- A child's jacket
Select the jacket for this lesson carefully. Avoid using a jacket with a zipper that's hard to get started, gets stuck at multiple points or grabs the jacket's material on the way up and gets jammed. We want a nice, smooth easy zipper!
Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that you feel are safe for your child and that you are comfortable letting your child use.
You'll have the greatest success if you teach this skill in steps—and make sure that children master one step before moving on to the next.
Begin with the simple step of zipping and unzipping a basic bag. I like to use a pencil case, a cosmetic bag, a purse, a lunch box, a backpack or anything else that enables children to zip and unzip without lining up the zipper pull and the insertion pin.
For now, simply practice the motion of zipping and unzipping, back and forth, zip and unzip.
Place crayons, markers, cars or animal figures inside the zippered bag.
Ideally, you should sit behind the child and hold the bag while he or she pulls the zipper with the thumb and pointer finger. The goal here is to teach the child to use ONLY the thumb and pointer finger. If the entire hand is being used to pull the zipper, try to get the child to curl the other three fingers down to the palm so that only the pointer and the thumb are pulling the zipper.
As the child slides the zipper, say "Open!" Instruct the child to take out one toy and, as he or she zips it back up, say, "Close!"
The secret to zipper mastery? Practice, practice, practice.
Once children have mastered zipping and unzipping the bag, the next task is for them to hold the bag themselves and zip and unzip it with their two zipping fingers. Keep practicing until this step is also mastered.
Now move on to zipping coats. Thread the children's zippers for them and then encourage them to zip them up the rest of the way. Starting with this easier task helps build confidence and encourages children to keep working on the skill until they get it right.
The next step is the hardest. Place the jacket face up in front of the child. In this step, the child will practice how to hook and unhook the zipper.
Now comes the fun part. I call the zipper the alligator. He lives in the basement, so place him all the way down at the bottom of the jacket.
With thumbs on top of both the alligator (with the zipper pull pointed down) and the fish (that tip on the other side that we never knew was called an "insertion pin" until now), we feed the fish into the alligator's mouth and zip the jacket.
Some parents call the zipper at the bottom "the train in the station." Figure out what inspires each child. If a child loves dinosaurs, call the zipper a dinosaur. If a child is a car lover, "put the car in the garage."
In short, get creative and make the learning fun!
When frustration sets in, take a break. If you push children to keep working on a skill when they are frustrated, it creates a negative experience and leads to resistance in the future.
We don't learn to zip overnight, but everyone learns to zip eventually, so take a deep breath and try again another day.
The final step in the process? Learning how to hook and unhook the zipper while wearing the jacket. Here's how to talk a child through that process:
- Say; "Put the alligator in the basement!"
- Say: "Thumbs on top of the alligator and the fish."
- Say: "Feed the fish to the alligator!"
- Say: "Pull up the zipper."
If a child has trouble grasping the zipper and pulling it up, attach a key ring or a piece of ribbon to the zipper pull. This will make it easier to move the zipper up and down the row of teeth.
This activity is a tough one! It will, however, promote independence and help build self-confidence as children zip their own jackets and help zip and unzip the jackets of their friends and siblings. It's a confidence builder that packs a lot of punch.
Keep it fun! You can do this! Remember, baby steps!