Learning to tie shoe laces is an important but difficult milestone for many children. For some of our clients, just the mention of shoe tying is enough to bring on tears. Here are some ways to help break down the process for your child.
- First of all, shoe tying should be practiced when there is time to practice. The last five minutes before the bus arrives is not the most opportune time for a child to feel focused and relaxed to attempt a new skill. Some families have found that sticking with slip-on or Velcro closure shoes for the school day and saving the lace up sneakers for afternoons and weekends works for them.
- Contrast laces can help your child differentiate which lace is which. Get a black lace and a white lace (or two of your child’s favorite colors) and cut each lace in half. Tie the two shortened laces together and lace up a sneaker. Now when your child is learning the motor plan of how to manipulate the laces, you can use directions such as “Make a loop with the black lace”, rather than diving into right vs. left.
- If your child is having trouble manipulating the laces due to decreased fine motor skills, try using a jump rope wrapped around their foot. The increased diameter of the rope makes it easier for you to fit your hands into the process and help your child. For some children, the simple fact that the rope is not a shoe helps to lessen hesitancy to try. Other children enjoy pretending to tie an elephant’s or a dinosaur’s shoe.
- Talk to your child’s OT about which method of tying laces may be best for your child. In general, children who struggle with motor planning may benefit from the “two bunny ear” approach, as the steps are repetitive. Children who have difficulty with fine motor dexterity or bilateral coordination may do better with the “one bunny ear” approach. Once you pick a method, stick with it for a good length of time so that your child settles into the consistency of the steps.
- A word about that “bunny ear”. Most children try to form a bunny ear, but end up with a small balloon-like loop at the very end of the lace; this results in the lace slipping through too far when trying to pull the laces tight at the end of the task. We have found that teaching the child to grasp the “middle of the lace”, then “bring the middle down to the bottom” results in a good-sized loop with enough extra lace at the end to allow for success when pulling the laces tight.
- Visuals are key! Try a book with step by step pictures, take a video of yourself tying shoes or try an app.
There are two apps we have found to be useful: Tie Your Shoes and Shoe Tying. Tie Your Shoes breaks the activity down into short steps and gives the option to have black and white laces, or two white laces. The app itself is easy to navigate and allows the user to repeat a step if needed. The video is narrated by a clown, however, even our older children at the clinic don’t seem to mind. (Note: if you are searching for Tie Your Shoes in the App Store, it is listed as an iPhone app, not an iPad app, but the video quality remains clear on an iPad.) Shoe Tying is a little harder to navigate and only shows white laces, but may be appropriate for an older child who finds Tie Your Shoes to be juvenile.
- Help your child gain confidence by asking them to do part of the task. Have your child complete just the first step (cross the laces), or just the last step (pull the loops tight), then work your way towards completing the whole activity. By celebrating the small successes, your child will gain interest and pride in their accomplishment.