We have a group of playdate friends who organized a Busy Bag/Activity Exchange so I was trying to think of something that would be fun and yet personalized, so that each kid would have their own special item. I'd seen I-Spy bottles and figured they are easily customizable, so I thought I'd give it a try. We came up with some pretty fun and inexpensive ways to personalize them and I can't wait to pass them out!
Name recognition is a fun skill to work on with kids in the 3 year old age range. My daughter loves finding the letters in her name, or even better her whole name. So we wanted to find a few ways to personalize with names and initials. For names, we did everyone's names on printable shrink film (aka shrinky dinks) which are sooo fun to design! This time around I did some easy word art on Microsoft publisher. (More notes below about shrinky dinks.) We also spelled the names with letter beads. Shorter ones fit on safety pins, those that didn't fit, I laced onto some clear lacing chord.
For the initials, I had an inexpensive set of magnetic letters that as luck would have it, fit through the mouth of the bottles we had. You could also do the beads or, super fun- Scrabble tiles! Small Foam letters would work fine too.
Shrinky Dink Photos
We actually had this shrinky dink of my daughter laying around from a failed attempt at a Father's Day key chain! Ha! I thought, how fun to have little shrinky dink pictures of the kids inside the bottles? I love how it looks to see her reaching up and out of the rice, too funny! To make it, I had her hold a toy over her head for the photo, printed it on shrink film at minimum brightness (since the colors darken when they shrink), then I punch a hole before baking it. I didn't make the hole big enough though, lesson learned! Happy we can use it here!
We used colored rice for our filler, which can easily be made to match a child's favorite color but you could also use colored shredded paper, small pom poms, colored salt or other colored fillers. The beads and buttons you add could be that color too.
By this age a lot of kids have expressed an interest in a specific animal. Dollar stores and party stores often have inexpensive animal figurines, we picked ours up at American Science and Surplus. We also found a package of animal erasers at the dollar store.
Sports and Activities
If you have a child who is into sports or another specific activity, you probably have a source on your radar for small sports figurines and sports themed erasers. There are also some fun sports bouncy balls that (depending on the mouth of your bottle!) would probably fit.
If your child loves a particular character, choosing the colors of that character and party favors to match would make a fun theme. Holidays present an infinite number of tiny trinkets- small christmas ornaments, jingle bells, figurines, etc. Another fun theme would be back to school, using paper clips, crayons, shredded paper and erasers. A Pirate theme could use red, black and white rice, gold plastic coins, the letter X, parrot figurines and even a shrinky dink map! Princesses would love one with jewels, rings, bracelets, princess erasers and figurines. I love the idea of using board game pieces too!
We recently went to Michaels and they have tons of little items that would work well in a bottle. Even scrapbooking decorations would be fun.
Trips and Travel
If you are making the I-Spy Bottle specifically to make for a long trip, why not personalize it with items relating to that trip- sea shells, sand, palm trees, tropical animals, maybe plastic coins. Transport figures are also fun. We found these great bi-wing planes at the surplus store, but boats, planes, trains and cars would all be great.
Another way you could use shrink film is to let the kids draw their own artwork, bake it off and pop that in the bottle. If you are cutting some out anyhow and you have scrap pieces, might as well use them for something! We made these a while back with the clear shrink film (which we also got at American Science Surplus) for playing on our Light Box.
Personalize the Process
Most of our bottles are gifts and will be complete when we pass them out, however we had another crafty playdate with our friends over at Craftulate to make these bottles. So George and her son, F, helped us with our project and we made one for F as well. F and Ladybug had loads of fun playing with the rice, which was something I didn't even consider when we planned to do the activity with them. I thought they would focus more on the items in the bottles but they loved running their hands through the colored rice, mixing and pouring it here and there.
I had the treasure selected before we started but you could easily let the kids pick the treasure. Doing the project with the kids also allowed them to personalize their bottles by choosing their own filler colors– or mixture of colors- that was in their bottle. All in all it was pretty fun to put together and I hope the kids get a lot of use out of them.
They are fun, not just to look at to find the treasure inside, but also to shake and make noise with!
Part of what makes this an I-Spy bottle versus a discovery bottle is having a picture of all the treasure in side. I haven't decided how to present this yet…laminated photo paper? Tied to the bottle? Stuck to one side of the bottle? I don't know but here is one picture of the contents, I did not include the matching child's photo.
Note: The buttons, pom poms, and lacing letter beads were provided for free by www.craftprojectideas.com.
In case you are new to shrink film (aka shrink dinks) here are some tips for you. We used the Graphix brand Inkjet white shrink film, which you can use with your printer. The directions tell you to print your picture on lighter brightness. When you add pictures to Word or Publisher, you can adjust the brightness of the picture in order to make it print lighter. However I was using words, and word art to be specific, and I couldn't find a brightness adjustment other than to fill the letters with a lighter color. You can see in the picture how the light green turned dark and the lavender turned into purple after baking.
One note- the packaging says it takes 2-3 minutes in the oven. It probably takes 2 minutes to shrink all the way, but it takes 5-10 minutes before it STARTS to shrink in my oven. Watch your oven carefully.
Another great tip I read was to make a ruler our of your shrink film, marking inches and using all the colors you are using, then shrink it and you will have a guide for how big to make your items. Genius!
Now. By nature, shrink film is going to curl when you bake it. You will freak out, thinking the whole thing is ruined, but take a deep breath, it will probably be just fine in a couple minutes. One tip I saw was to lay a piece of parchment paper on top and that really did help. As did baking only a couple pieces at once. The first time I did 2 pieces under parchment and they didn't lift the paper at all, it was actually a little hard to tell they had shrunk. Then for the next batch I just put all the rest of my pieces on the sheet pan with the parchment over it (I did have a piece under it as well). The pieces did curl and lifted the parchment a little, but they all flattened back out and came out fine. One almost tipped over so I had to open the oven to adjust.
A tip for after they come out is have something flat and heavy ready to set on top of them as soon as they come out. You could also use a drinking glass, rolling it over the piece to flatten it.
When using them for an I-Spy bottle, again think of the width of the mouth of the bottle. I used both Fuze juice drink bottles and these smaller bottles from the Surplus store.
We're excited to share our I-Spy Bottles with our friends and we hope you try some of these fun, easy ways to make your own!
If you are looking for Busy Bag and Busy Activities ideas, I invite you to check my Kids Road Trip Activities Pinterest board for lots of similar ideas in that area.