The Skills Kids Need for School

With a classroom full of students, teachers don't have enough hands to help all of the children get their coat on or open their lunch box. Here are ways to help your child learn skills he needs to be more independent.

The Jacket Flip

  1. Lay the unzipped jacket on its back on the floor with sleeves spread out a bit. Have your child stand behind the top of the jacket.
  2. Show her how to bend or kneel down and put her hands in the armholes.
  3. Have her lift her arms straight up over her head, and they'll naturally slip down into the sleeves -- and the jacket will be on.

Tying Shoelaces

Time it right. Thanks to Velcro, there's no reason to push your child to wear sneakers with laces until she's ready and eager to learn how to tie them. Most kids don't have the necessary fine motor skills until they're 4 or 5. If your child still grasps a crayon with her whole fist rather than using the first three fingers, she's not ready.

Choose the best technique. There are two methods of tying shoes -- the traditional one-loop technique and the two-loop (or "bunny ears") method. How to tell which one your child is ready for? Play "Simon says." If he can follow different directions for each hand -- putting his right hand in the air and his left hand behind his back, for instance -- he can handle the one-loop method. In general, though, it's best to teach a method that you're comfortable with and stick to it.

Extra tips:

  • Use a real shoe with thick, sturdy laces, or try the book Red Lace, Yellow Lace, by Mike Casey and Judith Herbst. You can also make your own practice set of laces using a piece of cardboard: Punch two holes in the cardboard. Cut two different colored laces in half, knot them together behind the cardboard, and thread them through the holes.
  • Before you teach your child how to tie a bow, show her how to make a knot, and let her practice that.
  • When you demonstrate to your child, sit next to her, rather than across from her, so she can see exactly what to do.
  • Break the process down into small steps, and use simple instructions, like "Crisscross the laces and bring one under the bridge" and "Make a loop but keep a long tail."
  • See whether your child wants to practice using the sash of a bathrobe. Some kids find the larger size easier.
  • If your child is left-handed but neither you nor your spouse is, try to recruit a left-handed adult to help teach her.

Get Ready for Lunch

  • When you're shopping for a lunch box, be sure your child can master the clasp.
  • Choose plastic containers that are simple to open. Zippered plastic bags may be a better choice (although they're tough for little kids to close).
  • Make sure your child knows how to wash his hands with soap all by himself. Kids clean up many times during the day.

Zippers, Buttons, and Snaps

  • Don't buy school clothes just because they're cute; opt for ones your child can put on and take off. Elastic-waist pants are still best for young children.
  • Look for zippers with large pulls. You can attach a store-bought zipper-pull or a piece of ribbon to make it easier to zip.
  • If your child is having trouble getting a zipper started, encourage him to lean one arm against a wall for stability.
  • Buy clothes with large, smooth buttons and holes that are not tight. Make sure the buttons are in front, not on the side or in back.
  • If a jacket has snaps, let your child try them out before you buy it.
  • Help your child practice by finding dress-up clothes with zippers, snaps, buttons, and hooks. He'll be more interested in learning if he's putting on something he really wants to wear.

Originally published in the August 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

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