November 28, 2017

Occupational Therapy: Conquering the Zipper

As we enter the season of snowstorms and blustering winds, puffy winter coats and warm wool sweaters quickly take over our wardrobe. As your children grow up, they may insist on becoming more independent with self-dressing. In this fast-paced world, waiting 5-10 minutes for your child to zip their coat may be unrealistic. Learn about the important milestones leading up to coat zippering, as well as activities to encourage young ones to become independent at zippering.

Philippe Put

Skills Required

Learning to zipper a jacket can be a complicated but functional skill for kids to manage. Coat zipping is an intricate motor planning process requiring significant fine motor skills. Coat zippering requires bringing hands to midline, using one hand to hold down the zipper chamber while pulling the zipper up.  Prerequisite skills for zippering include:

  • Pincer grasp and strength
  • Tripod grasp
  • Finger isolation
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Rotates forearm so palm faces up
  • Puts tiny object into small container
  • Uses both hands in midline
  • Strings 3 toddler sized beads
  • Strings at least 1 small bead

Developmental Milestones of Self-dressing

The following is the typical timeframe for self-dressing.

18 mos.- 2 years:

  • Emerging zipper skills by unzipping a zipper with large tab, and pulling larger zipper tabs up if an adult holds the bottom

2 years:

  • Unbuttons large (1 inch) button

2 ½ – 3 ½ years:

  • Buttons 3 large buttons, but not necessarily in correct order
  • With clothing on, child may unzip and unsnap clothing

3 to 4 ½ years:

  • With clothing on, able to close front snap
  • Can button and unbutton while wearing front-opening clothing

4 ½ to 5 years:

  • Child can open all fasteners on any article of clothing

5 to 6 years:

  • Around this age, children are able to hook and zip up a zipper with the clothing on

Practice Makes Perfect

Start zipper practice with the coat or sweatshirt off. With hand over hand assistance, help your child feel and visualize how to hook the two sides of the zipper together. Incorporate other fine motor activities between practices including stringing beads, placing coins in a piggybank, or dropping buttons into a container with a slit. There are many resources available for teaching zippering including:

Make your own activities:

  • Wide ribbon with plastic bread ties is a great initial zipping activity
  • Place toys in zip-lock bags to encourage your child to unzip bag in order to play with the toys
  • Add a ribbon or string to all coats and jackets while your child is still learning

Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment and success after their first coat zipping experience. Coat zippering takes a lot of practice, so allot 5-10 minutes in the morning for your child to explore the zipper on his or her coat. Most importantly, be patient! If your child is having trouble with self-dressing or other fine motor skills, contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy for an assessment with one of our Occupational therapists.



Heffron, Claire. “Activity to Teach Kids to Zip and Button.” The Inspired Treehouse, 15 Nov. 2016, theinspiredtreehouse.com/kids-clothing-fasteners/.

Kiley, Christie. “One Simple Trick for Improving Kids’ Self-Dressing Skills.” Mama OT, 19 July 2014, mamaot.com/one-simple-trick-for-improving-kids-self-dressing-skills/.

Kiley, Christie. “When Can Kids Learn to Button and Zip?” Mama OT, 16 Nov. 2016, mamaot.com/when-can-kids-learn-to-button-and-zip/.

“Teach Kids How to Use a Zipper.” The OT Toolbox, 23 May 2016, www.theottoolbox.com/2016/05/teach-kids-how-to-use-zipper.html.

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