When will my child be able to tie their laces?

a woman tying her child s shoelaces
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I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which we live, work, learn, and play, and pay my respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Tying shoelaces is an important milestone for kids! It provides them with a sense of independence and growth as they no longer rely on teachers or parents to help with this everyday task. It also means parents aren’t restricted to only buying Velcro shoes, giving more variety in the back to school shopping.

You might be asking yourself “when will my child be able to tie their own laces?”. Many children are encouraged to tie their own laces around the time they start school however, don’t be disheartened if your child hasn’t mastered this tricky task. In fact, many 5-6 year old’s aren’t developmentally ready to be able to tie their own shoes! There are so many small developmental stepping stones that have to be achieved before your child is ready to tackle their laces.

Stepping stones to tying laces

The following are all the tiny stepping stones, that add up help your child to be tie up those laces all by themselves!

Fine motor- Fine motor skills are all about your child’s ability to hold, pinch and manipulate small things with their hands and fingers. You can learn more about helping your child to develop their fine motor skills in these two blog posts: Pincers, pegs & pirates: Developing hand skills – Occupational Therapy for Children (steppingstonesforchildren.com.au); Mr Bally for Finger Strength and Dexterity – Occupational Therapy for Children (steppingstonesforchildren.com.au)

Visual motor- This is the ability to take in all the visual information with our eyes and organise this in our brain, to then carry out physical movements with our bodies. For e.g., catching a ball- you eyes see the ball coming towards your body and your brain organises this information and sends a message to your arms that say “catch the ball”. The same things happens when tying shoelaces- your eyes tell you which finger to move to manipulate the shoe lace.

crop kid tying shoelaces on sneakers
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Bilateral Coordination (using 2 hands)- Bilateral means “both sides” and coordination means our ability to use our body parts smoothly and efficiently. So, bilateral coordination simply means using both sides of our body to move efficiently to complete a task. This is necessary for shoelace tying as it is done with both hands (tip- it is possible to tie shoelaces onehanded for those who are living with limb deficiencies, hemiparesis or other conditions impacting one side of their body).

Cognition (thinking skills): To complete a complex task such as shoelace tying- our kids need to have certain thinking skills such as concentration, following 2 step (or more) instructions, and visual memory. Concentration is our ability to focus on a task without being distracted by our environment, or thoughts and feelings. Visual memory is our ability to remember what something looks like so that we can replicate it. This allows us to remember what step comes next in shoelace tying. Following 2 or more step instructions is also necessary for successful shoelace tying as this is a task where each step needs to be completed before moving onto the next.

Postural stability- This refers to our ability to remain upright by engaging all of our strong back, shoulder, tummy and pelvic muscles. If your child has trouble with sitting upright they may have challenges when it comes to shoe lace tying. For more information on improving your child’s postural stability you can visit our blog post https://steppingstonesforchildren.com.au/2015/09/03/trampolining-bounding-with-benefits/

How to help teach my child how to tie their shoe?

Forward chaining: This refers to a teaching method that can be used in shoelace tying and other activities that require lost of steps. It involves the child beginning the first step of the sequenced task, then after learning this step, they move onto the second step and then the third step and so on. This continues until the child is finished all steps in the task all by themselves. This technique is particularly helpful for children who have challenges with sequencing (performing multi-step tasks) and generalising skills (transferring 1x skill learnt in 1x task to another skill)

crop faceless black father tying sons shoelaces on bench
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Backward chaining: This involves the same process as forward chaining however it happens in reverse. This means that you begin by teaching the child the final step in the task and slowly move towards the beginning of the task. Once the child has completed the last step independently, they can be taught the previous step and so on, until the child can complete the whole task independently. Backwards chaining can be useful to help children who may live with anxiety as this breaks the task down also gives them a sense of achievement by completing the final step- which is a great way to boost their confidence!

How to make shoelace tying less frustrating and more FUN!

There are different activities that you can use to support your child with shoelace tying and reduce any anxieties or frustration over this task.

-To make it easy on your child, you can use 2 different shoelace colours whilst teaching them.

-You can also use bigger, longer, and flatter laces to help with fine motor challenges.

-Ask your child to first practice, by threading through laces through the shoe holes- you can ask them to make you a wild spider web!

-Colour in one side of the lace to help them visually organise which side of the lace needs to be facing up.

-Let them practice on your shoe first- this helps them use more energy on concentrating and following the sequence of the steps rather than having to focus on the sequencing and postural stability. Once they have more confidence they can begin practicing on their own shoes.

-Use modelling- a term used by Occupational Therapists to actually show the child each step and talk them through the sequence while actually completing it yourself.

-Work out the best method to use with your child (see below the various methods).

Different methods of shoelace tying

cute little ethnic boy in stylish clothes
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Bunny ears (2 loop) method The Bunny Ear Method of Tying Shoes by Kelly Zana – Bing video:

  1. Tie a basic knot. Cross the first lace over the second lace halfway up the laces. Take the end of the first and lace and put it over the second lace. Now poke it underneath the second lace and pull tight.
  2. There should be a cross close to the shoe. Now, take the first lace and make a small loop, or ‘bunny ear’.
  3. Take the second lace and make a small loop, or ‘bunny ear’.
  4. Cross both bunny ears across one another.
  5. Take the first bunny ear and place it over the top of the second bunny ear. Thread the first bunny ear through the hole and pull both bunny ears tight at the same time.
  6. You should now have a tied shoelace- well done!

One loop method How to tie your shoes: ‘One Loop Method’ – Bing video:

  1. As described in the first 2 steps above in the bunny ear method- tie a basic knot.
  2. Make 1x loop with the first lace and hold the lace with your thumb and index finger.
  3. Use your free hand to wrap the second lace around the loop of the first lace. You can hold it over your fingers and around the loop and wrap the lace towards your body rather than away.
  4. Pull the second lace through the hold so that it makes another loop. Use your other hand to pull the shoelace through. Now there will be a hole between the looped shoelace and the wrapped one.
  5. You can then pull the wrapped shoelace through the hole.
  6. Pull both loops tight simultaneously and now you have a tied shoe!

Circle method How to tie shoes: The circle method – Bing video:

  1. As above tie a basic knot.
  2. Tie another lose knot – make sure you don’t tighten it.
  3. Thread the first shoelace into the circle and make sure it comes through the circle to the other side. Make sure it doesn’t fall out of the circle.
  4. Thread the second shoelace through the circle the way as in step 3. You will have 2 loops at both sides and a knot in the middle.
  5. Pull both loops tightly simultaneously and congratulations- you now have a tied shoe!

One handed shoe tying One-Handed Shoe Tying – Bing video:

  1. With both feet flat on the ground- hold 1 shoelace under your other foot and hold the other shoelace in your hand.
  2. Place the shoelace in your hand under the shoelace held by your foot to form a cross. Thread the shoelace in your hand through the hole and pull tight.
  3. Make a loop while still holding the lace under the other foot.
  4. Bring the loop behind and under the straight lace that is held under your foot
  5. While holding the loop in place between your thumb and index finger, let the straight lace out from under the foot.
  6. Use your fingers to wrap the loose shoelace all the way around the loop.
  7. Use your thumb to push the middle of the lace through this newly formed loop.
  8. Holding one loop in place with your free foot, pull the other loop tight. Now you have successfully tied your own shoe one handed. It’s important to remember that this may take extra time due to the extra challenges of using one hand.

References

Falcy, E. (2020). Visual Motor Integration and Visual Motor Skills | NAPA Center. NAPA. Retrieved 20 December 2021, from https://napacenter.org/visual-motor-integration/.

Chaining | Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorders Network | Nebraska. Unl.edu. (2021). Retrieved 20 December 2021, from https://www.unl.edu/asdnetwork/virtual-strategies/chaining.

Author: Serena Rudd  

Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Editor: Michelle Newby  BHSc(OT) MSc PhD Candidate

Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Copyright Stepping Stones Therapy for Children 2022/23


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