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Dressing Milestones

Dressing skills are meaningful activities of daily living and an important part of a child's development as it fosters independence. Dressing skills are also an important part of school readiness in preparation for preschool and kindergarten. It allows them to gain a sense of self sufficiency at school, home and other natural environments which can impact their overall self esteem. In order to complete various dressing tasks, a child needs many different skills. This includes: range motion, muscle tone, postural control, balance, hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, visual perceptual skills, sequencing, motor planning, hand strength, body awareness and more.

Age 1

Child will cooperate or assist with dressing

  • Push their arms through a shirt or sweater

  • Push their legs through pants

  • Remove their socks

  • Don (puts on) and doffs (takes off) a hat

Age 2

Child will increase participation in donning (putting on) or doffing (taking off) clothing items

  • Removes shoes

  • Pull down pants

  • Pulls up pants

  • Takes off a coat that is unzipped/ unbuttoned

Age 3

  • Zips/unzips a zipper with set up

  • Unbuttons large buttons

  • Buttons large buttons

  • Dons pants, shirt and socks with minimal assistance

  • Dons shoes (can be on the wrong feet)

Age 3.5

  • Manages snaps and hooks

  • Consistently identifies front vs back of a clothing item (i.e. pants, shirt, jacket)

  • Dons mittens

  • Dresses with adult supervision

  • Unbuckles shoes

  • Unbuckles a belt with some assistance

  • Buttons 3-4 consecutive buttons

Age 4

  • Separates zipper shank

  • Zips up a zipper independently

  • Unzips a zipper independently

  • Puts on shoes correctly on proper feet

Age 5

  • Ties and unties knots

  • Dresses with independence

Age 6

  • Ties bows

  • Ties laces independently

  • Able to manipulate back oriented snaps, zippers, and buttons

Forward Chaining vs Backward Chaining

Start with learning one step at a time. As the child gains mastery of each step, add the next step until they are completing the entire task. There are two methods that help teach children the sequence of actions required to complete a task: Forward chaining and backward chaining.

Forward chaining: Have the child complete the first step of the task, followed by the parent or caregiver completing the rest of the steps. Once the child masters the FIRST step they can move on to adding the second step of the sequence, and the caregiver will do the remaining steps. You continue to add the next steps one at a time, so that eventually the child is completing all the steps from the beginning.

*This method is helpful for children who have difficulty with sequencing*

Backward chaining: The child completes the LAST step of the task, while the parent or caregiver completes all the steps prior. Once the child masters the last step they can move on to learning the step before that one, and the caregiver will do the all the steps prior. You continue to add the prior steps one at a time, so that eventually the child is completing all the steps.

*This method is helpful for children with low frustration tolerance, as it gives them a sense of accomplishment by completing the task.*

Tips for manipulating buttons, zippers, snaps:

  • Have them practice first without it being on their bodies

  • Initiate with larger buttons, zippers, snaps for easier manipulation of items

  • Provide visual demonstrations or model how to complete the steps

  • Be consistent. Choose a method on how to complete a task and use similar language each time to reduce confusion and help with carryover of the skill.

Tips for tying shoes:

  • Use two different colored shoe laces

  • Start practicing with thicker laces or piper cleaners to facilitate manipulation of the laces (easier for the laces to be undone with thin laces)

  • Mark the shoelaces with a marker to provide a visual aid on how big to make bunny ears

  • Provide visual demonstrations or model how to complete each step

DISCLAIMER: The content in this blog should not be used in place of medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes. All activities/exercises posted in this blog should be performed with adult supervision, caution, and at your own risk. Big Leaps, LLC is not responsible for any injury while performing an activity/exercise that has been posted on this blog. If you have any information on the content of our blog, feel free to contact us at


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