The kids were whispering…
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Spy Kids Academy,” they whispered. My kids were obsessed with Netflix’s “Spy Kids: Mission Critical,” a show aimed at wannabe spies ages 8+. My curiosity piqued, I checked it out before searching for the best spy gear for kids that would help my youngsters save the world, too.
DBPOWER Predator (check price on Amazon) is the equivalent of an adult drone with all of the bells and whistles found on professional models. This high-def, wi-fi enabled drone features a 720p camera so spies-in-training can shoot away for up to 18 minutes, thanks to high-capacity batteries.
What they’ll love: Think of this pricey pick as a status symbol. Your child’s cred will skyrocket while he has a blast operating his drone in “headless mode” and sleuthing out top secrets from on high.
Watch out for: Too sophisticated for very young kids, don’t count on the batteries staying juiced for 18-minute of fly time. Read this before you buy to make sure your kid is ready to own a drone.
For the cost of a couple of fast food meals, delight your youngster with a pair of Spy Gear Night Goggles (check price on Amazon) that behave like real gear used by super spies. Two-times magnification, blue tinted lenses, LED Lights, retractable scope and adjustable head strap produce a quality-made product sure to thrill curious spies and spyettes.
What they’ll love: No spy school education required to begin nighttime spying missions, thanks to this hands-free, head-mounted product. Could you awaken at night to find someone staring at you? That’s part of the fun!
Watch out for: You could find yourself returning these goggles if you expect a high-quality infrared night vision product, so make sure you know this toy’s limitations before you buy.
Best Budget Buy
The MaleDen Ink Pen (check price on Amazon) is harmless and writes on a variety of surfaces, including skin, t-shirts and paper. Battery-driven, these pens provide more entertainment for the price than most on today’s toy market.
What they’ll love: Who doesn’t want a secret agent pen that allows sleuths to write clandestine messages that become invisible until the cap’s light reveals them? Moms seeking party favors agree that these pens are great choices.
Watch out for: Because this pen costs so little, parents may not bother to register dissatisfaction with the product, but those who do say the cheap quality of the plastic is a recipe for breakage.
SpyNet Ultra Vision Goggles (check price on Amazon) look formidable, are designed for enhanced daytime vision but the kids also spot villains in complete darkness up to 50-feet at night. This cool-looking electronic toy captures video and photo “evidence,” is an affordable pick for kids 8+ and while they’re not included, these goggles run on just 4 AA batteries.
What they’ll love: Not your ordinary spyware, this product helps kids search for enemy agents in real time using ghostly or thermal vision filters, so they enjoy the hunt for enemies just like their favorite action heroes.
Watch out for: Kids preparing to be impressed by that 50-foot range in the dark may be disappointed. Keep the receipt just in case your child turns out to be one of them.
If your spy-in-training is ready for technology that transcends toys, Secret Mission video Watch (check price on Amazon) fully functional video watch could earn you many hugs. Kids record and play back video, pictures and audio—in fact, they can store up to 2000 photos. The price tag is steep but the look on your super spy’s face may be worth the expenditure.
What they’ll love: Be careful what you say and do, Mom and Dad. In addition to 20 minutes of video capture, your 007 can record 4+ hours of audio. The reset button is Junior’s insurance that evidence won’t be lost.
Watch out for:Enthusiasm for this product at introduction was high—until parents began reporting malfunctions that spoiled the fun for many kids. Caveat emptor.
A less expensive night vision (check price on Amazon) option designed for spies ages 6+, this stealthy product allows agents to peer into 30-feet of blackness using infrared technology to see if they’re being tailed. Only 3 AAA batteries required to keep this spycraft tool operational.
What they’ll love: This product flips between short and long vision modes so kids spot lurkers with nefarious intentions. A hands-free tool, this gear allows a child to carry a weapon or take notes during missions. Parents will appreciate the instruction guide and modest price point!
Watch out for: The occasional child may experience focus issues and distortion problems, and your ninja may need a sturdier strap to keep these goggles in place.
Best Kid’s Spy Kit
Kids’ eyes light up when they are handed “kits” filled with goodies and this plastic Ninja mission set (check price on Amazon) is ready for action. Designed for children 6+ who crave weird sound effects, he’ll adore the wrist blaster, motion alarm, night spyer and spy pen blaster, each an irresistible sensory experience.
What they’ll love: Youngsters write and send secret messages via wrist dart, use the night spyer’s 2X magnification to spot trouble in the dark from 25 feet. A motion alarm sounds if they’re being followed, too!
Watch out for: This set comes with a formidable price tag and eats batteries like crazy (AAA-not included; LR43-included) to stay operational.
Code breaking is a serious job for junior sleuths, and Spy Code Yulu Breal Free (check price on Amazon) not only teaches kids over the age of 6 to pick locks (no judgments here), but it encourages them to engage with other kids who are equally interested in mastering this art. Invite the neighbors to engage in a game that hosts up to 4 kids.
What they’ll love: There are three levels of difficulty within 12 mazes that must be solved to become a proficient lock picker. In a universe of solitary spy toys, this one encourages strategizing and cooperation. No batteries required. We can see you doing a happy dance.
Watch out for: The age range specified by the manufacturer is sketchy. If your child is precocious, he could easily game the system and get bored before this set shows much wear.
Have you ever seen anything cuter than a kid dressed in a mini-trench coat? Melissa & Doug Spy Role Play Costume Set (check price on Amazon) takes dress-up to new heights and includes a jaunty hat, spy jacket, sunglasses, a spy guide, decoder lens and coded message card. Part of the Melissa & Doug Role Play collection, these pieces get high marks for authenticity.
What they’ll love: Kids ages 5 to 8 slide into these costumes and lose themselves in role play, the value of which can’t be underestimated, say editors at “Child’s Play” magazine (http://childsplaymagazine.com/1504/dress-up-play.htm)
Watch out for: This popular costume set has only one thing going against it: it may not fit little spies with weight issues.
Your wannabe spy may not care that MukikiM SpyX (check price on Amazon) won Creative Child Magazine Product of the Year honors in 2015, but you may. Kids get lots of goodies: a micro listener, invisible ink pen, motion alarm and ear light, plus a utility belt so your James or Janet Bond can run missions hands-free.
What they’ll love: Every skill a spy learns in spy school is represented in these tools so your son or daughter can protect his safe house (room), write secret messages, operate in the dark and listen in on top-secret conversations.
Watch out for: Not every parent may be willing to encourage a child to listen in and record conversations. Despite this product’s sophistication you could experience quality control issues.
Best Spy Gear for Girls
Spying is an equal-opportunity pastime for little girls with adventurous spirits and Project Mc2 Ultimate Spy Bag (check price on Amazon) is a big winner because it’s so unique. At first blush, this pink spy bag looks like a makeup trunk, but it’s actually a collection of 20+ spy tools, each cleverly designed to give spyettes an edge in the espionage game.
What they’ll love: The makeup powder is fingerprint powder and the perfume bottle launches secret messages in disguised lipstick tubes. The chic spy bag is a branded toy inspired by Netflix’s Project Mc2 spy series.
Watch out for: A lack of outer packaging, cheap plastic material and questions about value for price have been dogging this otherwise clever toy idea.
Designed for kids 6+, the Mission Alpha Set (check price on Amazon) has fewer components than its closest competitor (#10 on this list) but essentials are all there: recording pen, motion alarm, night goggles and tactical mirror. Built-in LED lights and a zoom lens help your child undertake top-secret night missions.
What they’ll love: Children geared up for reconnaissance will prize this Mission Alpha set. They can write secret messages, record audio, use their goggle zoom lens to spy on suspects and detect enemies lurking nearby.
Watch out for: Despite a staggering price tag that usually means quality construction, materials used to manufacture components could disappoint. Plan to keep replacing 8 batteries to keep items functional.
Tell friends that your child is becoming a forensics expert at age 8 and get some respect. He trains without leaving home via fingerprinting cards (check price on Amazon), dusting powder, stamp pad, brush and stickers to lift fingerprints. A cool plastic case keeps everything contained.
What they’ll love: If your child owns other 4M toys, this one is likely to be a hit because it’s a blast to use and it’s relatively inexpensive. That said, turnabout is fair play, parents–in case you want to identify prints on the cookie jar!
Watch out for: Cheaply-made components have left some parents and Scout leaders complaining that while the idea is great, it may not survive much use.
Best Real Spy Gear for Kids
For children who exhibit a real talent for sleuthing out intrigue, this pricey audio wall probe may be just what CIA agents need to keep peace on the planet. The Spy Tec Highly Sensitive Audio Wall Probe (check price on Amazon) installs on any wall—cement, glass, brick, wood, iron, steel and cement. Once mounted, audio amplification can be turned up to 20000x.
What they’ll love: If you encourage your child listen to confidential chatter, this probe is the perfect vehicle. Marketed as a device appropriate for consumers and professionals, this audio probe means business.
Watch out for: There are cheaper alternatives to be had, but the question remains: Do you want your kids listening to you or their siblings surreptitiously?
Going undercover made easy! Spy case detective Detective gear set (check price on Amazon) is inexpensive (in case your child’s interest in spying is short lived) and it won a Dr. Toy’s Best Vacation Products Award for children 8+. Everything a detective needs is confined to the durable case and it even comes with batteries!
What they’ll love: Name a spy activity your youngster wants to try it’s in this kit: fingerprint powder and brush, binoculars, flashlight, magnifying glass, ink pad, marker pen set, code files and top secret booklet to hide clues she would prefer not to broadcast until she solves the case.
Watch out for: Your 8-year-old may grow bored with a toy best designed for a 5-year-old and some parents call the items in this gear set shoddy.
Best Spy Gadgets for Kids
This navigation device (check price on Amazon) delights kids eager to sleuth out intrigue in the dark. Light tubes on elastic straps fasten to the back of the hand. An on-off switch triggers illumination and controls flash patterns. Once in place, your little one can explore every mysterious space simply by pointing a finger.
What they’ll love: This hands-free rig gives children’s imaginations a boost as they explore dark places simply by extending a hand, at which point 4 LED light tubes illuminate the blackest environment.
Watch out for: The only complaint registered by delighted parents revolves around battery replacement frequency. In fact, some parents recommend buying two to encourage nighttime reading habits!
When you’re a spy, it’s important to know whether a double agent is sneaking up on you. These plastic mirrored glasses (check price on Amazon) reveal hidden secrets and sell as a 2-pack, so they make great spy party favors. Make sure you grab a group photograph of guests wearing their spy glasses.
What they’ll love: Disguises—even the simplest—are capable of sparking a child’s imagination and these inexpensive glasses do the job in seconds. Save them for another dress up party—just like celebs do.
Watch out for: Easily scratched lenses and breakage, say parents who compare these glasses to dollar store merchandise at a higher price.
When little brother’s listening device divulges secrets in big sister’s next door bedroom, a lockable diary (check price on Amazon) becomes essential. The design emulates a safe, the diary measures 5.5-inches (W) x 6.25-inches (H) and 104 pages give an owner plenty of space to post secrets, draw, stow photos and plot revenge.
What they’ll love: Researchers say that journaling does more to help a child cope with stressors than any other vehicle (https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/why-journaling-matters). This is a safe place to post fears, hopes and dreams. The lock and key keep those feelings secure.
Watch out for: Recommended for kids ages 5 and up, it’s a more valuable aid for children ages 8+. The “password protected” claim is bogus; only the lock and key stand between secrets and nosy siblings.
This modestly-priced toy sports a warning alarm that goes off when a double agent penetrates a kid’s mission headquarters. This product (check price on Amazon) is sensor-based, tiny and unobtrusive, but the sound is jarring enough to do the job, provided the 2 AAA batteries are charged.
What they’ll like: When kids need to protect their valuables, this nicely camouflaged toy does the job for spy masters over the age of 6. Figuring out where to position this tiny detector may be challenging, but once in place, it’s ready to warn them of danger—unless the cat sets it off!
Watch out for: This product may need an engineering fix say parents returning it because the alarm didn’t work, and in some cases, sounded more like a chirping bird than a warning sound.
Our top pick is…
If you’re confident that your youngster’s passion for spycraft is keen there’s plenty to choose from on our list (a few of which you may want to play with yourself!). Our first recommendation for the 6+ crowd is the Spy Gear Ultimate Ninja Night Vision (check price on Amazon) because it’s a solid product with few flaws at an affordable price. The ability to see up to 30-feet in darkness is ideal for night missions, the infrared technology is solid, and kids have a blast spotting suspicious moves.
Next up, creativity kudos go to Melissa and Doug, the company making the roleplay set that is truly unique (check price on Amazon). Dress up remains one of the few activities 21st Century kids enjoy that doesn’t require technological advances. Each element is adorable, from the fashion-forward trench to stylish hat, so your 5- to 8-year old will find plenty of reason to dress up this wardrobe hangs in his closet.
That stated, our top pick is #16, the SpyX Lite Hand Dark Navigation Device (check price on Amazon) we named Best Spy Gadgets for Kids. Cleverly designed to be both functional and fun, parents would be hard-pressed to match this product and features are diverse enough to entertain and intrigue kids who are blasé about toys on today’s market. We love the fact that one or more of these navigation devices are being snapped up by parents to encourage their child’s interest in reading!