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 http://www.alextoys.com/product/mini-golf-set/

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 mattel.com 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 http://www.megabloks.com 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.

Is there a perfect time to have kids?

21 years ago, when I was a young, first-time dad I thought it was a perfect time to be a parent. A few years later, when my second was born, I thought that was a perfect time. And then 10 years after number two, that was perfect too. I was right all three times. And wrong.

First time ’round I may have had better knees and backs and can bowl their kids on the slip-n-slide faster and farther than older dads. But I was preoccupied with career, scraping together down payment money in the insane Bay Area housing market. As I got older, my relationships with the kids changed. By the time my youngest was born I wasn’t as worried about career and money and could actually take time to just watch all the amazing things she did. We still do plenty of physical things together, but we also spend a lot of time just playing–board games, Barbie–yes, I admit it, I have actually brushed Barbie’s hair and slipped her out of her tennis togs and into an elegant evening gown).

Still, a new study from UCSF found that overall, parents think the 30s are the ideal time. What do you think?

Interesting piece on the study here: http://news.yahoo.com/best-age-raise-kids-older-parents-30s-161601262.html