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development | parenting

Let’s Make Learning Fun! – S1 E24

Toys and games aren’t just for fun and entertainment. They can also help your little ones grow and develop, turning playtime into a learning experience! With thousands of toys available online, knowing simply what kinds of toys are developmentally appropriate isn’t always easy.

That’s where this episode can help! Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez talks with pediatric occupational therapist and toy blogger Keri Wilmot, who offers her tips to help you find toys that fit your child’s developmental needs. She also tells us how playtime and education go hand in hand.

Podcast Resources:
Top 10 Learning Games for Toddlers
13 Fun Games & Play Ideas When the Babysitter is in Charge
The Genius of Play
Age-by-Age Toy Guide
Guest: Keri Wilmot
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Keri Wilmot is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, toy blogger, and mother from Prosper, Texas.


Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome back to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Program Director for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. This podcast is a space just for you. Join us as we hear from parenting experts who answer your biggest questions about raising your little ones, including the questions you didn’t even know to ask.

Thank you for tuning in for this episode of The Parenting Brief. On our last episode, we gave you a quick toy safety guide that covered what you need to know about batteries, toy, storage, and how to ensure your kiddos play with toys safely. One of those tips included making sure the toys are developmentally appropriate, but how do we do that today?

[00:01:00] We continue this conversation to answer that exact question. Making sure that toys are developmentally appropriate might be the key to getting a few extra minutes of playtime so that you can cross something off your to-do list, like folding laundry, helping an older child with homework, or getting prepped for dinner.

Developmentally appropriate toys can also double as educational toys, providing both fun and learning at the same time, and we can all use a few more life hacks in our pocket. So today we have the information you need to be the best gift-giver this season.

Today I’m joined by the toy queen herself, Keri Wilmot. Keri is an experienced pediatric occupational therapist and a blogger for all things toy related. Thank you for joining us today, Keri.

Keri Wilmot: Thank you, jessica.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Let’s first start with understanding what it means to have a toy that is developmentally appropriate.

I know that most toys have an [00:02:00] age recommendation that is usually listed on the packaging. Is that all we need to look for? Or should we be taking other things into consideration when determining if a toy is developmentally appropriate?

Keri Wilmot: Yeah when looking at developmentally appropriate toys, it’s hard to always look at the age level because development happens differently for every child.

While we certainly have age ranges of when it’s appropriate to walk or crawl, not all kids meet those developmental expectations at the same time. So while it’s good to have an idea of where your child fits in and their age level when looking for toys, you also have to really look at their skill level to see where they are at.

And they might be just in a different spot than another child. Maybe they’re more advanced, maybe they’re on par with their peers, maybe they had some medical issues when they were born and their development is taking some time, but it’s moving forward, but it’s just not [00:03:00] at the same level as their peers.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So I see a lot of the toys that are like those grow with me toys that, you know, you go from sitting to standing to walking or, you know, whatever the case may be. Are those the types of things that parents should be looking for? Or are they really just looking for, at that point in time, what works with their kid,

where is that kid at, and ultimately the future will be whatever the future is and we can deal with that when that time comes?

Keri Wilmot: You know, I just would be mindful of trying to progress kids too quickly. You know, a lot of times, you know, we look at things, especially from the letter and number perspective,

we want our kids to learn these really important academic concepts. And I see it a lot online with parents asking for recommendations, they have a two year old and they want to teach them, you know, all the upper and lower case letters of the alphabet. And so if you’re too [00:04:00] far advanced, I think it’s okay to buy toys ahead and sort of hold them in the closet,

and if you need to pull something out in the future, when you get there, you have kind of like an arsenal of things to pull from that, that you have sort of ready and available to go to, but you sorta have to be a little careful of going too far ahead, because then you give that child an experience and they’re not developmentally ready, and it might not be a fun experience for you and your child.

And that wasn’t the intention in the first place, right? So you want to have we talk about as occupational therapist, this just right challenge, something that motivates them and is like a little bit above where they’re at so that they’ll keep trying. But once you raise that bar too high, then they’re going to walk away from it.

You know, and that’s when you can use toys that you’ve had in the closet that maybe they’re not playing with, but maybe you do something different with it. That formboard [00:05:00] shaped puzzle that is too easy now. Well, maybe you hide those shapes around your living room and you’re, you know, sending them on a mission to go bring you back to the circle and put it into the puzzle.

So just because they might have outgrown the skill it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve outgrown the toy if you’re creative in how you use it.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So as a mom, I tend to put toys in two categories: the toys I want my kid to play with and the toys that they will actually play with. How do we find that perfect balance between something that is developmentally appropriate, educational, supporting development, and something that they want to play with?

Keri Wilmot: I think that’s where it comes down to the creativity of really, truly understanding the development, and I think this is where as an occupational therapist and a play expert and a toy expert, we shine in that because the goal isn’t about getting them to play with a [00:06:00] specific toy, the goal is about advancing to that next level.

Then you can use anything that motivates them to get there. Just like in the example I gave before with the puzzle, you know, if there is a certain skill that you want them to work on, it doesn’t mean that that action figure of Spider-Man that you’re kind of like, what is this child going to be doing this Spider-Man, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pull out a spoon from the

drawer and feed Spider-Man or teach spider-Man how to sit on the potty when it’s time to go. So for me, I’m more about understanding sort of where the developmental skills are and what the next steps are, and then trying to figure out, well, what can I use that’s going to motivate that child because the reality of it is I could spend all the money in the world and I do have a trunk full and a closet full of some of the coolest toys I’ve collected over the last 20 plus years,

and it really [00:07:00] is about their motivation. They will play and they will develop when there is something that motivates them and they don’t feel like it’s work.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: I think that around the holidays and birthdays, we tend to focus much more on needing or wanting to purchase toys or items or gifts. But in the end, we also hear, you know, that really all they ended up wanting was the cardboard box or, you know, they just wanted the spoon in the bowl from the kitchen in order to play.

Keri Wilmot: The tissue paper.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: How do we use some of those household items? How do we encourage parents that it’s not necessarily about the toy, but it is about making sure that what they are doing is developmentally appropriate, but also using what’s already around you that doesn’t necessarily mean that something new needs to be purchased or there’s this obligation of a gift,

how do we use what’s around us to do [00:08:00] just as much?

Keri Wilmot: I’m certainly a huge fan of the utensil drawer. Like the kitchen utensil drawer, right? You know, the big scoopers the soup ladles, the salad tongs and the tweezers. Picking out a couple of interesting, safe things, I mean, and maybe you just go into the kitchen and go on a browsing trip, right?

Like pull open some drawers and look around and think like, okay, well, what do I have in this drawer? And then head to the pantry. Do you have a big container of black beans or rice? Or pasta that, you know, has been sitting there for a little bit that you think, well, maybe we can do something with that. So I think sometimes it just takes having a couple of minutes

to sort of open some drawers, peek around. And if you’re not sure, like maybe you pick up a couple of things and you’re not really sure what to do with them, then you can head online and say activities for kids with [00:09:00] tongs and black beans. And I guarantee you something is going to probably show up to give you an idea of what to do.

There are so many different, great resources out there of early childhood educators and therapists who have created these amazing websites that have all sorts of arts and crafts activities, or ways to search by different household items and what kinds of activities you can put together with them. So certainly, you know, for sure, definitely just take a peek around, look around and if you’re not sure what to do, then you can certainly

do a little bit of research and I’m sure within seconds you’ll find something to try.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: I love that idea. I’m just going to put a bag of beans and some tongs into a gift bag, and I am done for the holidays. They have something to open. It didn’t totally break the bank. They’re going to be entertained for hours. I love the idea.

Keri Wilmot: And if you have to, and [00:10:00] it doesn’t stick around forever,

you can throw it away and it didn’t take up any extra space anywhere.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Definitely. So if parents want to learn more information about how to find developmentally appropriate toys, where can they look?

Keri Wilmot: So in terms of developmentally appropriate resources to find fun new toys, parents can check out my website, as well as often

a lot of the social channels along with the website. You can find me on Instagram at Keri_Wilmot and Toy Queen on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. A lot of times I might post different photos or different videos depending on the social platform to different locations. So not everything is going to be redundant.

There is also a organization called the Genius of Play. You can check out their website at and [00:11:00] look for their age by age toy and play guide, where you can see specific kinds of toys that are recommended for kids at certain developmental age levels.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Well, great. Thank you so much for all of those tips and resources.

And thank you so much for your time today.

Keri Wilmot: Thank you so much.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: If you’re still searching for toy recommendations, head to the episode show notes. While you’re there, make sure you’re following The Parenting Brief podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. And because there’s no such thing as too much help, you can share the episode with the moms or expecting moms in your life. Until next time,

this is Jessica. You’ve got this, Mom.

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