The easy slip on, slip off summer-shoe lifestyle has helped countless parents get out the door a little faster in the mornings. During Fall and Winter, we trade in our sandals for closed toe shoes. With that transition comes stylish warm boots, tennis shoes and ultimately shoe tying; a tricky skill that can be very challenging for children to learn.
Shoe tying is a multi–step process that involves fine motor coordination. Not only does a child have to remember the sequence of steps, but each of their hands has to complete different small movements while working together to complete the finished product. Though it can be frustrating for children learning for the first time, shoe tying is a valuable skill that can help your child be more independent in dressing themselves. In addition, the practice of shoe tying helps a child develop their bimanual (two hand) coordination skills, which will only help them in the future.
There’s more than one way to tie a shoe, and when it comes to learning I find that no one way is easiest. Teach the way you use because that is what you’re most comfortable with. I personally use the classic one bunny ear, string around and through method and I use my dominant hand to form the first bunny ear. If this doesn’t seem to work for your child, there are a number of creative, alternative adaptations that an OT can make based on your child’s needs.
Here are some tricks and tips if your child is learning how to tie their shoes for the first time, and keep in mind, practice makes perfect!
1. Two different colored laces:
Since your child is learning how to do two different things with their hands, practicing with two different colored laces can help them visually keep track. This way, there’s a contrast between the laces, and when teaching you can refer to the “blue string” or “yellow string” to avoid confusion. This can be done on either a practice shoe or their own shoes.
2. Backwards chaining:
One way to keep your child feeling successful is by teaching the last step, FIRST. For example, if you go through the sequence with your child until the last step, letting them pull both “bunny ears” tight, this can help your child feel accomplished that they “did it!” When they’re ready, keep adding a step until they’re completing the whole process. Example:
1st- pulling the bunny ears
2nd- putting the string through the hole then pulling the bunny ears
3rd- bringing the string around the bunny ear, putting it through the hole, then pulling the bunny ears
3. Sit next to your child:
When teaching shoe tying, always sit next to your child so their perspective is the same as yours. This way, all the steps you’re doing with each hand look exactly the same as theirs, which makes learning the sequence much easier to follow.
4. Have a practice shoe:
Getting ready to leave the house can already be a hurried process, so this may not be the ideal time for a child to learn how to tie their shoes. Use an old shoe for a separate practice shoe for your child to learn on without the time constraints of getting ready to leave the house. This takes some of the pressure away and allows your child to learn at their own pace.
5. Games and puzzles:
Learning how to use laces can be way more fun if part of a game! Puzzles that incorporate laces, stringing beads, and lacing cards are good activities for your child to build the fine motor skill needed for shoe tying.
If you have any questions about how your child can improve their fine motor skills in order to tackle shoe tying, feel free to reach out or ask your occupational therapist.