Game leads to interaction and reinforces learning


"I spy with my little eye something red."

My 4-year-old was smiling and gazing around the room, trying not to stare at the item she wanted me to guess.

Is it the number on that board?


How about the lady's dress in that picture?


The exit sign?

"Yes! Give me five, Mommy."

And so goes the time we pass while waiting for appointments, lessons and performances to begin.

I used to carry her coloring books, crayons and a book for me wherever we went. One day, when I forgot them, we started playing the little guessing game, and it has taken off from there.


When she was coloring and I was reading, we had little interaction. Now we talk and laugh the whole time we're out. I feel like I'm really getting to know my daughter.

She loves the game. I do, too. Little does she realize that I'm using it to reinforce what she's learning.

Her music teacher is introducing other fine arts in class and recently talked about two "special" colors: teal and lavender.

The following week, we looked for those two colors specifically.

"Now what does that look like again?" she asked when I told her to find a lavender item.

Light purple, I explained.

"Oh, that's right. There it is, Mommy," she said, delighted to have figured it out.

When we've exhausted all the colors we can see, we search for shapes. Circles are easy. Squares and rectangles are another story. I'm trying to teach her that a four-sided shape is not a square unless it has equal sides. (And right angles, but only her older brother is familiar with that term at this point).

She'll say, "I spy with my little eye something in the shape of a square," and I'll look and look and look ... only to see rectangles.

That scenario has been played out so many times that I started assuming she was too young to understand the difference, but I kept explaining it anyway.

Then, during one of our games last week, she insisted that she had found a square. I guessed just about every rectangle in the room - thinking she mistakenly had called it a square - and gave up. Then she confidently pointed out a red box inside a rectangle frame. Sure enough, it was a square.

That was so exciting. To think that the time we spent playing had been so much fun AND so productive.

My 8-year-old son likes to get in on the game, too. To be fair, they have to take turns guessing, and I make his clues a little harder: I spy with my little eye a number that is three times six.

Trying to have more correct guesses than his little sister is a definite incentive for learning his multiplication tables.

Our little game helps in other ways, too. My children don't view waiting as a negative thing. They see it as a chance to talk and play with Mom.

They love the challenge, too. Isn't it boring and frustrating to sit in a waiting room while thinking of all the other things you could be doing? Why not do something productive with that time?

Even though we try to play the game quietly, I've noticed other people's eyes searching for items in our clues. It's a great morale booster for a crowded waiting room.

While waiting at a restaurant a few months ago, we had a half dozen people searching with us for a parallelogram, which looks like a rectangle leaning to one side (or a rectangle that has been italicized), and a trapezoid, which looks like a rectangle with a shortened top and sides that lean in.

That was a fun night. Even though we waited for more than an hour to be seated, it didn't seem nearly that long.

It only takes a little effort to engage, go with the moment and truly enjoy our kids for who they are.

It doesn't hurt if we can beat them at their own game.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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