If you are trying to teach a child how to button but they are not quite ready for the real deal, then try using a button snake!
In case you’re not familiar, a button snake is basically a button that is fastened to a piece of ribbon or lace, which allows a child to practice the simple act of getting the button through slits in several pieces of fabric. A button snake allows kids to practice pushing the button through the slit (like they would do to button up a shirt), as well as to practice pulling it out through the slit (like they would do to unbutton a shirt).
Button snakes are great for not only working on the beginning stages of learning to button, but also for working on fine motor, bilateral, visual perceptual, visual motor, and motor planning skills. You can also use them to work on increasing visual attention to task as well as improving attention span needed for success in childhood occupations such as dressing, self-care, and learning.
You can make a button snake for fine motor practice like the one pictured above in only a few minutes!
• 1 large, round button
• Approximately 18″ of thin ribbon
• A few pieces of felt in different colors (approximately 25¢-30¢ per sheet at a craft store)
- Select a large, round button that provides plenty of surface area for grasping and pulling, and thread a thin piece of ribbon through the button holes to make an “X”. Tie a knot in the back and trim the end. Your large button should now be secured to the ribbon.
- Cut out a square of felt approximately 3″ x 3″ to be used at the opposite end of your button snake (mine was the white square), and then cut a small slit near one of the edges, just big enough for the ribbon to fit through.
- Pull the non-button end of the ribbon through that slit in the felt until the button and the piece of felt are about 8″ apart, then tie a knot on the edge of the felt so it stays in place. You should now have a secured button on one end and a secured square of felt on the other end (this will keep the colorful felt squares from sliding off the ribbon once they are buttoned on).
- Cut out additional colorful squares of felt to be used for your button snake, also approximately 3″ x 3″, and then snip a slit in the center of each square. The slit should only be slightly longer than the width of the button. I like cutting squares for my felt pieces of the button snake because they are quick and easy to cut out, but you can also make circles, ovals, rectangles, triangles, hearts, or other simple shapes if you want!
Now your button snake is ready to be used!
I often use button snakes in my occupational therapy treatment sessions when I am working with a child who is new to the concept of buttoning. Sometimes they have a formal buttoning goal as part of their treatment plan, but other times we use the button snake in treatment to addressing underlying skill deficits that may be impacting their performance in other areas that require fine motor, bilateral, visual perceptual, visual motor, motor planning, or sustained attention. Regardless of why we are using the button snake, it never fails to help children build their buttoning skills while also giving them a confidence boost!
Here are 8 ways you can use a button snake for fine motor development as part of therapy or play:
- Incorporate the button snake into an obstacle course! Have the child put on or take off one square of felt per time around the obstacle course or, if they are more advanced in their pre-buttoning skills have them put on, say, three squares each time around. This is a great way to sneak fine motor practice into gross motor play. It’s important to work on gross motor skills in addition to fine motor skills, because a strong and stable base (trunk, shoulders, and arms) is needed in order to support fine motor development in the wrists, hands, and fingers. Click HERE to see an example OT obstacle course that sneaks fine motor skills into gross motor play.
- Hide the felt squares around the room and, as the child finds each one, have them animal walk back to the button snake in order to put it on. This incorporates additional upper body strength, core strength, and motor planning, all of which are important for developing strong fine motor skills. Some good animal walks to use in an activity like this include bear walks (on hands and feet with booty in the air), puppy crawls (on hands and knees), crab walks (sit on bottom, place hands and feet on floor, push bottom up off floor, and walk forward or backward in this position), lizard crawls (crawling with belly on the floor, left knee slides up to hip height as right arm reaches forward, then right knee comes up to hip height as left arm reaches forward), bunny hops (little hops while keeping legs “glued” together), frog jumps (squat down with hands touching the floor, then jump up with arms up in the air by the ears), giraffe walks (walking on tippy toes with arms reaching up in the air as high as they go), horse gallops (one foot in front, then back foot slides forward into a hop, same foot stays in front the entire time), penguin waddles (arms down by sides, legs stay straight and close together while shifting weight side to side in order to “waddle” forward), and log rolls (roll on floor with legs together and arms either up by the ears, covering the face, or down by the sides…okay, I know a log isn’t an animal, but this is a good one to use!).
- Have the child retrieve the felt pieces while propelling themselves tummy-down on a scooter board. This is great for trunk and upper body strength! They could simply go back and forth or you can mix it up and spread the felt pieces around the room to promote additional practice with visual scanning and motor planning.
- Give the child a verbal or visual instruction of a color or shape of felt to find for the button snake, and then have them find it. This is good for auditory and visual memory. You can do this in combination with some of the previous suggestions or you can combine it with one of my favorite OT activities — climbing the rock wall! Place the felt pieces all along the rock wall and have the child climb to find the specific color or shape.
- Have the child retrieve the felt pieces of the button snake in a particular sequence of colors or shapes. This can be extremely challenging for our kiddos who have difficulties with working memory (especially auditory or visual memory), attention to task, or sequencing. All of these skills are so important for success in daily living skills such as being able to get dressed or complete an entire bathing or hygiene sequence. You can incorporate this sequencing challenge into any of the previously mentioned activities!
- Have the child use their sense of touch to find the felt pieces in a sensory bin with a filler such as dry beans before they put them on the button snake (if you use rice with this, it will go flying everywhere and be difficult to clean up). For added challenge for tactile perception and discrimination, have them close their eyes while searching — no peeking!
- If you are in a home or classroom environment, use the button snake to create an “invitation to play”. What is an invitation to play? Deborah J. Stewart of Teach Preschool explains that an invitation to play is “arranging the environment so that it ‘invites’ young children to come to an area…to explore, investigate, question, examine, participate, touch, feel, and manipulate through as much independent play as the materials can possibly allow.” Deborah also emphasizes that an invitation to play should “capture a child’s curiosity, be intentional in design and purpose, be appropriate for the age of the children you teach, include materials that the children can freely touch, manipulate, and explore.” I love this! If you are interested in learning more about creating invitations to play for your child or students, I would highly recommend you read Deborah’s post about invitations to play in its entirety HERE.
- Keep the button snake supplies on a low shelf so your child can access it during unstructured play times. You’d be surprised at how intriguing an unattended button snake can be to a toddler or preschooler when they are not being told what to do by a bossy grown-up! You can set all the supplies on a small wooden tray, plastic plate, or even in an easily accessible tupperware container, with the felt pieces not yet placed on the button snake. Once your child has demonstrated interest and some proficiency with the button snake, you may find that it becomes a self-selected activity when you need to do things other than play with them (like preparing a meal, going to the bathroom, or tending to a younger sibling).
There are so many ways to use a button snake for fine motor development — I’ve highlighted just a few. How have you used a button snake with the kids in your life?