Delighted or Disillusioned? Low energy parent, high energy kid

Delighted or Disillusioned? Low energy parent, high energy kid

Mom, can’t we please go to the park?” seven-year-old Elisa asked as she pulled on my arm.

Arghh. I’d just settled—finally—into the recliner for a little coffee break after working all afternoon at my in-home office. I’ll get so cold standing on that playground watching her! Do I have to? I thought.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather cuddle and read a story?” I asked.

“Aww, c’mon, Mom. I want to swing on the monkey bars.”

Sigh. “Okay,” I said, struggling to hide my exasperation. I knew she simply had to get outside to do something active or she’d beg me all evening to take her out. It was simply the way she was wired. Chalk up one more to the sacrifices of motherhood. I got our coats.

At the park, I impatiently shifted my feet back and forth. I blew out my white breath. I clapped my gloves together to keep warm. “Just ten more minutes!” I called out, as Elisa shimmied up a pole to some very high bars.

She swung powerfully, back and forth, back and forth. Startled out of my discomfort and impatience, I marveled at her coordination, and not for the first time.

“Wow, that’s great!” I cried out. I never could have done that as a kid—nor would I have even wanted to! What makes her that way? She obviously didn’t inherit the klutz gene from me.

While Elisa played, I thought about how she’d always used her whole body to express her personality. She never walked downstairs, she leapt—four steps at a time. She was compelled to get in her quota of at least 1,642 cartwheels per day. I wondered: when was it that she first earned the nickname Monkey?

E presschooler at the park

Perhaps it was when, at age two and a half, she declared she’d climb the rock wall at the outdoor store REI (and did so a few short years later). Or perhaps it was the day when she was only sixteen months old when, horrified, I spotted her crawling across the top of the monkey bars on our backyard swing set. As I ran to save her, she nonchalantly climbed back down! Hmm. Or was she already our Monkey at a mere three months, incessantly standing on our laps as we held her? I wondered: if she could have grabbed my rib cage before she was born, would she have swung from that? What makes her so nimble and so adventurous?

Suddenly I realized we had to scoot to make it to Costco before the store closed. Elisa and I left the park, picked up Aimee, and I fought traffic as the kids bickered in the backseat.

“Stop that!” I said.

“It’s her fault!” they chorused.

“It takes two to make a fight!” I replied very loudly and impatiently. (And that made three.)

As we entered the warehouse, Elisa’s face lit up at the sight of those wonderfully wide, long aisles. She impulsively cartwheeled through the office-supply section. I cried, “Look out!” as her foot nearly connected with a customer’s chin. I apologized, embarrassed. Frustration mounted as I approached the long checkout lines.

Later that evening, I guiltily looked forward to a quiet house with kids nestled in their beds. But my first request to “Get on your PJs and brush your teeth now” fell on deaf ears, as Elisa attempted some last-minute acrobatics.

“Okay, okay,” I grumbled, “just three more somersaults down the hall and that’s it—uh-oh! Watch the lamp!” So much for the trip to the park to help release her energy.

Eventually, Elisa’s sweet, high voice called from down the hall, “Mommy, Daddy, tuck-in!” We went into her room and bent over for the obligatory chain of butterfly kisses, fishy kisses, and Eskimo kisses. But as I nuzzled her soft face, I was drawn in. I lingered. My little pixie grinned charmingly—minus a few teeth the tooth fairy had taken—and sighed, “You’re the best mom in the whole wide world!”

Hardly, I thought. Yet my heart lifted. A grin tugged at the corners of my mouth as I recalled Costco cartwheels, somersaults down the hall…and her enthusiasm for life and tenderness toward me. My weariness from caring for an energetic child was replaced by delight in her and the privilege of being her mother. I’m so glad I’m her mom, I thought as I switched off the light. I couldn’t wait to tuck in Aimee next!

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1 in:  Delight in Your Child’s Design, Second Edition,  Copyright 2016, Laurie Winslow Sargent. All Rights Reserved.

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Delight in Your Child's Design, Second Edition

Adjusting to Life as a New Mom


I originally wrote this article for Christian Parenting Today magazine for a Your Child Today column. It was later included in the hardcover book, Christian Parenting Answers: Before Birth to Five Years Old (Chariot Family Publishing, 1994), edited by Debra Evans with articles by Dr. William Sears, Grace Ketterman, V. Gilbert Beers, Mary Manz Simon, Kay Kuzma, Patricia Rushford and myself. At that time we were all contributing editors for Christian Parenting Today (300,000 circ.) which is out of print now, although many of the articles were later moved to Christianity Today and Today’s Christian Woman online.

Parenting books often don’t tell you what the first months of mothering are really like.


Here are some aspects of being a mom that you may never have imagined until after your baby was born:

Sudden, constant responsibility for another human being.

Where’s baby? How’s baby? Not a minute passes that a corner of your brain is not focused on your child. Even when she sleeps, you listen for fussing. In your shower, you lather up quickly – fearing you’ll miss her cry. This can drain you mentally and emotionally.

You can cope by occasionally giving someone else full responsibility. Then, let your mind go blank. Perhaps you’re so in love with your child this seems unnecessary. But a break will allow you to come back to her more energetic and at peace.

Some suggestions here will seem like common sense to anyone developing expertise as a mama. But some new moms, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, need simple struggles acknowledged. And if you’re in that position right now, you may appreciate simple reminders that it’s OK to take some pressure off yourself. One of the biggest adjustments for new moms, especially with Type A personalities, is the realization you can’t control as much as you used to. But it’s all worth it!

New dress code.

After spit-up blurps your third freshly ironed shirt in a row, you may feel like crying. Instead, take a realistic look at your closet contents. Put away almost everything that requires dry cleaning, hand washing or ironing. Replace them with new, fun sweatshirts. Keep a few dress clothes for church and occasional date with hubby. (Don’t worry — this won’t be your wardrobe forever! The key is to make life a little easier on yourself right now without worrying about any more laundry than necessary!)

Lack of spontaneity.

Even going to the bank or grocery store becomes a hassle: Pack the diaper bag with its dozen items. Need the stroller? Front pack? Is baby napped, changed, fed and burped?

Instead of feeling exasperated for only accomplishing two errands, congratulate yourself if you finish one. Despite the hassle, don’t avoid weekend trips. They make for a nice change of scene.

Believe it or not, you will indeed develop new routines that work and travel will become easier too.

Time-consuming baby care.

Do you sit in your bathrobe, watching dirty dishes mount? Diapering and feeding take hours of time and volumes of energy. A fussy baby can steal away your whole day. Who has time for housework—there’s barely time to dress and feed yourself.

If you feel like a failure, don’t. You’re shaping a human being—enjoy it. Marvel at those tiny fingers. Beam back at that toothless smile. It won’t last long. If housework trumpets at you and you can’t answer its call, ignore it for a time or ask for help.

Sleep deprivation.

When your child wakes you all night, you can be a zombie the next day. You’re more emotional, confused and tired. Parenting books say, “Sleep when baby sleeps.” But there are a million other things you’d like to do in that minuscule hour or two.

Daytime sleep may seem a time-waster, but if you’re exhausted, don’t fight it. Your body must catch up eventually. Poor nutrition and lack of sleep can affect breast milk supply when nursing. If baby won’t nap, let someone else mind her so you can rest. Bits and pieces of sleep never feel quite like a straight eight hours, so adjust expectations for yourself until your child sleeps all night.

Lastly, you were probably least prepared for:

Overpowering love for your child.

You lack time, style, spontaneity, sleep and (apparently) accomplishments. At times there may seem to be more lows than highs. But the joys of mothering can pull you up to the top, too—breathless and ecstatic. Savor those moments. Drink in the view at the top—it makes it all worth it.

Help for Writing Moms


Do you as a parent write, aspire to write, or work from home in some other fashion? I posted an article today at my CrossConnect Media site that may interest you: Childcare Trades with Work-at-Home Moms.

Trading time with another creative mom gave me at least one quiet day a week to work, in exchange for another day I had fun playing with both kids. This was a lifesaver for me when my children were small and we also had a small budget!

When my daughter Aimee was a preschooler, she got along great with a little boy whose mom I learned was also a stay-at-home working mom. As we got to know each other, we realized that trading childcare would work out great for us both and for the kids too. We each got one free day of childcare a week and our kids were close friends until we had to move away.

Years later, my second daughter was about the same age and I deliberately sought out another work-at-home creative mom. By deliberately, I mean I began praying for a perfect fit! You can read more about how that prayer was answered at my post. Check that out,  if you not only are a creative person who needs a bit of quiet work time but you also enjoy playing with kids.

Have a lovely day!


A Circus for Big Kids: Ringling Bros Athletes Soar

A Circus for Big Kids: Ringling Bros Athletes Soar

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Legends circus image

A Circus for Big Kids (yes, even me!)

Last night I went to the circus, courtesy of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey (at Raleigh PNC Arena, Feb 4-8, 2015). I was delighted to go but also confess to some initial skepticism. Past circus experiences (with other companies) attended when my kids were small were rather hokey and seedy, with overabundance of cleavage and under-abundance of impressive acts. I recalled battles over buying expensive whirling and flashing toys that vendors continually waved before my preschooler’s eyes. But hey, I couldn’t pass up a night out with hubby, my teen daughter and her boyfriend — and at least they wouldn’t beg for whirling toys.

It turns out, the show was amazing.  We were really all quite stunned by the high level of athleticism. My teen daughter must have said “Whaaaat?!” a dozen times, since as an athlete herself (runner, and a former stunt cheerleader with a flair for flying) she knew how difficult the stunts were. Here’s a taste of what we saw:

We raved at the high level of athleticism among the performers. Athletic older kids, teens and adults can appreciate the work and skill involved in the acrobatic stunts! The performers from various countries offered great variety in their acts.

Amazing Acrobatics

The China National Acrobatic Troupe did stunts on bikes, poles, through stacked circles, and while juggling; the Tuniziani Troupe  trapeze athletics amazed us with triple flips and seeming near misses with the ceiling of the arena. Paulo dos Santos, who at first sight was seen as a sidekick to the ringmaster and clowning around that sometimes emphasized his little person stature, ended up amazing the crowd throughout the evening with his own intense athleticism. Paulo is skilled in the art of Capoeira, (martial arts, dance moves and acrobatics) extremely popular in Brazil. His wife and three children are currently accompanying him on the Legend circuit.

If you see the video below you can get a taste of the acrobatics. (Note, the hanging-hair stunts mentioned in the video were not done last night, most likely due to an accident at a previous event that injured performers.)

Animal Stunts 

The Cossack Riders took horseback riding to the limit with jumps on and off — and crawling under and around — galloping horses. It was quite jaw-dropping.

Lion and tiger tamer Alexander looked as if he might be eaten alive at any moment, surrounded in a netted area by 8-10 tigers and lions — I lost count — until one rolled over for a belly rub. Yet even when several lions kissed him, I couldn’t help but think nervously of Siegfried and Roy (which didn’t turn out so great for Roy). If curious about how a lion tamer gets his start, read about Alexander Lacey whose family “raised more than 11 generations of lions and nine generations of tigers”. Regarding the cats in his own show, Alexander says, “Along with their mothers, we’ve helped raise them since birth. These cats are truly a part of my family.”

The canines of Hans and Maria Klose and were fun to watch, as they eagerly jumped through challenges (apparently in great anticipation of hot dogs!) There were other performing animals as well, including the elephants, llamas, and even barnyard animals in the mix. (See Ringling’s  Animal Care Web Links. )
circus panoramic view

Motorcycle Stunts 20150204_182907

The Torres Family from Paraguay wowed us on eight motorcycles zooming around inside a 16-foot steel globe. It was amazing enough with four, and they kept adding more to the mix.  They describe their technique inside the globe as “very much like what pilots do in an air show.”
 According to,”Blowing a whistle and revving their engines to cue one another, each rider embarks upon a set pattern. Once the riders are in motion, maintaining constant speeds (which can reach up to 65 miles per hour) and the distance from one another is critical. Still, when they are inside the globe they are completely focused on where everyone else is and are making constant, micro-second adjustments.”
Johnathan Lee Iverson and Paulo dos Santos

Johnathan Lee Iverson and Paulo dos Santos

Even ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson has a story. At age 11 he performed with the world-famous Boys Choir of Harlem, then later was trained classical, jazz, hip hop, and gospel music. He graduated with a degree in voice performance and was named by Barbara Walters one of the ten most fascinating people in 1999. He has also has performed in off-Broadway productions and acted in various commercials, plus does voice-overs.

 A Family friendly show?

This definitely was a family friendly show (with very tasteful costumes) although the ticket expense for children is likely to be a bit prohibitive for families on a budget. If you do take kids, eat first, including sweets if you don’t want them to beg for $15 cotton candy! (Ouch.)

But quite frankly, I think small children are less likely to appreciate the complexity of the athleticism in the performers. I imagine some parents took tired kids home at half-time, missing some of the amazing stunts in the second half, although the first half had plenty of athletic action. A comment I overheard in a ladies’ room stall pretty much said it:

Mom to a preschooler, “What has your favorite part been so far?”

Child: “Da clowns.”

But I was delighted that as a parent of a now-teen, we could still have a delightful family night out. And it made me feel a bit like a kid again.

One Thankful Child


You never know, on Thanksgiving day, what a child will be grateful for . . .

Excerpt from Growing Toward God: Life Lessons Inspired by the Wonderful Words of Kids, by Doreen Wright Blomstrand and Barbara J. Koshar (2008, Kregel Publications)

Growing Toward GodBy Barbara Koshar

Eight-year-old Sara shared her gratitude before our Thanksgiving meal. “I’m thankful for my mom and dad, my little sister, and this yummy dinner,” she said.

“And what are you thankful for, Renae?” I asked.

Five-year-old Renae sighed and then exclaimed, “I’m thankful that Tyrannosaurus rex is extinct.”

Our family broke out in laughter at her response. Several weeks before, we had observed full-size dinosaur replicas at the science center. After viewing these giants, Renae was relieved to learn she couldn’t be crushed beneath monstrous dinosaur feet because they no longer tromped the earth. Whew!

When I think of Renae’s response, I, too, am thankful that I haven’t had to face many of the gigantic disasters I often hear about. I have not successfully avoided them all. Difficult circumstances such as unemployment, serious illness, or the death of a loved one can seem like Tyrannosaurus rex, seeking to shake our faith and stomp out our joy.

Paul challenged believers with these words:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I wish adversity were extinct, but I’ve learned I can live through it by praying for protection and strength. I’ve also learned I need to thank family and friends who embrace me when I’m fatigued, and to thank God, who uses difficult times to teach me to trust him.

Barbara J. Koshar

Barbara J. Koshar

All rights reserved. This story (titled In the Shadow of His Wings, in Growing Toward God: Life Lessons Inspired by the Wonderful Words of Kids) is reprinted at Parenting by Faith by express permission of Kregel Publications.

Note from Laurie: This book would make a fun Christmas gift or Mother’s Day gift for a parent or grandparent. Inside the book, you’ll see my endorsement: “Using poignant and humorous quotes from children to teach spiritual truths is both unique and clever. Growing Toward God is a fun and insightful read!”  So . . .  can you tell I’m a fan?

Nurturing Sibling Relationships


How to help brothers and sisters connect through shared memories to build strong sibling relationships.

photo siblings snuggling

Image purchased from iStockphoto

It’s become a passion and priority of mine to help nurture my kids’ relationships with each other. It often has not been easy, but has always been worthwhile! Now at ages 28 (boy), 23 (girl), and 17(girl) I see their closeness and feel I’ve done at least one thing right.

To be honest, it has taken determination and even financial cost to help them draw and stay close, especially as young adults. But I realized when my kids were small that one way to help create strong relationships between them was to make sure they were part of each others’ special events in life. Whatever was special to that child, or teen, or young adult would be attended, if at all possible, by the other siblings. I wanted to help them build memories of each other’s successes, so that when they experienced failures or struggles they would turn to each other then, too.

It pains me to think of special events and even crises I missed with my own siblings. I either didn’t hear about them, couldn’t get there, or was too self-preoccupied. My biggest heartbreak was not getting to be at my own father’s funeral with the rest of the family as I was delivering my first child that week, so forbidden to fly. There were multiple practical reasons for our drifting apart: gender, age, personality differences and moving away to school/work.  Much separation can occur naturally, unless parents are determined to curtail that drift somehow.

I became determined when I became a parent myself to make special efforts to glue our kids together through shared critical memories, sometimes whether they liked it or not.  Don’t like to watch wrestling or listening to violins? Tough. Be there to support your sibling. I didn’t force all events, but made sure they were there for at least some, to create shared memories.

That has often meant setting aside funds specifically for family events and coordinating calendars like a ninja. And sometimes firmly telling school officials or coaches our kids would miss school events to be at critical sibling events. I actually laughed when a cheerleading coach complained when our youngest missed practices to attend her sister’s wedding. But most were supportive and highly respectful of our nurturing our kids’ relationships.

Here are a few ways we’ve nurtured our kids in recent years:

  • Flew the family from IA to RI to our eldest son’s graduation from naval officer candidate school, and took our youngest out of school & sports practices for a few days for that purpose.
  • Bought an airline ticket for our teen to do a 3-way trip this past summer to see her brother in CA, and sister in WA.
  • Timed it just right so brother and sister could run a half marathon together.
  • Flew our middle daughter from WA to CA show she could see her brother before deployment and the two of them could visit grandparents together. Brother used his own airline mileage to get his sister there.

Practically speaking, we’ve had to budget for some things by pinching pennies in other ways. We have always bought used cars — and kept them forever — to have at least a small travel budget. We pay for big items (home repairs, etc.) with cards that get us airline miles. We eat out less when we want to save for more important things. And if travel is not affordable, there is always Skype: for free.

Also free and easy is continually encouraging communication. “You might give your sister a call, she’s having a rough time.” “Sister is in a race right now with a live video feed! Here’s the link!” “Brother will be packing up, this is a great time to give him a call.” But what I love now is when I make suggestions like that they are have often already talked or texted each other.

For those of you with multiple little ones, it may seem a no-brainer keeping your kids close. They are always together anyway, either playing or fussing and fuming. Where you go, they all go.

But at some point they grow up. Brothers and sisters with the most distance between ages can naturally grow apart. Older ones leave home for college and careers, younger ones are left behind. Right now they may fight like cats and dogs and you wonder if they will ever get along. But as teens and young adults, they will have fresh opportunities to draw close to each other.

I can’t tell you how many times I told my kids this (especially when they were fighting):  “Friends will come and go — but you will have your siblings for each others’ lifetimes. Cherish that.” Sometimes they said, “Yeah, right.” As young adults they all get it.

Child and Teen Athletes: Saying NO to early specialization in sports


Early specialization in sports? Not for this family.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Back when my kids were ages 11, 17, and 22, I wrote an article called Encouraging Young Athletes — on discouraging early specialization — for Cedar Valley Athlete magazine. Now that my 11-year-old is a teen athlete, I’m glad for choices I made for her back then.

Image: chrisroll /

Until I had my third child, I was a semi-sports parent.

Semi, because although my two eldest were involved in multiple sports, those sports were school or city sponsored, seasonal, inexpensive, and close to home.  We still had plenty of time for family fun, including sailing, hiking, and vacations. Our children were able to explore non-sports interests too.

Between preschool and high school Kid One (boy) was on soccer, basketball, football, and wrestling teams. In college he enjoyed rugby, scuba diving, skiing, and weight-lifting. Kid Two (girl) played soccer and basketball, swam, and ran cross-country. Both, now young adults, are committed to physical fitness and enjoy running, hiking, and other recreational sports.

Kid Three (girl), however,  pushed me into a whole new athletic realm, with far more decisions to make — with time and finances.

Raising an Athletic Child (Whew!)

Her athletic inclinations were noticeable — no kidding — at about ten months old. As a toddler all her first words were verbs (run, jump, swing). As a young preschooler, she was always planning physically precise movements. She became very upset when I moved the ottoman, because she had invented a headstand-flip routine with it. At city parks other parents looked on with horror as my 3-4 year old scrambled up full-sized play equipment while I looked on nonchalantly, as she’d done it since about 16 months old (well, yeah, that gave me a heart attack too). At age five or six she challenged my husband’s weight lifting gym members to a pull-up contest (hilarious).

Then came basketball, gymnastics, swimming, soccer . . . (I’ve lost track already).

Parental Pressures for Specialization

By the time she was 11, parents and coaches were chastising me: “You should get her on a team.” (Meaning: an expensive club team with year-round commitments.) You should, you should, you should. No matter what sport she played, it was always implied that if I didn’t get on the ball and be a real sports parent, I’d be wasting my kid’s talent and ability to play competitively in her teen and college years.

YIKES! Was that possible? My gut said no. At first I even resisted locking her into any classes or teams at all. We had so many fabulous parks to explore. When she did finally join teams, I wanted to her challenged but still to have fun simply playing without pressure, specialization, or year-round sports. I also wanted to use family funds for family fun as much as possible. Upward basketball at our church was fun, and mountain hiking was still a family favorite.

At that time I felt very affirmed by the book Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports. The author, Regan McMahon (journalist and mother of two athletic kids) addressed concerns experienced by parents of young athletes: loss of family time, pressure to join costly clubs (with “potential”, but rare, scholarships as lures);  loss of children’s opportunities and time to explore other interests; kid stress; and competitive use injuries.  McMahon offered practical advice as well.

Now – fast-forward — Kid Three is an 11th grade teen athlete. Through middle and high school she has enjoyed basketball, competitive cheer, track and now cross-country, all courtesy of her public schools. The closest I’ve come to being a real sports parent has been needing to manage far more sports/games/meets in a year than Kid One or Kid Two ever wanted. It’s also been more important to Kid Three for us to be present at as many sports events as possible, and travel farther, but we are pleased to oblige and support her. It just means I fill my calendar first with sports obligations — then work around them.

My Teen Athlete’s Own Choices

This past fall of her junior year in high school, my daughter has finally chosen, to specialize:  in running, at least for a while. That was a tough choice for her, having competed nationally with cheer as a flyer. However, now she’s experienced ever-increasing opportunities to run cross-country and track at very competitive invitational levels, which has been very exciting, including a national meet in Manhattan this past weekend.

This has given me confidence that I made right decisions for her in avoiding early specialization in sports. As she runs increasingly competitively, it does add some stress for her that could have so easily discouraged her at a young age. Also, income that could have been spent on club sports for her  instead helped Kids One and Two through college and should help Kid Three as well. Any scholarships on the horizon? If so, that will be a bonus and of course, very welcome! But I’m so glad I didn’t spend my child’s elementary school years pushing her to pursue that, and allowed plenty of time for her to enjoy childhood and the sheer love of sports.

There’s a new great book out called The Real Story of a High School Coach which I’m delighted to see affirms my choices. A teacher and coach of baseball and cross-country, the author, Michael Miragliuolo has led many high school teams to championships, and many of his athletes have gone been awarded college sports scholarships. He grew his cross-country team in an unusual way from 25 runners to over 200, so was featured in USA Today. We also happen to be thrilled that he is my daughter’s head coach. That’s how I found the book. Yet I  nodded in agreement while turning the pages, as his views on early specialization in sports are vehement and mirror my own. Then I noticed he’d included a photo of my daughter’s 2013 state winning cross-country team — an unexpected, fun surprise!

My youngest child-now-teen’s trademark has been the way she’s always grinned while playing sports. Coaches and teammates have consistently commented on that. That’s because her participation has been for the joy of it. Yes, she’s always been competitive and at times very serious. But there has always been joy underlying her sports choices. A basketball referee once joked that her smile was blinding him. When her grins turned to grimaces when playing that particular sport, she was done with it.

As long as she can run and still enjoy it, I’m right behind her. (Well, not right behind — she leaves me in the dust.) But it will remain her choice. We will both know when the smiles stop that it will be time for a change. For now, she’s running and grinning.

A final note: no sport will be fun all the time, of course. My daughter has run track for five years, and now cross-country, through rain, snow, and sleet (even when the mailman wouldn’t). She’s experienced aches and pains, and many emotional highs and lows with team successes and struggles.  It’s her dedication, competitiveness, and underlying joy for the sport that keeps her going, encouraging others along the way.

[Image: chrisroll /]

7 Key Features in the Best Toys


By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

With the glut of toys on the market, how can you choose the best toys for your child? Look for these 7 key features.

This post contains excerpts from the book The Power of Parent-Child Play, © Laurie Winslow Sargent, Tyndale House Publishers. 

Measure Up Cups by Discovery Toys

Image: Measure Up Cups (Discovery Toys)

In my mind, the best toys or games are safe, plus have several or all of the following features related to play value:


  • Can be played with in a variety of ways and stimulate some imagination
  • Teach more than one skill
  • Appeal to several age groups
  • Encourage positive behavior and learning
  • Are fun (for the child—and hopefully for the parent, too)
  • Get frequent, long-term use and stimulate interest in independent play
  • Offer a window into what the child is thinking or feeling

Toys that don’t meet many of these qualifications can be a waste of money and do little but create clutter in your home.

I’m big on what toys teach, partly due to my previous experience working as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) in public schools, including one Birth-to-Three program. But I’m also a huge fan of helping kids learn through toys because I did just that with my own three kids. (My middle daughter is now a teacher in early childhood education.)

I used to write toy reviews for the former Christian Parenting Today magazine. Toy manufacturers (including Fisher-Price® and PlaySkool) sent me boxes of play materials to evaluate. That made me think more deeply about what was worth occupying space in my own kids’ rooms and what I could justifiably recommend to my 250,000 readers.

Once when the UPS man delivered a huge box of toys for me to review, the neighbor kids were gathered in my yard. Reviewing the toys became a group project. One thumbs-down preschool toy was designed so poorly it made us all laugh. A catapult was supposed to launch plastic treats (with numbers on them) into a creature’s plastic mouth. Theoretically, it was designed to teach child recognition of the numbers one through five.  Realistically, correctly loading and launching the catapult required the motor skills of a child who could count to fifty. Of course my creative crowd found other things to launch with the toy until the catapult fell off.

A much better toy, one that all three of my children loved, was a set of Measure Up Cups, which can be used to “dump, fill, nest, stack and stamp. These volumetrically correct, sequentially numbered cups introduce important preschool concepts related to volume, size, time, color and measurement.”

The toy is described as appropriate for children from 12 months through primary school, but an infant can also play with the larger cups. That means the toy can be played with by the same child for four to five years–and my kids did.

The manufacturer’s site describes 16 different ways you can play with the Measure Up Cups. I’ve modified their list a bit to focus on games you can play with your baby, toddler or preschooler.

Games to Play with Measure Up Cups

  • Stack into a tower to knock down. (Toddlers love to do this, and don’t realize they’re learning cause and effect.)
  • Build a castle (the scalloped edges make great castle turrets). This can lead to some fun pretend play with preschoolers. This is a new feature my kids’ cups didn’t have. Neat!
  • Scoop, fill and pour water, sand, rice or small safe objects. At the same time your child learns mathematical concepts, since the contents of cup #1 plus cup #2 equals the contents of cup #3.
  • Nest the cups to learn about size and relationships. This also helps your toddler’s motor skills.
  • Practice number recognition with your toddler; the cups are numbered both on the outside and inside on the bottom. For fun, a child can put a corresponding number of small, safe objects in each cup.
  • Learn English, French and Spanish words for numbers as those words are stamped on the sides of the cups. This is also new, awesome feature to extend the fun even through early elementary school.
  • Practice color identification as your child sorts and stacks the cups.
  • Hide objects under the cups, then reveal them. This can teach a baby object permanence, but also can be fun for illusion tricks with preschoolers.
  • Touch and feel numbers with your eyes closed, inside the cup on the bottom.
  • Identify animals on the bottoms of the cups with your baby.
  • Stamp the animal designs into dough or wet sand with your preschooler.  Point out to your child that the designs grow progressively larger as the cups increase in size.
  • Trace around the cups and then match the cups to the right sized circles.
  • Practice telling time with your preschooler: the designs on the outside of the cups correspond to clock face positions–another new feature.

As a recap, to choose the best toys for your children, look for ones that can be played with in many ways, stimulate creativity and imagination, teach more than one skill to more than one age group, and make learning fun. The best toys will be used often and your child will enjoy playing with them by himself but also with you. Great toys can actually make parenting more exciting, when through parent-child play you see your child thinking, learning new skills and reaching new milestones.

Play on!