Tying shoes is a complex skill requiring postural stability, motor planning, fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor integration, and bilateral hand use. A deficit in any of these areas can create challenges and delays in a child’s ability to successfully learn how to tie their shoes. Here are some initial strategies and modifications to help your child overcome the challenge and master this important life skill.
1. Positioning: Postural stability is essential for success in fine motor tasks. Have your child sit in a supportive chair or on the floor leaning against the wall to ensure trunk stability. This eliminates the muscular effort involved in holding themselves up as they practice. If core strength is a known weakness, consider implementing a strengthening regimen to help your child build a strong core.
2. Start with a shoe off the body: It is much harder to learn to tie a shoe while it is on your child’s foot. Place the shoe or practice board on your child’s lap or on a table. Once your child masters the sequence of steps with adequate fine motor precision, practice with the shoe on the foot. Again, consider the positioning and level of trunk support needed to support success.
3. Use different colored laces: Cut two different colored laces in half and tie them together on the cut end. Lace them through a practice board or shoe with the knot at the bottom between the first two holes. This helps with visual perception and learning spatial/directional concepts such as over/under and left/right as your child learns the mechanics.
4. Use long stiff laces: Try these or these, both of which come bicolored! The old school flat cotton laces also work great. This will allow for easier manipulation and help hold the loops in position. Long laces are essential for beginners as they master making loops and tying them. Short laces require more precision.
5. Use a tool to help hold the loops during knot-tying: You can use clothespins to hold the loops in place while the child sets up the knot. This can make the process easier while they are learning how to hold/manipulate the laces and tie a knot. Once they master that part, these can be taken away.
6. Create a poem or story to memorize the steps: For children who have a hard time with remembering the sequence of steps, a story may help them know what comes next. Here are some fun examples.
The idea is to scaffold the task by providing these supports and gradually taking them away as accuracy and independence improves. If shoe tying continues to be difficult and unsuccessful, look further into the foundational skills required for the task, especially postural stability, visual perception, and bilateral integration. An OT can help identify what area may be impacting the child’s performance if you are unsure.
meet the blogger
Austen is a pediatric occupational therapist with experience in schools, early intervention, and private clinic settings. She now runs her own private practice in Portland, OR specializing in movement based learning techniques. This blog's mission is to educate and empower parents and children by sharing insights into the complexities of learning and development.