Little Hands-on Play

That old expression about idle hands is absolutely true: when those little paws aren’t kept busy, they get into trouble. Here are some great ways to keep hands—and the associated minds and bodies—occupied, stimulated, and active.

Mini Golf Set (Alex Toys)
This new mini golf set from Alex Toys is great for even the smallest kids and is easy to set up and play. It comes with four balls, two clubs, six different circus-themed “holes,” and a handy carry bag so you’ll at least have a chance of keeping the pieces from ending up all over your house. And speaking of the house, this golf set can be used inside or out. Armin’s a big fan of swinging things around indoors, but Sam sees indoor sports as an accident waiting to happen—even if the balls are foam. The choice is yours. Either way, the clubs are easy to swing and perfectly sized, which is excellent for hand-eye coordination. For ages 3 and up. Available for $37 at

Barbie Fashion Design Maker Doll (Mattel)
Does your little miss think she’s the next Donna Karan? If so, let her get her fashionista on and knock herself out by designing and creating cool clothes that her doll can actually wear (and yes, Barbie herself is included). This kit comes with Barbie, shoes, a necklace, eight sheets of printable fabric (we’ll get to that in a second), glitter trims and accessories, fabric ruffles, and a portfolio to store her creations like real designers do. What’s especially fun is that your little designer can design just about anything she can imagine using the proprietary app- or web-based software, print out her visions on the printable fabric, peel off the back like a sticker, and dress Barbie to the nines. The whole idea is very clever. For ages 6 and up. Retails for about $50 on or at your favorite retailer. Refill packs are available.

First Builders Fast Tracks Raceway (Mega Bloks)
While your little miss is busy designing her Barbie, your little mister can build a racetrack. This fun kit from Mega Bloks comes with two racecars, a total of 50 pieces and a whole bunch of stickers so you and the kids (of either sex, of course), can customize to your hearts’ content. And since it’s completely compatible with all other Mega Bloks sets, why limit yourselves to a race track? Build an entire racing village—or a scene from the movie Cars. For ages 1-5. Sells for about $20 at or stores near you.

Z-Line Ninjas Playset (Playmates Toys)
This kit is not for the faint of heart—you’ll need a lot of space, a lot of patience, and plenty of adult supervision. But it’s well worth the trouble. The basic playset comes with a gargoyle launcher (where the zip adventure begins. Launchers attach easily to your wall—and can be removed just as easily with no damage), zip lines, c-turns for going around corners, a New York City backdrop (which also sticks to your walls) and more. Just set up the lines and send most of your Turtle action figures (sold separately, unless you already own some) flying all over your house, hot on the trail of Kraang and Shredder. The bigger sets (Water Tower Washout and Billboard Breakout) include more line and more options, but require more space. Prices range from $20-$30  at Toys R Us and other stores near you.

Slingshot or Boomerang? Your Choice

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 15-year old son is still a few years away from college, but my wife and I are already thinking about when he’s going to move out and begin a life on his own. A number of our friends have kids who have already graduated from college and one after another, those kids are moving back home. We love our son and would be happy to have him visit anytime—or move back for a short time in case of emergency—but we really want him to be self-sufficient. What can we do now to make sure he can make it on his own out there?

A: The fact that you’re asking the question at all gives your son a better chance than other kids his age of thriving in the real world. Too many parents cross their fingers and hope for the best; you’re actually taking steps to make it happen. For everyone else, finger crossing and hoping aren’t terribly effective strategies.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of young adults living at home has more than doubled over the past three decades or so. Back in 1980, about 11% of adults 20-34 spent some time living with their parents. Today, it’s nearly 30%. Young men are a bit more likely than young women to be sharing a roof with ma and pa.

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Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory processing disorder, or synesthesia, describes the way the nervous system responds to sensory stimulus. Under normal circumstances, your brain is able to identify and interpret inputs from a variety of sources at the same time.

For example: eating dinner in a restaurant, on the patio, with a band playing, you will be absorbing sensory input from a variety of sources such as:

  • The flavor, temperature, and aroma of the food and beverages
  • Conversations from other diners
  • The music from the band
  • The sound of insects, or the breeze, or the smell of flowers out on the patio.

A person with good sensory processing can easily tell the difference between all of those sensory inputs, and even ignore some of them. However, a person with sensory processing disorder may have a lot more trouble dealing with conflicting sensations that are all happening at the same time. Some, like the feel of clothing on the skin, could be annoying and distracting, others could be confusing or even terrifying.

Sensory processing disorder can affect one or more senses. That means it’s possible for someone to have difficulty processing bright colors, but not loud noises; or complex textures, including the textures of foods, but not flavors.

People with sensory processing disorder might be clumsy or uncoordinated, because they have difficulty with proprioception, or body awareness.

What Causes Sensory Processing Disorder?

Currently, doctors don’t know what causes sensory processing disorder, but they do know that it’s common among children who are also somewhere on the autism spectrum. Overall, synesthesia is more commonly diagnosed in children, but adults can also be affected, especially if they went untreated in childhood. Adults with the disorder could have difficulty performing or focusing on routine tasks, and their symptoms could be misdiagnosed as Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Although the condition is potentially debilitating, with the proper diagnosis and treatment, individuals can lead normal and productive lives.

Treatment generally involves a combination occupational therapy with a focus on sensory integration, which can be done at home or at a facility, and family therapy, to get parents and siblings involved in the process.

In addition to therapy, families also learn coping techniques, such as the use of compression garments.

How Compression Garments Help Sensory Processing Disorder

You might be familiar with compression garments for adults. Typically, they’re used to improve blood flow, which can enhance athletic performance and speed up recovery time after exercise. Doctors also prescribe compression therapy products to prevent the foot and leg swelling that can be caused by anything from long airline flights to venous insufficiency (a condition that causes poor circulation in the legs).

With children with sensory processing disorder, compression garments have a very different effect. They typically work in several major ways:

  • They can provide a barrier against clothing that might cause sensory overload
  • They can take the place of clothing that might cause discomfort
  • Then can creating a gentle hugging sensation, which many people with SPD find calming.

For example, regular socks might droop, sag, or have seams across the toes and around the heel, which some people with SPD find unbearable. Compression socks are designed to fit snuggly around the ankles and calves, so they don’t droop. They also tend to be smoother than traditional socks, and come may come without seams.

Compression pants and tops fit snugly around the limbs and torso to create a hugging sensation. When worn under clothing, they prevent the clothes from rubbing directly against the skin. Although the compression clothing is generally used on children with SPD, adults with the disordermight also find them effective.

If you suspect that your child has SPD, contact your pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a pediatric psychiatrist or psychologist. If you are interested in purchasing compression clothing for your children, there are several retailers that specialize in compression and weighted clothing for special needs children.


New Articles for Military Families

As’s military families expert, I post several new articles every month.

If there’s a specific topic you’d like us to address here–or if you’d like to write a guest post, please let me know!

Here are the new articles for October:

Finding a Job After the Military
Making the transition from military culture to civilian culture isn’t easy–especially when you need to find a job using the skills, knowledge, and experience you acquired in the service. Here’s what you need to know to make the process a success

Preparing for Emergencies
Statistically speaking, military families–which tend to move a lot more frequently than civilian families–have a higher risk of experiencing some kind of natural disaster. This article will help you prepare so you and your family aren’t caught off guard.

Taking advantage of state military foundations
The federal government has many programs but they can’t resolve all the issues military families face. Fortunately, many states have their own military family foundations that can help. Here’s why you should strongly consider working with one of these great organizations.

Boot Camp for Military Spouses
Whether you’re a newlywed or an old pro, having a spouse join the military and start basic training can be challenging, to say the least. You’re a military spouse now, so here’s what you need to know–and the benefits that are avaialable to you.

Raising Healthy and Fit Kids without Diets

Patricia Riba, co-author of Fit Kids Revolution.
Raising healthy and fit children without diets.
Issues: What’s wrong with diets; the real reasons kids are overweight; the psychology of feeding children; protecting your child from a toxic world; how to foster an active lifestyle; feeling safe in an unsafe world.