Learn to Dress Toys

images of clothing fasteners- buckle, button, zipper, shoe with shoe laces, and text that reads "learn to dress toys"

This blog post on learn to dress toys, was originally written 11-10-2014 and was updated 12-4-2023.

Occupational therapy practitioners work with children on a variety of self-care tasks, one of them being teaching kids to dress themselves. Because of that, we often use learn to dress toys in building dressing skills like managing zippers, buttons, the sensory motor skills involved with clothing snaps, tying shoes, etc. In this blog post, you’ll find information on what age should a child dress themselves as well as toy recommendations to make the self-care task of children dressing themselves fun and engaging through dressing skills toys.

images of clothing fasteners- buckle, button, zipper, shoe with shoe laces, and text that reads "learn to dress toys"

Learn to Dress Toys

Looking for toys to support kids in self-care, especially in independence with self-dressing skills? These occupational therapy toys are fun ways to build skills in self care! 

Parents often question when should child dress themselves, and there is much to consider. We cover all of the fine motor skills needed for dressing skills in a different blog post, because there are many underlying skill components that are needed for getting dressed.

When it comes to learn to dress toys, we can foster the development of getting dressed skills in kids because the toys make working on these sensory motor skills more engaging and fun. When paired with a toy or dressing skills doll, the self-care task becomes part of the play, combining functional performance areas.

In order to play with the learn to dress doll, a child needs to manage the buttons, snaps, zippers, etc. And, if they are playing with a dressing toy that has small clothing, or other fasteners like clips or buckles to place the doll into a stroller, they are are strengthening fine motor skills.

The play easily meshes with the functional performance area of self-dressing because the same motor planning skills are used and can be transferred to self-dressing.

We’ll cover specific toy recommendations for teaching dressing skills below. First, let’s go over the dressing developmental milestones for each age range. It’s important to know these general dates and dressing milestones because the toy recommendations can follow these guidelines. Also, when parents ask about when should a child be able to dress themselves, this information can go hand-in-hand with toy ideas to support developmental milestone progression.

Dressing Developmental Milestones

Teaching children to get dressed on their own can be a tricky subject.  Kids achieve many developmental milestones at different ages and teaching independence skills can be frustrating.  The ability to dress oneself is a self-care task that is part of child development.

Teaching kids to get dressed depends on many small splinter skills that make up the end result of clothing on, fasteners done, and child ready to go for the day.  

Learning to get dressed takes time and it depends on the development of fine motor skills, gross motor skills, visual-motor skills, and even self-confidence.  Children may reach some milestones ahead of “schedule” and require more time or practice to reach others.  It is important to remember that every child is different. 

Childhood Milestones for Getting Dressed

Here, we are sharing some approximate self-care milestones in dressing for kids and toys that can help with this skill. Remember that every child is different and the age ranges listed below are approximate.

This list of dressing milestones for each age is progressive, meaning that the list includes the milestones attained previously. Skills will progress as sensory and motor skills are accomplished. Previously achieved milestones may become easier, more fluent, and automatic as the child develops.

Dressing Skills for a One year old: 

  • Takes off socks
  • Helps with pushing arms through sleeves

Dressing skills at Eighteen months:

  • Removes shoes

Dressing skills for Two years old:

  • Helps with pushing down pants
  • Helps with pulling on socks
  • Pushes arms through sleeves once shirt is over head
  • Removes hats
  • Assists with pants by pushing legs into pants
  • Unbuttons large buttons

Dressing skills for Two-and-a-half years old:

  • Attempts buttons
  • Able to pull on an open front shirt or jacket with assistance
  • Removes open front shirt/coat (without fasteners)

Dressing skills for Three years old:

  • Puts socks and shoes on 
  • Able to pull on a shirt correctly
  • Able to put on shoes (may be wrong feet)
  • Able to put on socks (may be incorrectly oriented)
  • Able to pull up a zipper if engaged
  • Able to button large buttons

Dressing skills for Three-and-a-half years old:

  • Able to unzip a jacket
  • Able to unbuckle a buckle
  • Able to pull shirt on and orient clothing (front to back correctly)
  • Takes off shirt and pants

Dressing skills for Four years old:

  • Buttons coat or shirt
  • Able to put socks on with correct orientation
  • Able to initiate zipper by inserting one side into the zipper carriage

Dressing skills for Five years old:

  • Put shoes on correct feet
  • Dresses independently

Dressing skills for Six years old

  • Zips/unzips independently
  • Ties shoes

Dressing skills for Seven years old and older:

  • Chooses clothing appropriate to the weather

Each of the dressing skills noted above can be generalized, according the the needs of the individual. For example, children from various cultures or environments may have different types of clothing or clothing fasteners that are required at various ages. These differences may mean more or less exposure to different dressing skills.

Toys to help kids learn to get dressed

Now that we’ve covered dressing milestones and ages, let’s go over some toy suggestions for dressing skills.

The learning to dress toys include a variety of options:

  • Learn to dress dolls
  • Zip, button, buckle, tie dolls and toys
  • Dressing boards
  • Dress up puzzles
  • Clothing fastener supports
  • Dressing lap pads
  • Getting dressed supports like fun visual tools
gift guide toys for helping kids to learn to dress themselves independently

When a child needs to work on some skills for their independence, toys can be the way to go!  These toys are great for developing independence in dressing skills.  This post contains affiliate links.  

Sequencing Toys for Dressing Skills

Picture sequencing puzzles like this What Happens Next puzzle (affiliate link) is great for kids who need to gain insight into concepts of before and after.  You can not put your shoes on before you put your socks on.  Cognitive concepts can be tricky for children to understand if auditory processing of these ideas are difficult.

These picture puzzle pieces are not all about dressing skills, but the first, second, last sequence and order words are a helpful first step for children learning to get dressed on their own.

Books about learning to get dressed

These learn to get dressed books support skills like why wearing appropriate clothing for the weather is important. They can be a great way to incorporate discussions of interoception into the task of self-dressing skills.

Oliver West Gets Dressed (affiliate link)  is a fun book for the smallest children.  This book will introduce terms and language needed for independence in getting dresses.

“Ella Sarah Gets Dressed” (affiliate link) is a fun book to read for getting dressed ideas.

These toys to work on clothing fasteners are dressing boards. They can be incorporated into play by using in different positions, in sensory play, and in obstacle courses.

Working on buttons, snaps, and other fasteners is great for practicing on boards, books, and dolls.  However, it is often difficult for children to relate the skills they learn on these tools to real clothing that is ON their bodies.  

Manipulating clothing and fasteners is actually OPPOSITE movement patterns when fastening these same fasteners on the body verses on a board or doll that the child is looking at.  

This Special Needs Sensory Activity Apron (Children & Adult Sizes)(affiliate link) solves that issue as the child can manage the clothing fasteners right on their lap.  This is so great for children with motor planning difficulties.  

You could also use a Montessori Buttoning Frame with Large Buttons Dressing Frame (affiliate link) and lay it right on the child’s lap.

Children’s Factory Manual Dexterity Vests – Button-Zipper Combo Vest (affiliate link) is a good way to practice buttons and zippers right on the child.

Other dressing board toys include (affiliate links):

Sometimes managing a zipper can be difficult because grasping the zipper is ineffective or clumsy.  A large zipper pull can make managing the zipper on clothing or a backpack much easier.  

These 4 pcs Large Flowers Zipper Pull / Zip pull Charms for Jacket Backpack Bag Pendant (affiliate link) are great for flower lovers, or maybe your child would rather have cool princess zipper pulls (affiliate link). You could also incorporate crafting and make your own DIY zipper pull fidget using a pipe cleaner and beads.

More fine motor practice can be done with the Buckle Toy “Bentley” Caterpillar (affiliate link). I actually love this for the Toddler age set who LOVE to buckle car seats, high chairs, and all things buckles.  This cute little caterpillar also works on numbers for pre-math learning, too.



Practice basic clothing fastener skills like buttons, zippers, snaps, and ties with the Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board(affiliate link).  The bright colors are fun and will get little fingers moving on clothing fasteners.

Learn to Dress Dolls

The nice thing about using learn to dress dolls is that they are a part of play and make the skill-building fun. However, just because the phrase “learn to dress doll” has the word “doll” in it, doesn’t mean that you can only find dolls that offer these sensory motor skills. There are learn to dress figures and toys like monkeys and other fun figures.

 Learning to Get Dressed Monkey (affiliate link) is a fun toy for clothing fasteners.

Here are other fun learn to dress doll options (affiliate links)

Dress Up Puzzles

There are dress up puzzles and mix and match dressing toys that help younger children to play with and explore different clothing options. This is nice for those struggling with clothing options based on weather or activity.

Some of our favorite dress up puzzles include:

Responsibility Chart for Getting Dressed:

 I Can Do It! Reward and Responsibility Chart (affiliate link) is a great idea for kids that need a little motivation to be independent.  Making the morning routine smoother can make a big difference in independence.  Older kids may benefit from this chart for self-confidence or working on responsibilities. 

Shoe Tying Gifts

There are many shoe tying toys out there…

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wood Lacing Sneaker (affiliate link) is a fun toy for shoe tying practice. The big, chunky shoe makes it fun.  Sometimes different colored shoe laces help when a child is learning to tie shoes.  I love these Easy Tie Shoelaces (affiliate link) that come in two different colors.

Other toys that build skills…

Gift Guide: Toys to Promote Improved Pencil grasp

Gift Guide: Toys for Sensory Play

 

Ages of typical development for children in getting dressed. Developmental milestones for independence.
 

 

 

Do you have any favorite learn to dress toys, dressing boards, or dress up dolls?

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Spatial Awareness Toys and Activities

spatial awareness toys

For kids that struggle with body awareness, position-in-space, and overall spatial understanding, spatial awareness toys are fun ways to develop a specific set of skills that impact function of every day tasks. Occupational therapy toys like these space-based play support development of these areas. Want to help kids become more aware of their body position, the space that they need to function, write, and perform tasks through play? Here we are talking spatial awareness toys!

Let’s talk toys to support spatial awareness skills.

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Spatial awareness toys and spatial awareness games to develop visual spatial skills.

Spatial Awareness Toys

In this post, we’ll cover a few different things:

  • Spatial Awareness Definition
  • Spatial awareness activities
  • An easy spatial awareness tool for handwriting
  • Spatial awareness toys

Kids are often motivated by play as a means to support development of skills. When games and toys develop skills in which they struggle, it can be meaningful and engaging for the child. They may not even realize they are developing those skill areas through play. Before we get to the toy ideas, let’s go over spatial awareness in more detail.

Spatial Awareness Definition

First, let’s cover the definition of spatial awareness. You might be thinking…ok, I know a child who might be having issues with awareness of space during functional tasks… But exactly what is spatial awareness?

The definition of Spatial Awareness is being aware of oneself in space. Incorporating body awareness, visual spatial skills, and orientation, spatial awareness involves positioning oneself and/or functional items (pencil, a ball, a bag of groceries, etc.) in relation to oneself and the world around.

Spatial awareness means several things:

  • Awareness of spatial concepts can look like reaching for items without overshooting or missing the object.
  • It can mean use of a map to navigate streets or a new middle school.
  • It can incorporate spacing between letters and words in handwriting.
  • It can mean navigating a crowded hallway while carrying a backpack and a stack of papers.
  • It might mean walking in lines in school or waiting far enough apart from other students so that each individual has their own personal bubble of space.

Being able to reason about the space around us, and how to manipulate objects in space, is a critical part of everyday life and everyday functional tasks. This specific skill allows us to safely cross a street, fold clothing, load the dishwasher, place objects in a locker, put together a piece of “some assembly required” furniture, and other functional cognitive tasks. And these skills are especially important for educational success in particular handwriting tasks, math, STEM, and science.

Most of us realize as we walk through a doorway that we need to space ourselves through the middle of the door.  Those with poor visual spatial skills may walk to closely to the sides and bump the wall.

Visual-spatial skills are used when a middle school or high school student uses a map to navigate a new school. Orienting yourself on the map and then relating that to the real world to make turns, movements in a large space takes a complex set of skills guided by visual spatial relations.

Spatial awareness skills also involve the fine motor tasks of coordinating handwriting with writing in spaces allowed on paper, placing letters within an area (lines), and forming letters in the correct direction.  

So what is spatial awareness? Let’s break it down even further…

Spatial awareness and spatial perception

Spatial Awareness can be broken into three areas, specifically related to spatial perception: position in space, depth perception, and topographical orientation.

  1. Position in Space– where an object is in space in relation to yourself and others. This skill includes awareness of the way an object is oriented or turned.  It is an important concept in directional language such as in, out, up, down, in front of, behind, between, left, and right. Children with problems with this skill area will demonstrate difficulty planning actions in relation to objects around them.  They may write letter reversals after second grade.  They typically show problems with spacing letters and words on a paper.  
  2. Depth Perception– Distances between a person and objects.  This ability helps us move in space. Grasping for a ball requires realizing where the ball is in relation to ourselves.  Kids with deficits in this area may have trouble catching a ball or walking/running/jumping over an obstacle. Copying words from a vertical plane onto a horizontal plane may be difficult and they will have trouble copying from a blackboard. 
  3. Topographical Orientation– Location of objects in an environment, including obstacles and execution of travel in an area.  Kids with difficulties in this area may become lost easily or have difficulties finding their classroom after a bathroom break.

Visual Spatial Skills develop from an awareness of movements of the body.  If a child has true visual spatial skills, they will likely demonstrate difficulties with athletic performance, coordination, and balance.  They may appear clumsy, reverse letters and numbers in handwriting, and may tend to write from right to left across a page.  They will have difficulty placing letters on lines, forming letters correctly, and forming letters with appropriate size.   

When kids struggle with the ability to perceive where they are in space…when children are challenged to identify how much room they need to navigate the world around them…These are all examples of spatial awareness skills.

What is spatial awareness and how does it relate to handwriting

Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting.
Letter size and use of margins also fall under the term “spatial awareness”. Use these spacing tool ideas to support spatial awareness in handwriting.
What is spatial awareness?  Tips and tools for handwriting, reading, scissors, and all functional skills in kids and adults, from an Occupational Therapist.
Visual Perception and spatial awareness in kids.  What is Spatial awareness and why do kids have trouble with spacing between letters and words, reversing letters, and all things vision.  Great tips here from an Occupational Therapist, including tips and tools to help kids with spacing in handwriting.
You can use a spacing tool to support spatial awareness skills in kids.

visual spatial relations activities

Addressing spatial awareness can occur with a handwriting spacing tool like the one we made, but other spacing activities can help with visual spatial relations, too. Try some of these activities:

  • Create an obstacle course using couch cushions, chairs, blankets, pillows, and other items in the house.
  • Try this activity for teaching over, under, around, and through with pretend play.
  • Create a paper obstacle course.  Draw obstacles on paper and have your child make his /her pencil go through the obstacles.  Draw circles, holes, mud pits, and mountains for them to draw lines as their pencil “climbs”, “jumps”, “rolls”, and even erases!
  • Write words and letters on graph paper.  The lines will work as a guide and also a good spacing activity.
  • Use stickers placed along the right margin of  to cue the student that they are nearing the edge of paper when writing.  
  • Highlight writing lines on worksheets.
  • Draw boxes for words on worksheets for them to write within.
  • Play Simon Says. Print off these Simon Says commands to target specific skill areas in therapy sessions or at home.
  • Practice directions.  Draw arrows on a paper pointing up, down, left, and right.  Ask your child to point to the direction the arrow is pointing.  Then have them say the direction the arrows are pointing.  Then create actions for each arrow.  Up may be jumping. Down may be squatting. The Left arrow might be side sliding to the left, and the Right arrow might be a right high kick. Next, draw more rows of arrows in random order.  Ask your child to go through the motions and try to go faster and faster.

spatial awareness Activities  

For more multisensory learning and hands-on play incorporating the development of spatial awareness skills, visit these blog posts:

Spatial Awareness Toys

This post contains affiliate links.

Looking for more tools to improve visual spatial awareness?  The toy ideas below are great for improving visual tracking and visual scanning in fun ways.  These toys, games, and ideas may be a great gift idea for little ones who have visual perceptual difficulties or problems with spacing and handwriting, body awareness in space, letter reversals, detail awareness, or maintaining place while reading.  

SO, save these ideas for grandparents and friends who might ask for gift ideas for birthdays and holidays.  These are some powerhouse spatial awareness ideas!

Spatial awareness toys and spatial awareness games for kids

  When working on spatial awareness in handwriting, kids can count the number of holes in the pegboard in this Quercetti Tecno Building Toy. (affiliate link) Copy instructions to build 3D structures while working on spacing of pieces and awareness of details in this fun engineering toy. 

Mini erasers (affiliate link) as a spacing tool. Kids can write while keeping the small eraser on their desk. When they space out words, use the eraser as a measuring tool, just like our button buddy. You can also encourage them to finish their writing task and then go back and check over their work for spatial concepts with the eraser. 

Practice spatial awareness of the edges of the page by using a Clear Rulers. (affiliate link) Kids can place the ruler along the edge of the paper to know when to stop writing and to use as a visual cue. Sometimes kids try to squish a word in at the end of a line when there is not enough room. Line the ruler up along the edge and as they write, they can see that they are nearing the edge of the paper.     

Use a highlighter (affiliate link) to draw dots between each word, to provide a visual cue for spacing between words. You can also draw a line along the edge of the paper for a visual cue that the child is nearing the edge of the paper. 

Wooden Building Blocks Sets (affiliate link) are powerful ways to support spatial awareness development. Similarly, and great for targeting body awareness related to objects in the area around us, is this DIY cardboard bricks activity which children love.

Spatial Awareness Games

One study found that children who play frequently with puzzles, construction, and board games tend to have better spatial reasoning ability. 

To get the whole family in on a spatial reasoning game while working on placement of pieces, try IQ Twist (affiliate link) for a game of logic as you place pieces in this puzzle.

This related IQ Arrows game (affiliate link) develops spatial relations but is great for adding to an occupational therapy bag. Use the arrows in play dough to work on directionality with heavy work through the hands. Make mini fine motor obstacle courses and other spatial relations activities on a smaller scale.

Kanoodle (affiliate link) works on pattern recognition, spatial reasoning, and is a great way to practice spacing needed in handwriting.   

A toy like a geoboard allows a child to copy forms while counting out spaces of pegs. Try these Geoboards. (affiliate link)

Here are more spatial awareness games and specifically spatial reasoning games: These are Amazon affiliate links.

Toys for Body in Space Awareness

These toys specifically address body awareness and directional awareness to help with overall spatial awareness development. Position in space impacts functioning in daily tasks at home and in the community. This plays a part in social emotional development and overall confidence as well. When a child feels confident in their body in space awareness, they can navigate the world around them with ease.

And, in regards to handwriting, sometimes, spacing problems on paper have to do with difficulties with directional awareness.

Use Arrows (affiliate link) to start at the basics and practice naming left/write/top/bottom. Use them in whole-body movement activities where the child copies motions based on the arrow placement. Watch to make sure kids are not over stepping their allotted space. 

Use Wikki Stix (affiliate link) for spacing on paper with physical cues for margins and spacing. Use the wikki sticks to space between words and a “ball” of the wikki stick to space between words.

Position in Space Toys

What is spatial awareness? Use these activity suggestions from an occupational therapist.

More Occupational Therapy Toys

  1. Fine Motor Toys 
  2. Gross Motor Toys 
  3. Pencil Grasp Toys 
  4. Toys for Reluctant Writers 
  5. Toys for Spatial Awareness 
  6. Toys for Visual Tracking 
  7. Toys for Sensory Play 
  8. Bilateral Coordination Toys 
  9. Games for Executive Functioning Skills 
  10. Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception 
  11. Toys to Help with Scissors Skills 
  12. Toys for Attention and Focus

Printable List of Toys for Spatial Awareness

Want a printable copy of our therapist-recommended toys to support spatial awareness?

As therapy professionals, we LOVE to recommend therapy toys that build skills! This toy list is done for you so you don’t need to recreate the wheel.

Your therapy caseload will love these SPATIAL AWARENESS toy recommendations. (There’s space on this handout for you to write in your own toy suggestions, to meet the client’s individual needs, too!)

Enter your email address into the form below. The OT Toolbox Member’s Club Members can access this handout inside the dashboard, under Educational Handouts. Just be sure to log into your account, first!

Therapist-Recommended
SPATIAL AWARENESS TOYS HANDOUT

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    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.