It’s raining cats and dogs and you’re rushing to get the kids out the door.
Your 8-year-old throws on her coat while quickly zipping and snapping it up.
Your 4-year-old struggles and struggles and FINALLY gets his coat on with his arms in the right holes.
He makes a few half-hearted attempts at hooking the two sides of his zipper together but the zipper tab keeps getting stuck.
He rips his arms out of the holes and slams his coat on the floor in protest.
“I don’t WANT to wear a coat! I HATE my coat! This zipper is so STUPID!”
This month I’m teaming up with the “Functional Skills for Kids” bloggers to share tips with you on the topic of buttoning and zipping. So today I’m here to talk about the developmental progression of buttoning and zipping skills!
WHY WE CARE ABOUT BUTTONING & ZIPPING
The ability to manage clothing fasteners supports self-dressing skills. In the Occupational Therapy world, self-dressing is an important “Activity of Daily Living” (ADL) or “occupation”, which is why we care about it so much!
When a child struggles with fasteners typically expected to be mastered at their age, OT practitioners can analyze the child’s performance and determine what it is that’s contributing to their challenges with fasteners. Is it difficulty with hand-eye coordination or visual skills (visual perceptual or oculomotor skills)? Difficulty with pinch and grasp patterns? Difficulty with bilateral coordination? Difficulty assuming and maintaining a position that will provide enough stability while fastening? Difficulty with sensory processing, motor planning, sequencing, or frustration tolerance? Difficulty staying still long enough to attend to and complete the task? Or simply just a lack of exposure or practice?
These are all factors an OT practitioner can consider when evaluating and designing a treatment plan to address a child’s challenges with zipping and buttoning.
HELPFUL PRE-REQUISITE SKILLS
Here are some basic developmental milestones you can keep in mind when thinking about whether a child is demonstrating sufficient pre-requisite fine motor skills generally needed for learning how to button and zip. Keep in mind that this is a short, basic list, and does not fully encompass all the factors an OT would be considering as part of a full OT evaluation.
- Uses a “neat” pincer grasp (tip of thumb to tip of index finger when picking up small items) (by 1 year)
- Rotates forearm so palm faces up (supination) (by 1 year)
- Puts tiny object into small container (pellet-sized into narrow bottle) (between 1-2 years)
- Uses both hands in midline (by 1 1/2 years)
- Strings 3 toddler-sized beads (by 2 years) (similar action needed for operating a button snake!)
- Strings at least 1 small bead (by 3 years)
DEVELOPMENTAL PROGRESSION OF BUTTONING & ZIPPING
So how do you know if your child is demonstrating age-appropriate buttoning and zipping skills? And how do you know if the frustrated 4-year-old from the opening scene is justified in thinking his zipper is “stupid”?
Here are some general guidelines to help you out!
1 1/2 to 2 years:
- Unzips zipper with large tab
- Pulls large zipper tab up if adult holds bottom taut
- Unbuttons large (1-inch) buttons
2 1/2 to 3 years:
- Buttons 3 large (1-inch) buttons, may not do in correct order
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years:
- Unzips and unsnaps clothing while wearing it
3 to 4 1/2 years:
- Can close front snap on clothing
- Can button and unbutton while wearing front-opening clothing
4 1/2 to 5 years:
- Can open all fasteners on any article of clothing
5 to 6 years:
- Can hook and zip up a zipper while wearing the clothing
Remember that you can “sneak” fastener practice into your child’s day simply by being intentional about what types of containers their toys and other important materials are kept in! Take a look at THIS POST to see how to do it.
While every child develops and progresses at their own rate, it can be helpful to have an understanding of when particular milestones are expected and what the natural progression is. You may find that your child is actually ready to take on a little more independence with their self-dressing skills than you thought!
MORE HELPFUL INFORMATION RELATED TO KIDS AND FASTENERS
Here’s some more information in this month’s series to help you support the kids in your life!
When Can Kids Learn to Button and Zip? | Mama OT
Clothing Fasteners and Fine Motor Skill Development | Kids Play Space
Clothing Fasteners and Gross Motor Skill Development | Your Therapy Source Inc
How to Adapt Buttoning and Zipping for Your Child | Miss Jaime OT
Learning How To Use Buttons, Snaps, Zippers, and Buckles Through Play | Growing Hands-On Kids
Tips to Teach Kids to Zip and Button | The Inspired Treehouse
Clothing Fasteners and Sensory Processing| Sugar Aunts
The Visual Motor Aspect of Buttons and Zippers | Therapy Fun Zone
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1).
Teaford, P., Wheat, J., Baker, J. (Eds). (2010). HELP 3-6 Assessment Strands [Curriculum Based Assessment, 2nd Edition]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
Warshaw, S. (2007). HELP strands 0-3 [Curriculum Based Assessment]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.