By Penny J. Hicks, Physical Therapist
In 1992, my husband finished graduate school and we moved from Chicagoland to Albuquerque just two months before welcoming our first son. While not a popular decision, we moved across country with my mom’s first grandbaby soon to be born. We looked forward to settling in to our new lives in the southwest and to wrapping up our graduate student lifestyle. I had been supporting the two of us for several years working as an early intervention physical therapist for a county-based agency in the far northwest suburbs while my spouse finished his program. Even as a new mom I wanted and needed to be thoughtful about what things we would buy for our son. When he became highchair age, I saw a set of stacking cups in the grocery store baby aisle. You are familiar with the section: teething rings, soft bowled spoons, bibs, a host of sippy cups, toy keys, and so forth. It was a section of the store we coined the Wall of Baby. I decided I could work the $3.50 into our grocery budget. Even with my experience as a pediatric physical therapist I had NO IDEA how far I was stretching those dollars.
Did you know that stacking cups could be used for pouring in the bathtub, feeding pretend zoo animals, talking about colors and sizes, building a tower-a train-a bridge, setting up a impromptu soccer goal, having a tea party, carrying snacks to the park, pretending to drink green-yellow-blue juice, making a make-believe fruit salad, sorting jelly beans or beads, stomping like a dinosaur over giant buildings, kicking down towers, counting, playing hide and go seek, teeing up a ball, playing walkie talkies, entertaining a toddler in a restaurant or on a long car trip to visit Grammy, and on and on and on? I still have those stacking cups.
Federal and state guidance tell early intervention providers to work within family routines and natural settings. Providers are asked to leave their toy bag behind and develop a coaching relationship with families in addressing their concerns and the child’s needs. Over the years, I’ve noticed that providers do best becoming comfortable with this service provision model by making gradual changes. These stacking cups are carried in my work bag for that reason. There have been times that it has been useful to pull out my stacking cups to model activities or to demonstrate creativity in engaging a child with a simple toy that can be used so many different ways. The cups don’t come out of the bag often now, but I see them there and they remind me of that special time. So, if I happen to have the cups out of my bag and you notice that I am very careful to count up all eight cups before putting them away, now you’ll understand why.