Keri Wilmot is an occupational therapist who is known as a “toy expert”, as well as an expert for The Genius of Play, thanks to her blog dealing with her experiences as a parent. Keri resides in Dallas, Texas, and works as a full-time pediatric occupational therapist. With more than 18 years of clinical experience, professionally Keri specializes in working with infants, young children and their families by promoting developmental milestones in clients’ homes, in the public school system and in the community.
Over time, Keri used her blog to cultivate a talent for finding developmental toys that promoted a child’s educational skills, in fun, natural and playful ways. She frequently reviews toys, games, attractions, events, movies, experiences and baby products for their developmental qualities, with the goal to help all parents and caregivers learn practical ways to play every day with their children through unique products and experiences.
Moreover, Keri also offers Facebook Live sessions where she promotes the benefits of exercising with both parents and children. Keri recently spoke to Kidskintha about her career and some of the playthings that she thinks are the most beneficial.
Meagan Meehan (MM): When and why did you decide to seek a career as an occupational therapist and why did you gravitate towards working with children?
Keri Wilmot (KW): As a teenager I did a lot of babysitting to make extra money and always thought I wanted to be a teacher. I spent many hours babysitting for a neighbor’s son who had Autism and volunteering in a public school preschool program for children with disabilities that was housed in the same building as my high school. During my volunteer work, I met an occupational therapist working in the preschool who was helping to teach young children with disabilities how to play with toys, how to feed themselves and complete activities like coloring and stacking blocks. I began to look into the profession after that because it looked like a lot of fun and I felt a lot of enjoyment in choosing a profession that could make a difference in the lives of others.
MM: What skills and training are needed to be an occupational therapist and what should young people who are interested in that career path know about the work?
KW: To go to college to be an occupational therapist today students are required to obtain a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Coursework includes a lot of health sciences classes, so students should have an interest in biology, chemistry, and human anatomy and physiology. In the near future, occupational therapists will need to have a doctorate degree to practice. In addition to the classes, there are several on-the-job fieldwork and internship requirements. After graduation, in order to work as an OT, you must pass a national certification examination and become licensed by the state you live in. The coursework is challenging, but the field is rewarding. Not all occupational therapists work with children either. Many OT’s work with aging adults and others are employed in outpatient settings with those who have suffered injuries from car accidents, etc. There are many places to work as an OT, so it’s a great profession for people who like the challenge of something different every day.
MM: When and why did you start your blog and how did it become so popular?
KW: We started ToyQueen.com in January of 2009, several months before I found out I was pregnant with my son. I had been a pediatric occupational therapist for about ten years at that time. My husband and I started ToyQueen.com as an online resource for all parents to find tips and strategies to help their children learn new skills through playing with new, fun toys and attending family events. We started our website sharing product reviews we uploaded to YouTube and early on spent a lot of time connecting with companies at events and on social media channels like Twitter to build relationships. What makes ToyQueen.com different from other websites is that the items and information that are shared come from my expertise as a mother, an OT and a toy and play expert.
MM: How did you start getting into reviewing toys and what are some of the best and most memorable products you have come across?
KW: As a therapist I had spent thousands of dollars on toys for my practice, and also engaged in countless hours of watching children play with them. When buying gifts for the holidays, friends and family always commented on how much their kids enjoyed what they received. At ToyQueen.com we wanted to share fun toys and play tips with others who were looking for different ways to play with toys to promote their child’s educational and developmental skills. It’s hard to say which products are the most memorable. Each one of the toys I review I have used with my clients during therapy and what is often the most memorable to me is seeing how motivated children are to perform and take risks when they have something that is highly motivating for them to play with.
MM: Can toys and games ever be used in occupational therapy? If so, how and to what benefit?
KW: I work full time as an OT and I use toys and games every single day. I have a room in my house full of therapy toys and games, as well as a trunk full of activities I bring to work, too. Therapy isn’t just playing the game, as OT’s we always have certain goals in mind when working with children. So, toys and games become the tools that we use to achieve these objectives in a fun and playful way. So, while there are toys and games that tend to me more educational in nature, the secret is knowing how to manipulate the toy to challenge kids to learn new skills in a fun way, without getting frustrated.
MM: You have also started conducting Facebook Live events, can you tell us a bit about what people can expect from those?
KW: I collaborate with many toy companies and organizations, all of whom have a unique message of play to share with others. I recently hosted a Facebook Live with The Genius of Play, a non-profit initiative with the mission of providing families with information and inspiration to make play an important part of children’s day, and we covered how play helps develop gross motor skills in preschoolers. Attendees asked extremely thoughtful questions and I love how these events give parents an avenue to have a conversation with an expert where they can get their personal questions answered in real-time, learning something new and also receive support from others in the process. These Facebook Live events are a way to continue to spread the message of play and learning, by sharing information around why it’s so important for development.
MM: What is coming up next for you?
KW: I’m continuing to look forward to working with The Genius of Play to share information around the benefits of play. Specifically, I’ll be working to develop expert content for their site, TheGeniusofPlay.org, and will hopefully be participating in upcoming speaking opportunities with them as well, to continue spreading awareness of the importance of play. Additionally, I’ll continue sharing reviews, video content and photos through social media, and I’m hoping to do a lot of behind the scenes work with toy companies through education, content creation and through product development, so we can collaborate on developing amazing educational toys and games that children will have fun playing with, while learning new skills, too.
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To learn more about Keri, visit her official website.
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