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August 26, 2022  |  Education

Get to know our baby and child expert, Dr. Aimee Ketchum

Parenting babies and young children is a never-ending job involving continuous education and adjustments. Whether you’re trying to choose the best baby products or want to know how to prepare your child for kindergarten, our baby and child expert, Dr. Aimee Ketchum, can help.

After getting a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in occupational therapy, Ketchum started her pediatric occupational therapy practice. She then spent nine years working in the school system and early intervention. She currently practices in the neonatal intensive care unit at UPMC hospital in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and is an assistant professor of early childhood development and occupational therapy in the occupational therapy doctorate program of Cedar Crest College. Ketchum’s passion and experience make her a valuable expert.

You're BestReviews' baby and child expert. How did you get into pediatric occupational therapy?

AK: I received my bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy in 1995 from Misericordia University and my doctorate in occupational therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in 2018. I have certifications in baby massage, teaching the Growing Brain Curriculum and pediatric therapeutic yoga. I am also a certified yoga instructor. 

I am a pediatric occupational therapist with 27 years of experience working in pediatrics. I currently practice OT in the neonatal intensive care unit at UPMC hospital in Lititz where I founded the NICU retired nurse cuddler program. Before working in the NICU, I had my own pediatric occupational therapy practice and also spent nine years working in the school system and early intervention. 

I am also an academic fieldwork coordinator and assistant professor of early childhood development and occupational therapy in the occupational therapy doctorate program of Cedar Crest College. For the past 15 years, I have been creating and teaching workshops on early child development through PA Quality Assurance System for preschool teachers, child care providers and early intervention practitioners. I have performed lectures for conferences such as Parents as Teachers, Headstart, Zero to Three and Nurse Family Partnership.

I recently had my book, “See Occupational Therapists Run,” published by See Us Run Publishing. This is a workbook to help fellow occupational therapists practice self-care to avoid burnout. 

Can you tell us about Aimee’s Babies and the videos you created for early childhood development?

AK: I am the founding director of Aimee’s Babies LLC and creator of the STEM Starts Now digital parenting program. My goal is to create the next generation of innovators and problem solvers who are all afforded the ability to start kindergarten on an equitable playing field, giving all children everywhere the best start possible.

I have created nine baby development videos in English and Spanish for early child development education and baby massage instruction and nine apps for baby development. My baby development DVDs and apps have been featured on the Rachael Ray show, iPhone Essentials Magazine and the United Kingdom’s Baby and You Initiative. I have partnered with organizations such as the Clinton Foundation's Too Small to Fail and Zero to Three to bring awareness to parents about the importance of early child development. My STEM Starts Now Digital Parenting program, videos and apps have been used by over 50,000 families to date.

With so many options on the market, it can be difficult for consumers to find baby products that make sense for them/their homes/their lifestyle/their experience level, etc. What's your advice for people shopping in this current e-commerce climate?

AK: Keep it simple. Babies do not need most of the toys and items out there on the market. Avoid electronic and talking toys so that babies can interact with humans instead. Avoid containers as much as possible. Babies should get as much free movement as possible. Toys and games that encourage creativity and problem-solving are best.

How has your experience shaped your expertise and approach to making purchasing decisions?

AK: I use evidence-based and my own experience to make purchasing decisions. Evidence shows that babies learn fewer words when they play with electronic toys, so I do not recommend these. Evidence shows that babies learn more words when books are read to them, so I always encourage books and buy baby books for baby gifts.

As a therapist, I have worked with babies who have sustained brain injuries and other severe injuries from walkers, and I never recommend them or purchase them. I have also worked with babies who have knock knees or bow-knees from walkers and exersaucers, so I am really cautious with those products as well.

How does your philosophy as an expert align with BestReviews’ mission to simplify purchasing decisions?

AK: Parents deserve the best information. When we, as parents, know better, we do better. There are unsafe baby toys and items on the market because it is a multibillion-dollar business. Professionals in the field must endorse good products and warn against dangerous products. I am very grateful that BestReviews offers me the opportunity to reach a larger audience with this important information.

Some may not be familiar with pediatric occupational therapy. What do you spend the most time doing, and how can pediatric occupational therapy help people?

AK: Pediatric occupational therapists help children with growth and development and perform all the activities that help with developmental milestones. This might include crawling, walking, eating, potty training, riding bikes, coloring, kicking a ball, writing names and using scissors and other manipulatives. We work with children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delays and disabilities, to name a few. In the NICU, I do a lot of parent education, feeding, baby massage and splinting when necessary. 

What is your favorite part of being a pediatric occupational therapist?

AK: Advocating for babies and young children and holding sweet babies in the NICU.

You’re passionate about science, technology, engineering and math learning for babies as early as possible. Tell us more about that.

AK: Most people do not realize that STEM learning begins at birth. It can be nurtured simply by supporting a baby’s natural sense of curiosity and wonder and encouraging babies to explore their world. For example, babies are scientists because they question and test their world over and over again, looking for patterns and reactions. Babies are technologists because they invent technology to make things work, such as a toothbrush to brush a doll’s hair, a TV remote as a play cellphone and a box as a car. Babies and young children constantly engineer their world by building with blocks, making pillow towers and blanket forts. They do math by noticing simple patterns, rhythms, likes and differences. 

Some studies show that if STEM is not fostered by third grade, a child’s interest in STEM can be lost forever. There is a lot of money put into STEM initiatives in middle and high school and even at the secondary level, but there is very little focus on STEM for young children and babies, and this is when the foundation is established.

What goals do you have for the future?

AK: My goals are to spread the word about the importance of early childhood development and kindergarten readiness. Between 60% and 70% of children have to start kindergarten without the skills necessary to learn. Thirty-four percent of low-birth-weight children are not kindergarten ready by age 5, and this is where it becomes personal because these are my NICU babies. No child deserves to come into this world fighting for their very life, then start kindergarten behind their peers. Studies show that when children start kindergarten, they usually never catch up. 

I am looking forward to bringing heightened awareness to this issue and helping families everywhere give their children the best start possible. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

AK: I love listening to podcasts and reading articles about early child development and kindergarten readiness. I also love yoga, trail running and cooking for my family. I especially love walking on the beach and spending time with my husband and daughters. 

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Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.