Fun and Effective Activities to Teach Buttoning Skills

Dressing skills develop substantially during the 2nd year of life. They are wonderful bilateral activities! Repetitive, button manipulation activities will make learning easier for  children with or without fine-motor challenges.

The vocabulary words used to describe how to manipulate objects (i.e., "push", "pull", "in" and "out") will also be used to teach your child motor skills such as pulling up pants and pushing the button through a hole. During this year children typically learn to close large buttons and dress with supervision given assistance with fasteners.

Opening is Generally Easier than Closing

I have found that it is easier to open a zipper, buttons, buckles, knots or other fasteners than it is to close them.  Therefore, I recommend teaching how to open before teaching how to close buttons. Your child may best practice buttoning skills at a time when there is no hurry to dress and go out. Opening and closing button squares are a great activity that prepares children to manipulate buttons on clothing.

Button Squares

I made the button squares shown above by cutting 2 different color, square pieces of fabric. Sew a large button to one of the squares or use a big round shape with punched holes. I cut the yellow "buttons" from soap detergent bottles. Make or use smaller "buttons" as skill develops.

Button squares are easier to manipulate than the buttons on clothing, especially when they are extra large. Children can practice using button squares on a table or in their laps so that they can watch what the're doing. In addition, the clothing  won't get in the way.


  • make lots of sets with 2 squares the same color so that children need to match the halves before buttoning; or
  • make the 2 squares different colors to create color contrast and avoid the cognitive demand of matching.

Button stringing also helps to develop dexterity to use real buttons.

Button Stringing

Attach a large "button" to the end of thick string. The child then inserts the button tip through plastic pieces with slit-like openings. Pushing the plastic "button" through a snug slit strengthens fingers.

As their skill develops children may string fabric pieces instead of the easier to control plastic ones. Experiment to find a button and hole size that your child can use successfully. Then, gradually increase the challenge by making both smaller.

This activity provides an opportunity for repetitive practice.... just provide as many or few as your child can manage. Stringing large beads is a familier activity, so this adaptation may be a welcome alternative offering both variety and skill building.

Buttoning Boards

It may be easier to learn how to open and close buttons using a board rather than on one's clothing. This board makes it easy to practice attaching or removing the fabric squares with slits six times. Here is how I made this buttoning board:

  • Cut the six pink plastic circles out of a laundry detergent bottle.
  • Punch two holes in each plastic piece
  • Sew the pink buttons to a large piece of blue fabric.
  • Cut a round piece of fabric and cut a hole in the center. Reinforce the sides with duct tape.
  • Wrap the large fabric (here it is blue) around a sturdy piece of cardboard. Sew or tape the fabric in place on the back of the cardboard.

The individual in the above photo loves to match colors and has adequate fine motor skills to attach the fabric squares using her buttoning skills.

Buttoning Rings

Buttoning rings may be made out of cute children's socks
  • fill a sock with a sensory material such as plastic bags, sand or foam
  • Sew a button onto one end of the sock
  • cut a hole in the other end and stitch around to prevent unravelling.

Putting these rings on or off works on motor planning skills and body awareness. I love these materials because they are so versatile whether using while on a horse, swing, prone or supine. Children may close or open the buttons or merely put them on and off their arms, my arm or a ring stack.

Opening fasteners to find a Treat

My adorable hippotherapy client opened zippers, buttons, snaps and a belt loop in order to find the hidden toy pony. I made this activity by cutting up and sewing my old clothing with fasteners to a big, soft, cat bed.  Over time, I sewed a bag of sand to the bottom of the cat bed to add extra proprioceptive, sensory input when using it in other settings.

Stay tuned for upcoming clothing manipulation skills strategies on




Tying Knots and Laces

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