Buttons and zippers are arguably one of the most intricate and challenging fine motor skills your children will be faced with every day as your child gets older. Zippers on school jumpers, buttons on polo shirts or jeans the list goes on. So, what can you do to help your child develop their independence in these skills? Below are our top 10 OT tips to help your child grow their independence in buttons and zippers!
- Start with unbuttoning – Doing up buttons is tricky and requires two hands to be doing different jobs. This is among the first times your child will be practice this skill. To help your child develop this skill start with unbuttoning – focusing on having your child pinch and hold one side of the fabric while the other hand catches and pulls the button through.
- Practice posting coins through a vertical money bank/plastic lid – Practicing pinching and posting coins into money boxes is a great way to practice the fine motor skills required for successfully completing buttons. If possible, turn the money box so the slot is vertical to mimic the button slot. As your child is practicing this encourage them to use their pinching fingers to hold to coins. If you don’t have a money box at home a small cut to a plastic take-away container lid is a perfect option.
- Practice with larger buttons first – large buttons can help your child develop their confidence as awareness of the steps involved in successfully completing their buttons. It allows your child to clearly see where the button is going and practice lining up the button with the hole (exactly the same as posting coins). Encourage your child to “catch and pull the button” through other side after they have pushed it through.
- Playdough ‘catching’ the button/coin – To help practice catching and pulling the button through the fabric you can post buttons through playdough. Roll up small balls of playdough and flatten them into little “cookies” your child can then practice pushing buttons or coins through the playdough, turning the playdough over to catch and pull it out from the other side.
- Clothes on teddy/in your lap – As your child is developing their confidence in buttons practice doing up buttons with clothes that they are not wearing. You can have dress up teddy games practicing putting their clothes (including the buttons) on teddy. They can also practice buttons with shirts sitting in their lap. From this they can practice doing the buttons at the bottom of their shirt first as they are easier to see and work their way up.
- Threading bead necklaces – Threading beads is a great way to practice the visual motor skills and bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body together) required to complete zippers. If you child is doing well with this, make it more challenging by placing the string around the back of their neck, so they need to look down and place the bead on the string around their tummy and then pull it up (just like a zipper!).
- Get your child involved in parts of your dressing routine – they can help do up Mum or Dad’s zipper. This is a great opportunity to practice pinching fingers required to slot to zipper in at the base of the jumper and the strength required to hold it in place while you pull up.
- Help break up the zipper task – Everyone is motivated by successes, and this includes your child. To help build their confidence and motivation to complete zipper tasks have your child complete the last steps of the zipper first (i.e., you place the zipper together, initiate the pull up and then your child can finish it) as they begin to master each step work backwards and build in the next component. (For example, initiating the zipper pull up, helping place the zipper in the base and so on).
- Add ribbon to the end of the zipper – Pinching onto small zippers can be a challenge for little hands – to make this component easier for your child as they are developing their fine motor control and dexterity tie a section of string through the zipper. This creates a longer pulley for your child to hold when completing their zipper.
- Give yourself time! – Developing independence in dressing is a slow and fiddly task as your child develops their fine motor skills, problem solving skills, concentration and many more. You don’t have to use every single dressing opportunity to practice dressing, set yourself up for success by picking the points of the day when you have those extra few minutes to sit down and go slower to practice the zipper.