How to Make a Giant I Spy Board

How to Make a Giant I Spy Board

What kid doesn’t want to be a spy at some point in time? I mean, it’s cool, right?! You get to hunt down clues and solve a mystery. Maybe fight a bad guy?! When I was in charge of events at a previous school’s PTA, I planned an ah-ma-zing Family Fun Night that we called ‘Spy Training Academy’. It was a HUGE hit that kids are still talking about. This idea could be re-created for a birthday party, scouting event, or homeschool co-op! In fact, one of the coolest aspects was this giant ‘I Spy’ board; it was 8 feet long! I based it off the ‘I Spy’ books that we all know and love.

The giant ‘I Spy’ board was one of several ‘steps’ that the kids had to progress spy training for homeschool through to complete their ‘spy training mission’. The other stations had them choose a ‘spy name’, decipher codes, learn a few ‘spy’ self-defense moves (with a karate instructor), and take pictures of their ‘disguises’ in a photo booth. At the very end, they received their ‘Certificate of Completion’ and a secret note telling them to await further instructions.

Step One: The Collection Process

You need to plan your ‘I Spy’ board out well in advance. I contacted ALL my friends and asked them to stash the junk bits the next time they cleaned out their kids’ rooms or playrooms. I told them I wanted any of the following:

  • mini figurines (dinosaurs, ants, bees, etc.)
  • ribbon
  • buttons
  • shoelaces
  • sequins
  • ABC letter magnets
  • Uno cards
  • playing cards
  • rulers
  • paper clips
  • jacks
  • dice
  • puzzle pieces
  • Lego pieces
  • mini cars
  • mini rubber ducks
  • dominoes
  • checkers/chess pieces
  • clothes pins
  • old keys
  • Rainbow Loom rubber bands
  • scrabble tiles
  • mustache
  • school spirit sticker
  • Fast Food toys (trinkets that come in Kids’ Meals)

Keep in mind that none of this stuff has to be in mint condition. It’s ok if it’s broken. When you purge a playroom, we all have a tendency to chuck bags of junk – puzzles with 12 missing pieces out of 50, plastic toys from the Dollar store, cheap knick-knacks that came in a birthday goodie bag – you get the picture. To create a massive ‘I Spy’ board you are going to need a lot of stuff!

I also bought several items, including:

  • stickers (hearts, stars. etc.)
  • new boxes of (cheap) pens, pencils, markers, and crayons
  • faux silk flower
  • Mardi Gras beads
  • plastic spoons and forks

I should confess here that I thought it was genius to include individually wrapped bubble gum, tootsie rolls, and suckers/lollipops. Kids love candy, right?! Don’t. Just don’t. I hot glued over  50 piece of candy onto the board and Every. Single. One. was plucked off and EATEN! Lesson learned.

All of the above is pretty typical of what you see in the ‘I Spy’ books, but I wanted to tie it into the concept of reading so I hit up the teachers. We put a note in every teacher’s mailbox asking them to think about their favorite book and that we’d stop by to take their picture with it the following week. As a kid, it is fun to see what your teacher’s favorite book is and, more importantly, super fun to search the ‘I Spy’ board until you find your teacher! You could add pictures of family and friends with their favorite books, or just photos of the books themselves.

I needed a base for this project that was sturdy and attractive. I chose a 48″ x 96″ piece of black foam core mounting board. It comes in white, too, but black just made everything ‘pop’ better. You can order this from most picture frame shops and art supply stores. I drove about 20 minutes away and picked one up from Dick Blick. Warning: This will not fit in a car! I drive a minivan and it was an interesting ride home with kids in car seats.

Step Two: The Assembly

At this point, you have a giant, blank board and bags of stuff. My guess is you are feeling pretty overwhelmed – I sure was. Take a deep breath and then sort things into groups. You can’t just toss everything on the board and start gluing all willy-nilly. It won’t turn out right. Instead, you are going to build this project up layer by layer.

i spy board for homeschool co-opI bought this nifty ‘Crime Scene – Do Not Cross’ tape and added it to the board first. A simple glue stick held it in place.

Next, I added the teacher photos. I printed them out at a one-hour photo place and then adhered each to yellow card stock. This really helped them pop out against the black. You could line them all up, but it makes it more fun — and harder to find — when they are all crooked and upside-down. Go crazy! A glue stick works for these, too.

After the above two base layers were down, I took one group of like items and spaced them out evenly out across the entire board. Start with the group that has the largest sized items and work your way down to the tiny paper clips and rubber bands. Once you have everything evenly spaced and the entire foam board covered, use your handy hot glue gun to stick them on.

This part was not difficult, but it was slow going. You have to hold some of the awkwardly-shaped items until the glue sets and there are those annoying strings of glue everywhere. I was actually so frustrated with the hot glue strands that I Googled how to make it stop. Go figure! There is a whole method to avoiding this! How did I not know about this?!

As you can see from the pictures, there is an ‘x’ of crime tape, followed by layer upon layer of stuff — until there was virtually no room left to sticki spy board for homeschool co-op anything. That’s the goal. The more stuff you can cram in there, the better. Seriously – pile it on. Glue some things flat and some standing up for a 3-D effect. If you look in the bottom left corner, you can see a yellow (empty) tub of play doh that I glued standing up! I even glued on some wood blocks from one of our sets and some wood paint stir sticks that I found in a friend’s basement!

It was really hard to take a decent picture of the board because it just wouldn’t all fit in the shot. I did take a video, however. If you view it, I apologize in advance. There is a reason why videography is not my chosen field.  And, my house is TRASHED in that video! A girl cannot be expected to build an 8 foot ‘I Spy’ board for the PTA without causing a little chaos, right?! #DontJudge #KeepingItReal

Step Four: The Clues

Hold up there, cowboy. You aren’t done yet! You need to write out clues! In fact, in my case, I wrote out two sets of clues — one set for my event, and a second set of different for the librarian. We moved the ‘I Spy’ board to the school’s library for the rest of the year for kids to enjoy, but I couldn’t let them use the same clues as we did during our Spy Training Academy, could I?! #Overachiever

I thought this part would be really hard but, like the assembly, I just broke it down into groups. I grabbed a scrap piece of paper and wrote down everything on the board — 11 forks, 7 blue Legos, a bell. You get the picture. Then, I looked for ways to rhyme those items or turn them into riddles. My oldest was only 7 years old at the time, but she came up with many of the clues! Our school was a K-6 so I needed a good mix of super easy clues for the K kids and harder clues for the older ones. I even had a bonus math clue! Keep in mind, you don’t have to use every item in your clues. In fact, using just a portion makes it that much harder 😉

Test Your Powers of Observation

Find a teacher on your team and a yellow submarine;

5 things that bloom, some Rainbow Looms,

6 spoons, and a big kaboom!

3 kings and a bell that rings;

5 white dice and a green robot twice;

12 birds and a box of nerds.


Odd man out

A knight without his armor

All the numbers add up to: _______

We had just one male teacher at our school (Odd Man Out) so you had to find his picture. There were tons of numbers on the board, from fridge magnets to foam numbers. You had to add them all up; this bonus clue was super hard. And, I forgot what the knight clue was 🙁

Final Note: Transporting the Finished Product

If you thought transporting an 8 foot board was hard before there was stuff on it, try it now! As I stated before, I have a minivan full of car seats. There wasn’t an easy way for me to fold all the seats down. Plus, this thing has to be transported flat. I ended up placing it on top of all the headrests and driving really slow. I also had a friend help me carry it into the school because the slightest breeze turned the ‘I Spy’ board into a sail!

That’s it! I hope these step-by-step instructions for an ‘I Spy’ board inspire you to build one for your family or co-op. Let me know in the comments below how your project turned out!

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