Where Did “I Spy With My Little Eye” Come From?

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Unlike the games “tag”, “hide and go seek”, “capture the flag” and many others, “I spy with my little eye” is an iconic game that requires zero physical effort. 

The odds are extremely high that you have played “I spy with my little eye” growing up because it is a super easy game to play no matter the setting.

From standing in a line at Disney World to sitting in a park, there is no place you can’t play the game. 

A game that has grown this popular has to have a place that it came from and this game actually dates back to the Victorian era. 

So how does one play “I spy with my little eye”, where did it come from and how did it grow to become the game it is today? 

Don’t worry, all of those questions will be answered by the end of this article.  

How to Play “I Spy With My Little Eye”

The rules of “I spy with my little eye” are simple. One player is the spy and the other players are the seekers. 

The spy has to search their surroundings for an object, select one and then slightly describe the object.

This clue could be the color or the first letter of the object, but players can get more creative with it if they choose to do so.

To make sure the rules of the game are clear, let’s run through some examples.

For the first example, imagine that the players are playing the game outdoors in a park. 

The spy says, “I spy with my little eye something that is blue.” In response, the seekers guess the object is the pond nearby or a playground. 

Eventually, someone guesses the sky and they are correct! 

For the second example, imagine that the players are playing the game inside a classroom.

The spy states, “I spy with my little eye something that starts with the letter D.” Immediately the other players correctly guess that the object is a desk!

You then repeat this process, rotating player to player until you decide to stop playing. 

Not only is this game a great way to kill time, but it is also educational for kids!

It helps children become more aware of their surroundings and learn how to describe them. 

If your child is learning new vocabulary words, this could be a perfect game to play to help them practice pointing out those words in real life! 

Now that you know how to play “I spy with my little eye” you are probably curious where it came from in the first place. 

Where Did “I Spy With My Little Eye” Come From?

According to 7ESL, an educational program that teaches English, the phrase that goes along with the game was first seen in England during the Victorian times. 

The first mention of the game, at least that is known to the public, in print was surprisingly in a newspaper and not a book meant for children.

The Manchester Times released an article about the game in January of 1889, according to Phrases.org

The article outlines the rules of the game, which they simply called “I Spy.”

Though the game seems to have started in England, it seems to have spread to an additional country in the earlier 1900s. 

According to Know Your Phrase, “I spy with my little eye” was mentioned in two different Australian newspapers.  

In 1911, “The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times” newspaper briefly mentioned the phrase that ties along with the game. 

The newspaper stated, “There are also other irregularities in regard to the work which I can spy with my little eye..”

Though this is not directly speaking about the game, it is clear that the phrase made its way over to Australia over 110 years ago. 

The second newspaper that mentioned the phrase in 1925 was actually referring to the game itself. 

“The Queenslander” not only uses the phrase “I spy with my little eye”, but it also included a small section that describes the rules and how the game is played.  

How Did “I Spy With My Little Eye” Grow More Popular? 

Though it is very likely that the game spread organically by word of mouth, it eventually became a popular book series that many know and love today. 

I-SPY spotter’s guide books became extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

This original series was aimed at British children since that is where the game first originated and was most popular. 

Eventually, a very popular publication in the United States decided to launch its own book series based on the game.

According to Publishers Weekly, Scholastic’s first “I Spy” picture riddle book was published in 1992.

In the early 1980s, Jean Marzollo was the editor for “Let’s Find Out” which was a Scholastic magazine. 

Marzollo received a photo from Walter Wick one day which caught her eye. 

Eventually, these two became a fantastic duo with Marzollo’s experience in children’s education and writing along with Wick’s photography skills. 

Wick created the visual aspects of the game while Marzollo wrote rhymes that would prompt children to search for different hidden objects. 

These two are responsible for the beginning of one of Scholastic’s top-selling series. 

As of 2011, there were over 42 million books in print! 

It is probably safe to assume that these books caught on so quickly due to the fact they forced kids to actually think while also being entertaining. 

The concept also had a lot of creative freedom as well, allowing for themed books.

Eventually, the game would reach more modern-day technology where it is also a hit.   

In 2002, HBO launched “I Spy” the television show which ran for two seasons with 52 total episode segments.  

Briarpatch, a board game company, licensed “I Spy” to create a series of games. 

With Briarpatch’s “I Spy” games including board and card games along with puzzles, the company has shipped over 10 million units of “I Spy” related games. 

It is clear that “I spy with my little eye” will only continue to grow as new technology emerges, but it will always be the classic game that kids and adults will play with their friends! 

For more fun activities you can play with your children, be sure to visit the Learning Experience’s YouTube channel here!

Bubbles And Friends
Bubbles And Friendshttps://www.youtube.com/c/BubblesandFriendsVideosforKids/videos
Bubbles and Friends provides educational entertainment for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and children of all ages. Join Bubbles the Elephant, and his best friend, Braden, for new and exciting adventures your kids will love.
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