Teaching children to take care of themselves is just part of the game in kindergarten. Zipping is serious stuff… they don’t teach you about zipping in teacher prep classes, but they should. The art of zipping coats is delicate. This year, I’ve made enemies with a particular pink fluffy coat that gets stuck on the way up and the way down about ninety-nine percent of the time. I still fight with that coat daily, but the child who owns it can zip, she just can’t get it unstuck…  The gift of independence is invaluable.

Learning to zip your own coat seems like a simple task. It’s not. This is not something I’ve ever had to teach anyone. Taking the ordinary, everyday, mundane skills and breaking them down into simple steps is par for the course in kindergarten. Some kids come in able to do this already, but most don’t. We work on it… and then work in it some more.

Last week, I had two little boys do this for the first time on their own. Now, I know a child’s first words and steps are monumental events for parents, but zipping for the first time is monumental for a teacher. Outside at recess, Chris and Kevin ran right up to me with unzipped coats. Neither one had to say a word. The look of helplessness on their faces said it all. Could I zip their coats for them?

I do not zip coats. I teach kids how to zip. Sometimes I have to teach them how to zip two or three times. Sometimes fifty or sixty times. I squatted down and began my lesson again.

“Put this part into the other part… push down… now pull up,” I explained as I demonstrated on Kevin’s coat as Chris looked on. His coat was zipped, but I unzipped it so he’d have to at least try it on his own. I make sure they put in a good effort and fail before I zip it for them.

Kevin went through the motions and… did it! I wish I’d had my camera with me on the playground. The look on his face was a mixture of genuine pride and surprise. He couldn’t believe he’d finally done it. He and I looked at Chris… now it was his turn.

“You can do it,” I assured him.

Slowly, he grabbed the ends of his coat… he was struggling. He couldn’t get the male end into the female end of the zipper. I stopped him by gently taking his hands away from his coat.
“Look at me,” I said. I wanted his full attention.

Slowly, I comforted him, “Just remember, you can do this. I believe in you.” Before he could try again, Kevin, still watching chimed in, “I can do it for you, but I know you can do it yourself.” Wow, they really do listen.

Chris grabbed his coat with the determination only a five-year-old can muster and zipped his coat. He turned to his buddy and they gave each other a celebratory hug, smiled at me and then ran off for the important business of recess.