A MUGS GAME

Are training beakers a vital damage-limitation tool, or a messy waste of time? Our testers sip (and shower)

DAMAGE limitation is foremost in every parent's mind when investing in a toddler trainer beaker; the idea that these hybrid vessels make the great leap from bottle to cup easier for baby is of secondary importance. Like the potty and the baby-walker, beakers represent an optional development stage, intended primarily for the good of the carer. They are a security measure which, while assisting "training", lower the risk and severity of any accident.

Such a device should be simple for a manufacturer to get right, yet the parents we spoke to complained that few of the beakers they had tried worked. Some leaked, others proved awkward to assemble or clean. Many were uncomfortable for a toddler to use. Hearing such tales, we set out to find the perfect trainer beaker.

THE PANEL

Henri du Perier, aged one, and his mother, Joelle; toddler Sophie White and her mother, Meriel; and ten-month-old twins, Dan and Ava Richardson, and mother Mercedes.

THE TEST

The mothers judged how easy the cups were to fill and clean, and how comfortable they were for their babies to use. They also marked the cups on appearance, the likelihood of accidental spillage, and value for money. Meanwhile, the babies tested the cups as shower heads.

***MAWS TRAINER CUP

pounds 1.49

This slender cup was Meriel White's favourite. "A good, well-priced cup for a younger baby first starting to be trained. Very good screw-on lid, plus a top that could be put on while travelling. This beaker has no handles but is one for the younger baby, which I would buy."

This enthusiasm was not shared by Joelle du Perier who said: "This was a seriously ugly cup in a particularly horrid colour. It is incredibly difficult to clean the unnecessarily long spout and it has no anti-spill system."

Mercedes Richardson thought this cup was good value for money overall but found the flow rate too high and the two-lid idea (one for drinking, the other for travelling) very fiddly.

*TOMMEE TIPPEE FIRST DRINKING CUP

pounds 1.69

"This is your basic trainer cup at a basic price," said Joelle du Perier of this opaque cup with built-in handles. "I don't like the look of it - that nasty panda annoyed me immensely. Good value for money, though there's no anti-spill system so watch out for juice everywhere."

Meriel White agreed, though she found Sophie could easily take the lid off it. Both she and Mercedes Richardson found the contents leaked out around the lid, which didn't appear to fit tightly enough.

This cup took the brunt of the panel's complaints about opaque plastic. Neither this cup nor the Tommee Tippee is clear, making it impossible to see how much is left in the cup (if any). If you have more than one cup with different drinks in them, you cannot tell without opening them which liquid is held in which.

****AVENT SOFT SPOUT TRAINING CUP

pounds 2.99

This cup, our overall winner, scored highly on all fronts. "I'd probably have bought this one before we tested it," said Mercedes Richardson. "It seemed a good intermediate design - optional handles, sealing cover, didn't leak, sealed well, and a soft spout".

Joelle du Perier wasn't keen on the swivelling handles - "young toddlers can't understand why the mouthpiece is in the wrong place" - and did not find it attractive. But its merits outweighed the disadvantages. "But," she said, "when the lid is properly fitted it doesn't spill, so it can be carried around in a bag and not drip." Meriel White noted this was the only cup of the seven with a measurement gauge.

***ANYWAYUP CUP

pounds 3.50

Joelle du Perier was ecstatic about this, the only spill-proof cup ("seals between sips") in our test. It has a valve in the spout, which means liquid should only come out of it when the baby is drinking. "At last! An anti- spill system that really works! Even if it gets dropped or shaken it does not spill. For me, this is worth pounds 3.50 without a doubt," she said. "Unlike the basic cups, there is a safety lid to ensure children can't take the top off and spray juice everywhere." She did point out a drawback, however. If a trainer cup is the stage between bottle and cup, this "safety" feature defeats the purpose: "At some point they have to learn to drink, not suck, from a cup to control the flow into their mouth. For this you need a classic spout with holes."

Meriel White was initially very enthusiastic. "Every parent's dream - a cup that is not used as a shower head to wash the carpet with milk. Every child's nightmare, because they can't spray the contents everywhere!" However, when she saw little Sophie suck so hard that her cheeks practically met in her mouth, she decided against this model. "For the sadistic parent," she concluded.

Mercedes Richardson agreed. "A great idea in principle, but quite difficult to suck from. But I could leave the children to play with it and get used to the idea, without fear of having to completely change their clothes after every use."

**WINNIE THE POOH TODDLER CUP

pounds 3.15

This cup is almost identical to the Tommee Tippee model, but clear and slightly larger. Joelle du Perier gave it full marks for appearance: "This cup looks great - a bright yellow top, and Winnie the Pooh." She admitted, though, that for the pleasure of Pooh you were paying nearly pounds 1.50 more than for the almost identical Tommee Tippee cup.

Mercedes Richardson complained about this: "OK looking, but expensive for what it is. Winnie the Pooh novelty is lost on our two, though perhaps it would be worth it for an older child." Otherwise, she found it "easy to use, though the integral handles are ugly and uncomfortable."

Meriel White found this extra-large cup attractive, but expensive for such a basic model. "But not many children would down the amount held in this cup," she said. "If you have it half full, the child has to tilt its head back a long way to drink."

***CANNON BABYSAFE

pounds 2.59

Both the lid and handles on this cup detach. Once the cup is filled, these are screwed together around it - a device intended to ensure that the lid doesn't fall off even if the cup is dropped. It also means that, as your baby matures, the beaker can be used as a normal cup, with no rough edges. However, our testers agreed that the advantages did not outweigh the problems created by these innovations. As Mercedes Richardson said, "This design was potentially the best but it's far too fiddly."

The cup also leaked, and the travel cover did not seem very effective. Joelle du Perier said: "The non-spill lid doesn't stop spills getting out, and when you take it off the juice is all over the top. The Avent's lid stopped this far more effectively - no inside dribbling when the lid was on."

Apart from "the annoying swivel handles", Joelle was keen. "Very cute, and worth buying for that alone!" she said. Meriel White found it top- heavy, and complained that it didn't hold very much. She agreed that the Canon Babysafe was quite attractive, though the Richardson twins did not like the soft spout.

**BOOTS TRAINER MUG

pounds 1.49

"A good, very well-priced cup," said Meriel White. "It has a tight-fitting lid that doesn't break your nails when removing it, and it's a good size and an attractive colour. I'd buy it."

Joelle du Perier didn't agree. "An ugly mug in a revolting shade of mint green," she said. "This is your basic cup, but the spout is a bit longer and less easy to clean than the Tommee Tippee and the Winnie the Pooh. Again, there is no anti-spill system."

Mercedes Richardson pointed out again the problems of an opaque cup. "It's difficult to see if any of the liquid is being drunk", she said. "The flow rate is also quite high, so children can cover themselves in juice rather too quickly."

STOCKISTS

Anywayup Cup available from The Bright Start Catalogue, 0171 483 3929; other cups available from chemists and supermarkets nationwide.

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