Clothing Fasteners and Fine Motor Skill Development

Clothing Fasteners and Fine Motor Skill Development

Independent dressing, and managing all the tricky fasteners in particular, call on so many fine motor skills; each of them an important milestone in its own right!


Snaps, Shoelaces

Waistband ties, Zippers

Velcro attachments and Buckles


Read on for a full breakdown of these skills, and more than 15 practical tips for boosting fine motor manipulation independence during dressing activities as well as in play! 


Let’s consider some of these everyday, high-level tasks (in approximate order of difficulty):

  • Opening velcro attachments
  • Pulling apart snaps
  • Unzipping large zippers
  • Pressing down velcro attachments (once tightened by adult/assistant)
  • Zipping up large zippers (once hooked and held tightly at the bottom by an adult/assistant)
  • Undoing large buttons
  • Doing up large buttons
  • Lining up and clipping together snaps
  • Lining up, hooking and doing up zippers
  • Tying waistband at the front (eg. dressing gown)
  • Undoing smaller buttons
  • Tightening and securing valcro attachments
  • Un-tying shoelaces
  • Putting laces in eyelets in shoes
  • Doing up smaller buttons
  • Undoing/doing up buckles
  • Tying waistband ties
  • Untangling knots in shoelaces
  • Tying shoelaces



In addition to fundamental gross motor skills, visual perceptual and cognitive ability, sensory regulation and tactile discrimination skills, the key underlying fine motor manipulation skills required for independent management of clothing fasteners include:

  • Efficient, well controlled release skills – being able to release items carefully, in a precise manner
  • Hand preference – dominance of one hand to take on the main manipulative role in fine motor activities
  • Bilateral hand coordination – using both hands cooperatively together, including, as required, one hand providing more stabilisation, and the other, more intricate manipulation
  • Eye-hand coordination – using visual information to support and guide motor movements, making constant adjustments as appropriate throughout the task
  • Separation of two sides of the hand – where the 4th/5th fingers indicate a more stable side of the hand (and as such are less ‘actively’ involved in fine motor manipulation), allowing the side with the thumb/index/middle fingers to work with greater strength and precision
  • Palmer arches – well developed arches in the hand, support precise finger movements
  • Grasping (prehension) development – using both extrinsic muscles (the muscles originating outside of the hand, from the wrist/forearm) and the intrinsic (small) muscles of the hand. Grasps include: power grasp (think: ‘fist’), pincer grasp (think: thumb and finger tip), lateral (think: thumb tip to side of index finger, as you may hold a key to open a door lock).
  • In-hand manipulation – being able to efficiently move items around the hand (from the palm to finger tips and vice versa).


What’s more…

Fine motor skill performance is dependent on core postural control, shoulder and upper arm stability, and a stable, supportive functional wrist position (approximately 30 degrees extension).

Additionally, efficient motor planning (the ability to plan and execute well timed, sequenced, coordinated, smooth movements) is crucial for successful development of the fine motor skills involved in independent clothing fastener management.



When it comes to building fine motor skills for the purpose of full independence in dressing, practise (in context) makes perfect!

  1. Allow children to watch how fasteners operate where possible. Eg. Wait until they are looking at your hands/fingers before starting to line up and hook the bottom of their coat zipper. (visual information)
  2. Talk through the steps involved as they are happening. It might be boring for you, but this is vital in terms of children developing practical motor memories for future reference. Eg. “Find the button hole, hold on tight, now with the other hand – hold the button between your thumb and pointer finger and push it through!” (auditory information)
  3. Offer ‘hand over hand’ assistance – put your hands over your child’s hands/fingers to prompt the next movements in the sequence. (tactile information)
  4. Provide visual, auditory and tactile information simultaneously! (‘Hand over hand’ assistance and talk through the steps while they are watching!)
  5. Complete the tricky steps slowly
  6. Allow extra time for children to practise
  7. Practise at different times across the day, not just when dressing in the morning and undressing at night. Eg. When putting a rain jacket on, changing at the swimming pool…


Building fine motor abilities for clothes fastener skills through play!

  1. Hanging, swinging, climbing, pulling, pushing, lifting, dragging…
  2. Vertical surface play
  3. Crawling, play whilst lying on tummy…
  4. Play with a wide range of sensory materials – play dough, putty, squeeze toys, sand, shaving cream, rice, dirt, leaves, rocks/stones…Play with clothing fastener items – buttons, laces/thread, vacros, buckles, snaps, lacing cards…
  5. Use containers for loose parts which require children to practise fastening and unfastening – Snap lock bags, laundry mesh zip bags, button/buckle/snap/valcro attachments…
  6. Encouraging play with loose parts which require exploration and manipulation with the hands and fingers – cards, stickers, ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, Lego/ Duplo and other construction games…
  7. Encouraging play with tools that work the small muscles of the hand such as: scissors, tongs, tweezers, (training) chopsticks, glue, tape, squeeze/squirt bottles, hole punchers, pegs, clips/paperclips, cooking tools,…
  8. For shoelace tying practise, encouraging children to help with tying ribbon when wrapping gifts, putting bows on dolls’ hair, tying a bow around both legs (whilst seated) with a skipping rope…
  9. Dress/undress dolls, soft toys and teddies
  10. Play dress ups/costumes!


This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids 12 Months Series by Occupational and Physical Therapists. You can read all of the functional skills HERE. Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.

Looking for more information about promoting clothes fastener independence in childhood? Stop by to see what the other wonderful OTs and PTs in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written…

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

Pinch. Poke. Snap… Helping Kids to Manage Buttons, Zips and More!  | Your Kids OT

Clothing Fasteners and Sensory Processing | Sugar Aunts

The Visual Motor Aspect of Buttons and Zippers  | Therapy Fun Zone

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Until soon,

Happy playing!


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  1. Margaret@YourTherapySource

    Important reminder about release skills – graded muscle control is so important when learning to use fasteners.

    Love all the fun suggestions to practice through play too!

  2. Jaime Spencer

    I love to use lacing cards and stringing toys to get children’s hands ready for dressing and using fasteners. I think parents forget how important these toys are! Great post!

    • Anna

      Jaime I think you’re right – the good old classic lacing games/activities can be overlooked sometimes! Anna:-)

  3. Cindy@YKOT

    Wonderful list of suggested play to help with fine motor skill development. So important for early childhood development that kids explore and experiment with their hands and bodies!

    • Anna

      Thanks Cindy! I totally agree! Anna:-)

  4. Danya

    What a comprehensive post! So important. Kids gain such a sense of independence when they are able to do these things by themselves, and they’re tricky!

    • Anna

      Thanks Danya! You are spot on about the confidence boosts! Don’t you just love the look on kids faces and the proud protests of: “No! Don’t help me! I can do it myself!” Anna:-)

  5. Kate Lloyd

    Great post Anna. I love all the tips. My oldest is really keep to dress herself and so I’ll be taking on some of your tips to help her. Thank you.

    • Anna

      Thank you Kate! Enjoy the ‘fine motor clothes fastener’ journey!!! Anna:-)

  6. Renee Play-Based-Parenting

    great tips. My 3.5 year old is really trying to master her buttons and zips at the moment so ill definitely be working on this with her. Such an important skill to gradually focus on.

    • Anna

      Thanks Renee! I think maybe the key word there is ‘gradually’! – No stress, little by little! Hoping you both enjoy your little one’s ‘independent fastening journey’! Anna 🙂

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