A Tale of Too Many Cups

On the bottom shelf, we can put two or three tiny glass pitchers and eight to ten small glasses. Cylinder-shaped votive candle-holders make good glasses for young children. Again we want all the glasses and pitchers to match each other. They must also be transparent so that the child can see how much liquid is in them. This means they should be glass, not porcelain or metal. Glass also has the advantage of being breakable. Of course, whenever the child is using breakable objects, adults must pay close attention. If we want to help the child to develop controlled movements and care in handling his environment, we have to give him items he cannot handle roughly, or throw about, without realistic consequences. If an accident occurs—a glass is broken and water spills—we demonstrate how to clean it up. By our matter-of-fact attitude, we indicate our acceptance of mistakes as part of the learning process.

Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen, Montessori From the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), 104-105.

I’d like to start by saying that I agree with the spirit of what Lillard and Jenssen write about children needing real tools, cutlery, and dishes to learn how to improve coordination and hand skills and provide immediate feedback in the form of actions –> consequences. And, also for the record, we have clear glasses for Bash and toddler size ceramic plates and bowls. He also has metal forks and spoons, but he currently prefers eating with his hands.

This didn’t seem like an issue till we needed a cup for Bash to take to morning-long, twice-a-month church program, MOPS. I didn’t want to bring an actual open glass. Our pediatrician recommended a cup that would mimic the motion of drinking from a regular cup. So, we bought Dr. Brown 360 Spoutless Cups. They were see through and he had to use the same hand skills as his glass glasses. Bash loved them! He figured out how to drink from them. Life was good.

Then, one day, I thought I forgot all his packed meal and cup, and I had to buy another 360 cup at the grocery store. They didn’t have the exact same one. He did fine. It was also plastic (not our favorite) and not see through. Then he stopped drinking out of all his sippy cups.

At home we had been letting him drink out of the Dr. Brown cups because it was less messy. It was easier. It cut down clean up time of both the table and Bash. We went back to the glasses. All he wanted to do was make motorboat sounds in the water. And so we pulled out old sippy cups we kept for friends’ kids coming over. I purchased a smaller Dr. Brown’s cup with handles. Bash liked them once or twice, but overall, he turned down drinking from all of them.

Maybe this sounds crazy, or maybe, you too, have too many cups in your cupboard.

Maybe this sounds crazy, or maybe, you too, have too many cups in your cupboard. This situation feels like there are two options: the messy open cup or routine snubbing of the many purchased “spill-proof” toddler cups.

As I write this, I feel like I’m supposed to say we went back to his small, clear glasses and Bash is drinking appropriate amounts of water and we’ve revolutionized MOPS by being the family that brings actual glasses. What actually happened was two things:

  • We did go back to using his open cups, most of the time, at home. His hand skills are continuing to improve and he seems less interested in making noises in his cup.
  • His beloved nanny introduced Bash to straws. He loves straws. I drink out straws, so I shouldn’t be surprised he was excited to try this experience.

But, I was still left with the question, how do I provide a straw setup that I can take to MOPS, church, road trips, and restaurants that does not end with Bash looking like he bathed in his clothes. I ended up ordering a set of BOON Snug Straw and Lids. These go over the cups we already have (no more cup buying) and travel pretty easily. They do have issues with either squirting water out of the straw or not being leak proof (pick your issue, I guess), but they’re working for now. When I feel more confident in his straw obsession, and get rid of some of the sippy cups, I might consider ordering this set of mason jar style cups with straws. But, from a sustainability perspective, I don’t want to buy any more cups.

My biggest takeaways from the cup debacle:

  • When Maria Montessori discovered, wrote, and shared her discoveries on early childhood development, she was living in a time when people were traveling less often, cultural expectations for children included handling breakable objects from an earlier age (hello, no silicone or plastic), and fewer children were in childcare settings away from immediate family members (who might not mind that water mess as much as the church childcare worker or nanny). While I don’t love the idea of a cup that doesn’t allow Bash to experience natural consequences, when you put childcare responsibilities outside the home, you’re going to have to be flexible and choose what to make a fuss about. We choose to make a fuss about exposure to screen time and containing Bash in bouncers and rockers.
  • With services like Amazon, it’s easy to see a perceived need and respond with an immediate order (hello short cup with handles). I need to continue to evaluate real need before I order and give Bash time to go through phases of likes and dislikes.

Real talk, I also need to go through his cups and donate a few.

I’m curious, does your child have a favorite cup? Have you tried an open cup? If you did, how long did it take your child to drink out of it without dumping it over?

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