Zippers: Fun and Effective Strategies to Teach Skills


If your child has been manipulating buttons on oversized dress-up clothing and bags, he may be prepared to button his front-opening shirt or jacket. He may also be ready to zip front-opening clothing. Zipping is a challenging fine motor skill, so the following tips may help your child to be successful. First of all, because it is easier to unzip, encourage learning this skill first. Grasping the zipper can be made easier by attaching a large safety pin to the slider tab (the part being pulled up and down).

Opening zippered containers with large tabs may be even easier than manipulating zippers on clothing. My hippotherapy clients were highly motivated to open the zippered glasses case, shown below to help me retrieve and replace my sunglasses.

Training began with hand-over-hand assistance to learn the motions to unzip. Unzipping a case is a great bilateral activity and much easier than unzipping clothing. It also promotes confidence as children help the therapist.....

Backward Chaining

Because the very first step to zipping-inserting one zipper end into the sliding device- is the most challenging step, I suggest thatyou teach using the technique that is called backward chaining. This involves asking the child to begin a task by first learning and performing the last step(s) of a series because it is easier than the first step.

Adaptations to Promote Success

It is suggested that your child begin learning to zip up a jacket because jackets usually have zippers that are large and therefore not so difficult to manipulate. It will be easiest if your child is standing rather than sitting so that the jacket is not shifting around on his lap.

You may stand behind your child with your arms around him so that you are both looking at the zipper parts from the same perspective. If needed, place your hands over your child's hands to guide his movements. This "hand-over-hand" (HOH) technique works well when teaching a complex task such as zipping. The following video explains the HOH technique.

Teaching Options

The following list of suggested teaching options breaks down the steps to closing a zipper. Choose an option based on your child's current skills. Option 1 is the easiest because the child will only need to complete the last step (you do the rest) and Option 3 is the most challenging because the child will begin with the zipper open.

Lets assume that your child is wearing the jacket and that the slider (the device that moves up and down to zip and open) is on his right side. (Reverse all directions if the slider is on his left side). After your child can complete the steps in Option 1 independently, begin teching using Option 2. Then after your child achieves success using Option 2, teach the entire sequence using Option 3.

Option 1

You zip the jacket part way. Your child then grasps and pulls the bottom left side of his jacket downward with his left hand while pulling the zipper tab upward with the right hand.

Option 2

Begin with the slider already connected. Show your child how to grasp the slider tab tightly with his right hand while pulling the bottom of the other zipper side downward with the left hand.

Option 3

Begin with the zipper open and do the following:

  1. Position your child's right hand with the index finger and thumb squeezing the slider tab and the middle finger stabilizing the non-sliding bottom of the zipper from below. Tell him that the right hand does not move yet.
  2. The left hand then inserts the zipper end into the slider and pulls downward.
  3. The right hand then pulls the tab tightly to move the slider up the chain.

Motivate with a Prize!

During the fourth year, your child may also learn to independently open up snaps and perhaps buckles. Although this is a great year for your child to gain independence in dressing, remember that many children need assistance with tricky zippers, buttons in the back and sides of clothing, and hooks and eyes until the fifth or sixth year of age. Its fun to provide a toy pony after opening the fasteners....

Practice Attaching Sliders   

The following activity provides an opportunity to focus practice on the difficult step of attaching the slider.

Buy a package of zipper sliders from a clothing store or collect broken ones.... and the larger the better for training.

I cut the sleeves off this old jacket so that it is easier to don and stored the zipper sliders in the pocket. I love easy storage!

You may begin training by asking the client to

  • remove the sliders and then storing them in the pocket. OR
  • teach the client to attach the sliders, one after the other. This strategy enables the client to practice the most difficult aspect of zipping and there is none of the stress and embarrassment experienced by being unable to zip one's own clothing.

I used this strategy to teach a 30 year old man with developmental disabilities to zip his own jacket. It is typically difficult to teach a skill to an adult who has been trying to learn it for many years and maybe simply does not have the motor planning skills to complete the task. However, sometimes it is possible to teach a skill after years of failure, when trying out a new strategy. In this case, it worked!

Practice with a Pipe Cleaner

If the learner has difficulty coordinating pulling the sliders upward while stabilizing the jacket, consider practicing the motions first with pipe cleaners as shown below.

Zip the Choo Choo Train

I love incorporating imaginary play while developing  fine motor skills. Dressy dolls and pretend costume play enable both while encouraging creativity. I like the concept of  a  Choo Choo Train and track while using this manipulation board.

Below areAmazon links to above mentioned products. I earn a few pennies when you shop through my marketplace.

More strategies to manipulate Fasteners


Belt Buckles


Tying Knots and Laces


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