Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Spy Gear: All Good in the Name of Pretend

This is the latest version of our goggles.  I guess they are always updating their products.  photo: Wild Planet
WHAT: Spy Gear Viper-Blaster  and Night Go
DOES:  Excellent pretend play
INVEST: $13- $15  depending on retailer
TOOLS: More Make Believe Please,  Foment Love of Language (you are making up and telling stories), My Body Needs to Move (this pretend play item requires walking around your house)

Yesterday, I was in McDonald's and happened to peek at what was the toy for the Happy Meal and was surprised to see Spy Gear as the featured toy.  Wow!   That caught my eye and I realized that I have never written about our Spy Gear stuff.

I suppose it is because of the darts.  Yes, we got ourselves some good shooting toys in this house and the subsequent play that can result, at least in my opinion, does support my efforts in language development and good social skills.

Before having children, I had all these ideas about what good parenting would be.  I used to joke and tell friends that I would enroll my son in ballet school and my daughter in Tae Kwon Do school.  They poked fun as they said I would ruin them and we all had a big laugh.  I really thought I was going to be different.  But the wrong word in this sentence is "I."   I cannot plan for my child to like or stop liking something just because want it..especially if he has friends, goes outside of the house to playgrounds and toy stores, and watches television.

This was our version and Number 1 likes seeing in the dark a lot!   It would become the first of many and the first toy that successfully lifted my ban of anything that shoots things.  It actually is a lot of fun.   They all are.  photo: Wild Planet

And sure enough, I have a boy, two in fact, and my oldest one especially likes toy guns.   But given his reaction to them and his attachment to his Spy Gear toys for the past year and a half, I have to say.  I'm glad I bought them.

Science Was the Hook

It all started with the Spy Gear Night Vision Goggles.   I saw them on Amazon Lightning Deals for a crazy discount and grabbed a pair.   I thought it would be excellent for science-based pretend play and it was.  Sure it was a pain in the butt when he turned off all the lights in the house when I was in the middle of eating dinner or folding laundry but overall, he loved those glasses. 

This is the 2nd briefcase we purchased.  It is very cute.  It's lightweight and you'd think it might break but they have dropped it and tossed it, but it hasn't busted, not even a little bit.  photo: Wild Planet

The First "Shooter": Let Him Be a Boy

But after that fateful lightning deal, I went to TJ Maxx one day and there it was, a Spy Gear briefcase complete with little doodads like "spy scopes," motion sensor alarms, and of course, a secret dart shooter.  (I don't think this version exists anymore)  Ugh, well at least it was an incognito dart shooter.  That was the first "gun" I ever purchased and then we bought a second one that was different and we still have both as now both of my boys play games where they are secret agents trying to save the New York City subway system.

When we first bought the dart-shooting briefcases, I do have to admit, I was really at odds and when I had the honor of getting the first dart shot on the head, I wasn't wholly pleased.  However, I believe part of the whole "gun" thing was my doing.  I had been overly critical and so my policy-of-don't-even-think-about-me-ever-buying-you-one-until-you-are-thirty..... well, I think that my son really never got it "out of his system."  It's like he needs to play out shooting scenarios as if must pass through a phase in boyhood.  For at least Number 1 Son, the more I try to suppress this, the more he desires it and then he really doesn't know how to play safely with it and then I get a dart shot on my head (by accident of course but maybe.. hmmmmm...)

The dart shooter is removable and my little one prefers that because the big one is too bulky for him   photo: Wild Planet

Pretend Play: a Good Academic Skill

But honestly, if the pretend play aspect was not so strongly tied into these products I would have NEVER considered it.  But truthfully it really does and I am happy to report that I no longer get hit on the head.  No one gets hit in the head or anywhere else.  But I do wish the kids wore glasses to protect themselves, just in case, maybe I'll make that a rule from now on.

Anyway,  I have come to realize that if I do teach him where he can use it and how he can use it, after a while those boundaries can be clearly drawn.  Thus, there will be less yelling and anxiety on my part.  In fact, this whole issue of shooting toys in pretend play is not so much an issue anymore.

When I have them draw targets and let them shoot the sofa, I don't feel anxious about safety or the wrong message.

Most importantly the pretend play is what I am looking to see: I really like how they take turns adding to the story.  This is helping them refine their express themselves fully  (this is when I see my son bust out with the big vocabulary words.)  It's really cute to see it but he's comfortable trying out these new words in this space where he really wants to most accurately express his feelings and depiction of his thoughts.

I also think that when they are going back and forth as they add on to their story,  it also helps them take another's perspective which is GREAT for reading comprehension  When he can make banter, he can better follow banter in a story.  I constantly see him get lost when multiple people are talking in one of his reading books for school.  After we read such a passage, I may ask suddenly stop and ask him, "Who said that?"  and he may not know immediately.  

I like when they make something before starting to play.   I used dual surface paper again that I bought at Staples.

Target Practice Ain't So Bad...

One day I saw on sale at Toys ' R Us, the Viper Blaster. When we first got them, my husband also made a big target range with Number 1 Son. The Viper Blasters comes with an extending and retracting "arm" so that you can hold it like a rifle.  (Honestly can't believe I wrote that sentence just now).   I also had mixed feelings about buying this toy especially because unlike the spy case, there was nothing else to it because it was just a gun basically.  No incognito anything....

But not long after I opened this box, there had been a huge hurricane in New York City and nearby areas that summer and we were locked inside with not much to do.  Luckily we had just purchased the Viper Blasts and so they had tons of target shooting fun that day.   Thus, I found that these dart-shooting toys not only offer pretend play but they also offer a child to have an opportunity in creating an arcade-style game.   Did you see the video "Caine's Arcade" recently?  I found out about it because Melissa Sweet, creator of the Drawing Book by eeBoo actually shared it on the Toys are Tools' Facebook page!  It was the coolest thing!

Target Practice: We have good memories of this day.  I think my husband sensed my ambivalence about shooting toys (even if they are just darts!) and he and Number 1 son made something that look like a learning activity which in a sense was a firing station that looked like a video game.  This was really nice to do during that crazy hurricane! 

So while I am still not loving the shooting thing,  I have to be grateful for the Spy Gear toys that I've purchased which for the most part, up until now have been more mechanical and less electronic-based.  These toys have really proven themselves to be great tools for the imagination. All of our shooting toys are used both with and without the darts.* No darts but still play?  Oh yes, because remember, it really is just for pretend and pretend play is MORE than okay with me.

*sometimes, they don't have any darts to use because I have confiscated many of darts, not because of danger but because I keep stepping on them everywhere.  

Click photo to buy online through our link. 

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post. 


  1. Love the spy gear.  The kiddos fight over who gets to be the good guy all the time.   It drives me crazy but still..  it's cute how they play. 

  2. Finally, something other than the nerf shooter. I wonder if my cats will be safe with these? Thoughts?

  3. I have to say youa re braver than I am.  While this looks like a toy my kiddoes would love, I cannot say I could handle the darts with the grace you have - I'd defintely confiscate them far more than I let them be out at this point in our family's history.