Shoe Tying 101
As a therapist working directly with children, I often see skills and tasks done for the child for the sake of convenience. I get it, it’s a fast-paced world, and spending extra time buttoning a coat just to do it wrong and have to do it again seems ridiculous but by doing the everyday tasks for our kids we’re taking away key developmental skills they need for overall independence.
I sound dramatic, I know, but without fail, I am asked on the regular why little Tommy cannot tie his shoe.
So I’m here to tell you why…He’s never been allowed to, velcro, slip-on shoes, and the rush of everyday life has forced this skill to go untaught and occupational therapy is here to bring it back!
Back in the day, shoes were not what they are today.
If you had velcro you had three giant ugly straps of the velcro, now there are cute designs, you have adaptive laces that look like they are tied but in fact, they are elastic laces and never actually come undone.
I will say these are a GREAT option for our friends who physically cannot tie their shoes due to motor control issues or physical limitations so I will link them because they do in fact look the most inclusive and blend in the best. As a therapist these are NOT a substitute for simply not teaching shoe tying if it’s functionally possible, let’s keep going.
Let's start with the “why”
then I'll move on to the “how”
Why teach shoe tying?
Fine motor skills: Shoe tying is typically seen as a kindergarten skill but oftentimes we see this skill more appropriate around 6 or 7 years old because of the dexterity and fine motor skills required. Teaching shoe tying actually improves hand manipulation, bilateral coordination (use of both hands at the same time), and dexterity.
Read more about other Fine Motor activities here, 10 At-Home Activities to Build Fine Motor Skills.
Sequencing and motor planning: No matter what method you teach for shoe tying every method will require certain steps to be done in a certain order for it to be tied securely and properly. This improves sequencing, overall motor planning, visual memory, and increases the ability to maintain attention to the task.
Critical life lesson: Learning this skill in itself is important to know for life in general. It’s a part of daily living and independence, but more than that it’s not something that can be seen once and memorized. It requires work, repetition, patience, and attention to detail. These are the skills we want our children to have!!
Now for the “how”
There are multiple methods for teaching shoe tying but let’s start with some general tips. Don’t try to practice this when everyone is hurrying to get out the door. It’s more difficult to learn with your shoe on your foot, have it placed in front of them.
Some children will learn the steps better backward. Known as reverse chaining.
2 different colored laces make it easier to learn.
Here are a few resources to help with the initial practice:
This is probably my favorite practice tool. It provides hands on practice simulating a shoe, with picture directions on the bottom for an easy to follow guide! This can be kept in their room or in a playroom, it looks more toy-like and presents shoe-tying in a cute fun way making them more likely to try it on their own.
Here is the technique I use with my kids in therapy. I have found that after months of being unable to learn the traditional way kids pick up this method in a few tries and have GREAT success!
Let's tie up the loose ends
Shoe tying is a difficult task to master but it’s important! Before beginning make sure your child is developmentally ready, in hand manipulation, bilateral coordination, and sequencing abilities should be acquired first, and make sure you’re making it fun! Have enough time to break the steps down, repeat them a few times, and give lots of praise!
Some children will not master shoe tying and that is OK! If that’s the case I fully recommend adaptive laces.
If you tie one shoe and they tie the other, if you help them for 75-90% of the task, even if you are a few minutes late, you are helping develop a skill, foster independence, and teach a child something they’ll use forever.