Hello again, at last! I meant to write this post sooner, actually, but we have had issues with our Wi-Fi recently. I apologise for the wait. I’ve been told that several of you went out and bought the amazing stacking cups after reading my post on toys and you are eager to play with them! So, finally, here is my comprehensive list of Stacking Cup Play Ideas. I’ve written down all the games T and I have played with the stacking cups, in the order we’ve played them. I’ve also added some more ideas for when our babies are older. Some games are guided, with lots of adult modelling, support and interaction, and some are suggestions for free-play.
All Babies Are Different
As requested, I’ve put a rough age range for each game. But – we all know of the familiar parenting mantra: “All babies are different”, so please don’t panic if your baby doesn’t follow exactly the same pattern as my T. Babies really do all do things at different times and develop at different rates. T has always had babies “ahead” of him in some areas, and “behind” in other areas. But it’s all too easy to get caught up in the comparison game (I did it myself a couple of months ago when T wasn’t crawling). As mothers, we must remember to just stop comparing and enjoy being, playing and learning with our beautiful babies, and loving what they are into right now.
Here Are The Games:
1. Bat The Tower
Age/developmental stage: from around two months, or when baby can bat an object
Helps to develop: gross motor skill (batting), hand-eye co-ordination, social skills, vocabulary
Lie your baby down on the floor. Build a tower to her side, describing what you are doing and counting the cups as you stack them. Your baby should naturally be interested enough by the colours and movement to want to reach over and bat it. If they aren’t at first, wobble the tower by pushing down on the top cup and moving it from side to side, then knock it over yourself and cheer or applaud. She’ll soon get into it!
Variations: put a rattle or soft toy on the tower so they fall when the tower is toppled. This used to make T smile.
2. Clapping The Cups
Age/developmental stage: from around four months, or when your baby can grasp and is beginning move their hands towards each other in a clapping motion
Helps to develop: interest in sound and rhythm, hand-eye co-ordination, clapping action
Pick up two cups and hit them together a few times to model what you want your baby to do. Then put two cups near your baby and encourage them to do the same, asking “can you hit the cups together?”, and praising their efforts. At first, you may need to put the cups in her hands and hold her hands as you “clap” them together. T used to love doing this when he was younger and still does it occasionally, for fun.
Variation: Bang a rhythm with the two cups; put the cups with other objects for your older baby to explore the sounds they make when she bangs them together.
3. Pick Up Cups
Age/stage of development: from around four months, or when baby can sit up and is trying to grasp things
Helps to develop: fine motor skill (pincer grip), hand-eye co-ordination, concentration
Nest all of the cups inside each other. Put them, as one, with the hollow part facing up (see above) in front of your baby.
Demonstrate how to pull the smallest one out of the middle, and encourage her to do it by praising her for any attempt, even if all she does is touch it. Once her grasp improves, she will be able to pull them all out.
This was T’s first game with the cups and he got really good at it after a couple of months. He was very happy to just sit with them for ten minutes at a time, trying to pull them out. We just got them out every morning, first thing. Now, he will sit and take each one out, one at a time, in order, until they are all free!
Variation: Once your baby has mastered this game, try this. Put the three larger cups in front of your baby, each with one smaller cup inside. Encourage her to take the smaller cup out, by showing her what you want her to do. Sounds pretty dull, but your baby won’t think so!
4. Topple the Tower (as featured in my games post)
Age/stage of development: we started playing this at around seven months old but we still play it now (at nearly eleven months). This is exactly why it is one of my top ten games. I’ve written down all the variations I’ve played, as T has grown up.
Helps to develop: hand-eye co-ordination, gross motor skill (hitting), social skills, also encourages tummy time and crawling
Before your baby is crawling: Put her on her tummy and build a tower in front of her with the stacking cups. Count the cups as you stack. I would tease T by saying “ooh what a brilliant tower I’ve just built. I do hope nobody topples it!”. He would smile or do what I call his “dirty laugh” (presumably pleased at the thought of destroying my creation!). Then he would swipe at it and knock it over. I would then say “Oh no! T got my tower!” and he would shriek with delight. This is a great game for encouraging tummy time.
Once baby is stretching forward from sitting: when T started doing this, I wanted to encourage this to make him crawl so I would put the tower just out of his reach. It worked like a dream because he desperately wanted to knock that tower over!
Once baby goes from sitting to tummy: Move the tower even further away. We did this with T to get him moving forward. I am pretty sure this tower game taught him to commando crawl, which he still does now!
Once baby is creeping/crawling: put a cushion or a pile of cushions with a sheet over them for her to climb over to get to the tower. T loves this challenge now. He is so quick now though that I have to get the cushions up and tower built pretty fast to beat him!
Once baby is pulling herself up: I’ve just started this one. I build a tower on the sofa so he has to pull himself up to get to it. He really loves this game and it has helped encourage him to pull himself up more.
5. Hide and Seek
Age/stage of development: from around seven months, or when baby is beginning to understand object permanence – a good sign of this is your baby laughing at peekaboo or trying to play it themselves
Helps to develop: social skills, object permanence, fine motor skills, visual memory
See my blog post on games for the details of this game. Here is a picture of T playing this recently:
6. Nesting Cups
Age/stage of development: from around nine months, or when baby’s pincer grip is developing
Helps to develop: pincer grip, concentration, understanding of size
Essentially, this is the opposite of the number one game. This is T’s current favourite (apart from the tower toppling of course!). I generally put it out as a free-play activity because he is able to do it himself now. You will have to assess whether your baby needs a little support or not.
I put the nested cups in front of him and he takes them out (as per number one game). Then he tries to put them inside each other. I modelled this at first, and he picked it up pretty quickly without much effort for me. He started off just managing two cups, but now he can manage around four of increasing size. I watched him this morning nest three small cups correctly, then three big cups. Then he put the smaller set of three into the larger set of three. Amazing!
After around fifteen minutes of free play (or when I can see he is getting bored) I sit down with him and guide him to complete the whole nesting task (all the cups), with lots of praise, as a sort of summarising activity. Then we tidy them away.
7. Investigating Water
Age/stage of development: from around six months, or when baby is sitting up
Helps to develop: pincer grasp, pouring action, hand-eye co-ordination, understanding of the properties of water
This is another free-play exploration activity. Take two or three stacking cups into the bath. Demonstrate how to fill them up with water, by scooping or filling with another cup. Some stacking cups have holes in them. If yours do, you can watch the water pouring through the holes together and describe what’s happening. Then let it trickle (or “rain”) over your baby’s arms, back and head – that makes T giggle!
If there are no holes, you can just pour the water out yourself, all over your baby’s body. You could sing “I’m a little teapot” and when it comes to the line “tip me over and pour me out” you could pour it out. I chant “pitter-patter” rain-drops on T’s shoulders/back/tummy (etc.).
Variations: your older child can explore at a deeper level: invite them to consider concepts by asking questions: how many scoops from a small cup will fill the big cup? What is the quickest way to fill them all up? Let’s try and fill this bowl/bottle up! Which cup would be best for filling it. Why?
8. Ball and Tower
Age/stage of development: from around nine months, or when baby is beginning to try and throw
Helps to develop: gross motor skill: throwing, hand-eye co-ordination, social skills
Build a tower, as in number four. Then demonstrate how to throw a ball at the tower to knock it over. Pass baby the ball and encourage them to throw it at the tower. T took a while to manage this, but he really enjoys the challenge now that he is a bit older.
Variations: Use different balls; make several smaller towers and have him knock them all down in turn
9. Cups And Other Stuff
Age/stage of development: From around six months, or when baby is able to grasp objects
Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity/imagination
Another free-play activity. Provide one or two large cups with other objects and let baby explore! This really encourages creativity, because your baby will come up with their own ideas for games and will try their own little experiments. T used to chew them, then he loved banging them together for a couple of months. Now, he likes to put the cup over the object and lift it up to reveal it again. He also likes to put the objects inside the cup and remove them. In this picture, he was enjoying transferring them from cup to cup.
Variation: change the objects you put out with the cups – the beauty of this game is that it is endlessly versatile as it is really up to your baby what they decide to do.
10. Sand And Water Investigations
Age/stage of development: From around two years
Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity/imagination, knowledge and understanding of the properties of water and sand, understanding of mathematical concept of capacity
Try using the cups to investigate sand and water with different objects.
Some good combinations that would work with sand and water are:
cups on their own, cups and spoons, cups and spades, cups and jugs, cups and wooden spoons, cups and sieves, cups and paper/plastic cups, cups and a colander, cups and yoghurt pots
Ask questions to get your little one thinking and investigating: How many scoops of sand can we fit inside each cup? Why? Which cup holds the most/least?
Variation: make the game more creative by building sand castles with the cups and providing sea creatures, dinosaurs, little lego people or any other small world characters. Make up stories together involving the cups, and let your little one’s imagination go where it wants to.
11. Can You Remember?
Age/stage of development: from around two years
Helps to develop: visual memory (reading skills), listening skills, vocabulary (of whatever objects you choose to introduce in the game)
This is one of my favourites and I can’t wait to try this with T. I swear by memory games for improving mental recall and reading skills.
Introduce three objects (in a row) and discuss them all. Place three cups over the objects. Ask your baby to find each object, one at a time. Can she remember where each one was? This is a great game for improving visual memory, which helps with reading.
Variation: to challenge older children, or when your child has mastered the above, try moving the cups around, so that she has to remember which size or colour of cup covers which object (rather than their position).
12. Messy Play
Age/stage of development: from around eighteen months, or when baby is past the “everything-in-the-mouth” stage
Helps to develop: vocabulary of texture, sense of touch, understanding of capacity
Exploring messy substances with the cups would be a fun activity, especially if your cups have holes! You could make corn-flour goop, oats mixture, custard, or jelly and just explore what happens when you put it in the cups.
13. Play-dough and Cups
Age/stage of development: From around eighteen months, or when baby isn’t eating everything in sight
Helps to develop: sense of touch, imagination/creativity, fine motor skills, listening skills, social skills, vocabulary
I think this would be a lovely free-play invitation. There are so many things a baby or toddler could do with play-dough and cups: push it into the cup and see if they can fill it up, stamp the cups into the play-dough to make circle marks, use them as a cutter for making different-sized circles. You could roll lots of little balls and see how many fit into the cups, or create play-dough sandcastles by filling the cups. If the cups have holes, they could push the play-dough through, making little “worms”. If the cups have patterns or markings on (ours have numbers), they could stamp these onto the PD. I am sure that your baby, toddler or three or four year old would also come up with lots of beautifully creative ways of using play-dough.
Age/stage of development: from around two years, or when baby/toddler is beginning to show an interest in mark-making
Helps to develop: fine motor skills, creativity, vocabulary of shape and number
Dip the edge of the cups in paint and press down on the paper for circular art. Mine also have raised numbers on the bottom, so I can use those to stamp numbers onto paper. With an older child, you could encourage them to stamp the numbers in order.
15. Size Sequencing
Age/stage of development: From around two and a half years
Challenge your child to line up the cups in order of size or number. Start with three cups – the smallest, the largest, and one in the middle. Demonstrate how to sequence by doing it yourself first, talking through what you are doing: This is the first cup, the smallest. Which one is next? This one is next. This is bigger. Which one is next? This one is next. This is the biggest. Point to them all and say small, bigger, biggest! Introduce more cups when you feel she is ready.
You can make this a little easier by taking a photograph of the cups in order of size, laminating it (usually local stationers will do this) and having it in front of your toddler to give them a reference point. This is a very Montessori way of doing things as it makes the activity more independent – your toddler can self-correct as they complete the task.
Variation: line up all the cups in order of size and remove two. Challenge your child to put them back in the right place. Praise them when they get it right, and get them to explain why they got it right. Swap the cups so they are in the wrong positions and ask: why is that not right?
16. Number Games
Age/stage of development: From around three years old, or when your child is able to recognise and identify a few numbers
Helps to develop: number recognition, counting up to ten and sequencing
1. Number sequencing: write numbers 1-10 on post-it notes. Stick them to the cups in a random way – not in order of size – so that she cannot use the size of the cup to guess what order the numbers go in. Help her to put them in order by asking prompting questions: what comes after number 1?..let’s count to work it out. Where is number two? Can you find it? And so on, in this way until she has sequenced all the cups!
2. Which two have I swapped? Swap two numbers round while she closes her eyes and get her to identify them and switch them back.
3. Which number is missing? Remove a number and ask her to work out which one is missing.
4. Grouping Collect interesting objects and count them into the cups to match the numbers on your post-it notes or cups.
Even if your toddler isn’t quite able to do these activities without lots of support, they will still benefit from you playing these games with them and one day they will just get it!
17. Cup Art
Age/stage of development: From around two years or when your child is showing an interest in creating their own art/mark-making
Helps to develop: imagination/creativity, fine motor skills (pencil and pincer grip)
Draw around the cups and change the circles into pictures – challenge your child to come up with their own ideas and praise them all to encourage creativity. Some ideas to start them off are: pig, ladybird, caterpillar, snowman, sunshine, chick, faces, wheels for a car
Variations: Provide your child with collage materials and glue or different mark-making materials. How about: cotton wool, cut up tissue paper, buttons, cut up wool, dried pasta, cotton buds and paint, corks and paint, fingers and paint? The tip is to keep it simple – just use one or two collage materials or one form of mark-making. This encourages creativity.
OK….I think that’s all I can think of. I had NO IDEA how many play ideas I would come up with until I started writing. But now I know – SEVENTEEN!
If you haven’t bought these cups yet, I bet you’re considering it now :).
Got something to share? I hear of so many brilliant creative play ideas from mummy and daddy friends. If you and your baby, toddler or child have come up with any other stacking cup games, or have particularly enjoyed playing the games above with the cups, I and my readers would love to hear from you, either in the comments box below or on my facebook page.