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4 min read

I've gotten a lot of comments over the years, from other parents and grandparents, when they see my 1-2 year old children drinking out of regular glasses.
Watching a one year old successfully drink from an open cup is kind of amazing.

Seeing those two little hands grab the glass, bring it to their mouth, take a sip, and then return it to the table (without spilling!) is nothing short of impressive.

But's it's so much more than just a party trick.

It's a wonderful skill to introduce to children as young as six months old.

Not only are open cups great for oral motor development but from a Montessori perspective, drinking from a cup teaches:

  • Cause and effect - when I tip the glass, the liquid pours out. In order to avoid spilling, I need to place the glass flat on the table.

  • The growth mindset - I practiced a skill over and over and I got better at it. Practice = improvement, not natural talent.

  • Hand-eye coordination

Plus, you don't have to do much work to pique your child's interest in this skill.

It's one that most kids are naturally drawn to.

Why? Because they see you doing it.

As I've talked about many, many times before, children want to do what they see the adults around them doing.

These are the tasks that are meaningful to them.

It's the reason our toddlers want to engage in the practical life activities most adults would find mundane - sweeping, cooking, folding laundry, etc.

When our children see us drinking from a cup, they want the chance to try this too.

So if you're open to a few spills at first, I encourage you to give it a try!

Here's how to choose the right glass (based on your child's age) and instructions on introducing an open glass, both for infants and toddlers.

Tips For Choosing An Open Cup

  • If you're introducing an open cup to a child between 6-18 months, start with one that's very small - a 1-2 oz glass (shot glass size) or something like the ezpz Tiny Cup, if you want to go with a silicone cup.

  • For children 18 months+, you can move right to a 4-5oz cup, like this small one. Even if your child can drink a lot of water in one sitting, it’s more important that they’re able to safely hold the glass. If they do tend to drink a lot at mealtimes, it's better to introduce a small pitcher with some extra water so they can top themselves up as needed.

  • Montessori recommends using a clear, glass cup but not all children are ready for glass. If your child is in a phase where they’re gumming things very hard (for teething relief, sensorial exploration, etc) OR throwing things, you might want to wait on using glass. If you do introduce glassware to young children, it's best to choose a cup made from tempered glass.

How to introduce an open cup to infants (see next section for toddlers):

  1. Add a small amount of water, formula, or breastmilk to a small, open cup (see notes below on safely offering water to infants).

  2. Sit with your infant on your lap (their back to your torso). Hold the cup and bring it to your child's mouth.

  3. Tilt the cup into their mouth.

    Note that you child may struggle with fully drinking the water. They make choke on it or spit it out the first few times. That's ok. This is a new way of drinking and they’ll need practice. It’s different from the breast or bottle in the sense that they don’t put their entire mouth around cup or have to suck to release the liquid.

  4. Continue with this approach until your child figures out that they can bring their hands to the cup and hold it themselves. How long this takes will depend on each child and the frequency in which they get to practice.

  5. Once they do learn to hold it themselves, there will continue to be a learning curve. They’re likely going to dump the water out onto themselves, onto the floor, etc.

    Continue to give them very small amounts of water, this sets them up for success and won’t overwhelm them.
A note on offering infants water:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that small amounts of water can be offered around 6 months, as long your child is growing and gaining weight appropriately. Offering water before your child is 6 months old puts them at risk of a life-threatening electrolyte imbalance. It can also fill up their small stomachs, preventing them from taking in inadequate amounts of calories, protein, and essential nutrients.

Specific amounts of water consumption for infants also varies by country. Check with your health department for specific recommendations in your country or region.

How to introduce an open cup to toddlers:

  1. Add a small amount of water to a small, open cup for your child. You can also put a small amount of water in a glass for yourself.

  2. Ensure your child is seated, either in a highchair or toddler chair.

  3. Demonstrate how to hold the cup with both hands and move the glass to their mouth.

  4. Demonstrate how to tip the glass up slightly to take a drink.

  5. Lastly, show them how to bring the glass back to the table with both hands.

    It will take time and practice before they can do all the steps independently without spilling so have a dishtowel nearby for spills. It's also best to have a bib on because at first, they will often dump the water out onto themselves.

  6. Continue to give them small amounts of water with meals and snacks. This sets them up for success and won’t overwhelm them.
Tips:
  • Initially, whenever you’re drinking out of a glass, be mindful of holding your glass with both hands and drinking slowly. Observing you is a big part of how your child will learn to drink from an open cup.

  • If you are worried about the glass breaking from dropping it, have your child seated at a toddler table when using the glass cup, rather than a high chair. There's a shorter distance if it's dropped on the ground.

What About Sippy Cups?

Technically you can skip them altogether. There's no oral motor developmental benefit to learning to drink from any kind of sippy cup. They're really only to minimize mess. Ideally open cups are used for meals and sit down snacks, while sippy cups/water bottles are saved for on the go activities.

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