For many babies, one of the first toys is a set of nesting cups. You know the ones: a set of cups that fit inside one another because each is smaller than the last. These sets are popular gifts for babies because they are safe, they are colorful, and they are among the first toys that baby can learn to manipulate.
Nesting cups are made by a wide variety of manufacturers, and vary dramatically in their quality and details. Nearly all sets are safe, but make sure the ones you choose have no small parts that could present choking hazards or sharp edges that could hurt the baby. The plastic needs to be sturdy so the toys can stand up to normal drops and tosses as baby explores. A good set of nesting cups should have at least five pieces and each should be a different color. Babies prefer bright, solid colors, too. Round cups are more easily manipulated by younger children, since any orientation will work. Square or triangular shaped cups must be turned the right way to nest or stack, and so are more challenging. Look for numbers on the bottoms of the cups. This will help ensure that the toy grows with baby and will be educational well into the preschool years.
Babies of different ages will play with nesting cups in different ways. For newborn and young infants, the cups can be used for eye focus and tracking. Bright colors will make the toys more noticeable and interesting. Talk to your little one about the colors, shapes, and sizes, even though the baby has not yet begun to explore these aspects. You will be laying the foundation for later learning and expanding your child's grasp of language. Encourage your little one to reach, touch, grab, and hold, as well. Nesting cups can be ideal for small hands to grasp.
As baby gains fine motor control and intellectual ability, he or she will learn to fit the cups inside of one another. At first this will be completely at random, with any smaller cup fitting inside of any larger one. Your little one will work, however, to discover the correct sequence to nest all of the cups at the same time. This is a great time to introduce comparative size words, like big, bigger, and biggest, and small, smaller, and smallest.
When your little one has mastered nesting the cups, try building with them. They will stack quite nicely if the smaller ones are placed on top of the larger ones. See if your child can figure out how to stack all of the cups at the same time by getting them in the right order. The numbers printed on the bottoms of the cups may also help your child at this time.
You can use the nesting cups to build sequencing skills. Sequencing skills are important in learning to read because students need to keep track of and imitate sequences of letters and sounds in order to read and spell. Challenge your child to follow sequencing instructions with the cups, such as "Put the blue cup next to the red one. Put the yellow cup before the green one." Be sure to use a left to right and top to bottom pattern, too, so as to reinforce the skills needed for later reading.