Opening Locks for Children With Fine Motor Problems

Girl opening a locker

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Moving up to middle school or high school often means that your child will have to use a locker. And for kids with motor planning problems or fine motor delays, that can be quite a challenge. Consider these tips for helping your child handle the locker challenge.


Buy a combination lock for your child, and make it a summer project to learn how to work it successfully. Locks are easy to carry around and bring out whenever there's an idle moment, in the car, in a restaurant while waiting for your meal, in doctor or therapist waiting rooms. The more your child turns that tumbler and gets used to the way a lock works, the more likely he or she will be to use one without difficulty at school. If the school your child will attend in the fall is open during the summer, see if you can stop by to try the hall lockers a few times, too.

Get Therapist Assistance

Ask the occupational and physical therapists who work with your child, whether at school or privately, to include lock-opening among the skills to work on. OTs, in particular, should be able to pinpoint the fine motor machinations needed to turn the lock with accuracy. Ask the therapists for advice on how you can help at home, too, so that any methods used will be consistent among all the folks doing the teaching.

Pick Interesting Locks

Hall lockers are what they are, but for gym lockers or lock practice, let your child pick a lock he or she likes. There are combination locks in fun colors and shapes and sizes that will motivate your child to practice and to use the things when the time comes. One good alternative for a gym locker might be a lock, like the ones at right from ​Wordlock, that use a word you set yourself as the combination instead of some unfriendly mash-up of numbers.

Request a Key Lock

There may be some hall lockers set aside for students with disabilities who cannot work a combination lock. Ask about these, and if you feel it's the best option for your child, have that put in your child's IEP. Check on the rules for gym lockers, and if necessary, make sure that the IEP contains provisions for use of a key lock there as well, and those requirements are communicated to the gym teachers. You'll probably have to provide the school with a copy of the key.

Forget the Lockers Altogether

If after you've tried these tips, the idea of a locker is still too stressful for your child, you may be able to skip it. A large notebook with lots of pockets and places for inserting important items can make stowing stuff in a hall locker unnecessary. If your child has a set of books at home, he or she may be able to leave books in individual classrooms without needing to tote them. And many students, lock-enabled or not, fail to put locks on their gym lockers, at least according to my children's reports. See if your child can leave any valuables with an aide, and hope for the best.

By Terri Mauro
Terri Mauro is the author of "50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education" and contributor to the Parenting Roundabout podcast.