/ phoneme, rather than the letter name/ grapheme) and begin their search for it in the bottle.

Here is this example you can see Pop selecting the letter “m”. She said “mmmmmmm” then searched on the photo sheet for an object beginning with that letter (for some sounds I used a few objects, to increase the number in the bottle.) She chose the moon, then she shook and turned the bottle until she found it and pointed it out.Phonics I-spy discovery bottle game

Cakie enjoyed playing the game at this level too, even though she is confident in all her letter sounds. There is plenty of fun simply playing this as an I-spy game! She wanted to do more with it though, and decided to try and write down the name of everything she had found in a list, sounding it out as she did so. Another way to play this would be to provide word cards for each object contained in the bottle for beginning or more confident readers to pick out a card at random and then read it and look for that object to find. That is where we will take this game next with Cakie when she is keen to play it again.Hide and seek phonics bottle game

I can’t wait to take this with us on our next journey or when we go to an appointment in the future as it’s sure to be a great boredom buster!

What else could you make? I love the possibility of discovery bottles!

If you liked this idea you will love looking through our Playful Literacy collection here!

Check out our Literacy Pinterest Board too

Cakie: 5.2

Pop: 3.7

Bean: 1.8



  1. Ellie says

    I love the idea of doing this in a bottle! Have you considered taping or otherwise covering most of the bottle and leaving a ‘window’, for more advanced users? Though, since you can’t manipulate the bottle as you could a fabric pouch, maybe that would make it too tricky… You’ve inspired me to get out my unfinished I-Spy pouches that I was making for my son and niece, and get them finished for Christmas!

  2. says

    Love this – thank you! Bought the value rice and Innocent juice today (!) and have been collecting tiny things for a couple of days. Did you have something for every single letter? I’m struggling with a couple of them!

  3. Ynes says

    Where can I find the miniatures? That can get pretty expensive. I want to do this for my grandson who is 20 months old.


  1. […] Its speech language pathology application is simple: have the child find the object that matches the sound that you are working on. For example, if you are working on the sound /m/, the child would search for a monkey and then read the word aloud. I thought that this would be a fun light tech activity because children love searching for hidden treasure! The idea came from […]