Winter is officially over and spring has arrived – goodbye boots, hello running shoes!
It can be a big milestone in independence for kids when they can tie their own shoelaces. However, tying shoelaces is by no means a simple task. There are many skills and systems that need to align in order to achieve success which can make this a frustrating task to learn and one that requires a lot of patience and practice.
Grandview Kids Occupational Therapist Brittany Thordarson has some tips to help your kids achieve this goal!
Tying laces requires:
- Bilateral coordination: unless using a one-handed technique, kids need to use both hands to work together and to complete different actions in a coordinated way
- Hand and finger manipulation and dexterity: all of the fingers are moving in different ways and shifting the laces around
- Motor planning: visualizing the finished product, having a plan for the steps to get there, and knowing how to fix things if they don’t look right along the way
- Visual perception and spatial awareness: being able to tell the two laces apart when they are overlapping or winding around each other and noticing where the ends of the laces are in relation to the loops to make adjustments
- Hand strength: sustaining a pinch on loops and pulling laces tight so that they don’t come undone again after a few minutes
Warm up ideas to build skills:
- Establish “left versus right”, “under versus over”, “on top versus below”. Without knowing the differences it can be hard to follow coaching directions.
- Strengthening: pinch clothes pins and put them onto sides of containers, pick up small objects with tongs or tweezers (take it up a level with sorting things like different shapes of beads to work on visual perception at the same time).
- String manipulation: lacing boards (emphasize under/over pattern); practice knot starts and making loops with stiffer materials like pipe cleaners, Wikistix or Twizzler Pull ‘n’ Peels that don’t let progress slip away easily; crafts that involve tying knots (e.g. Jellyfish craft with yarn)
- Bilateral coordination and dexterity: beading, tearing up tissue paper and scrunching up pieces with finger tips, nuts and bolts, pulling apart Lego.
- Sequencing activities: Take and print photos of the different steps and have your child put the steps in the right order. Later on, when they start practicing the real task, you can have them put stickers on the steps that they have mastered.
Tips for success:
- Master one step at a time. E.g. make an X with laces. Then feed the top string one under the other. Then add these two steps together. Once they are mastered together then practice gathering one loop. This becomes tricky as it is hard to maintain tightness. Go slow and try to end each practice session on a happy note.
- Sit side-by-side with your child facing the same direction so you can model what to do.
- Start with the shoe stabilized between knees and toes pointing away. This makes it easier to see the shoe laces and takes away the difficulty of reaching down to the foot, navigating around knees and awkward positions. Once the skill is mastered this way, move the shoe onto the foot. Eventually practice in different positions like sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, squatting, half kneeling, etc.
- Help your child to develop their problem solving skills. Resist the temptation to tell them where things went wrong. Be sure to encourage them to determine where things went wrong and what they will do differently next time. This helps solidify their understanding of the task and they will carry their problem solving skills on to future tasks.
- Ensure the practice laces have extra length. Short laces are harder to manipulate and hold onto.Flat cotton laces are easier than round laces.
- Practice when there is no rush on time. In other words, practice time shouldn’t be on the way out the door which causes undue stress and demand.
- Try using two different colours of laces. This helps to visually discriminate between the laces throughout the task. It also helps as you coach your child (e.g. put the yellow one over the blue one to make an X, and then pull the yellow one under the blue one).
- Other aspects of the task to practice: undoing knots, tightening laces from toe to shoe tongue, and loosening laces from shoe tongue to toe.
- CELEBRATE each step that is mastered along the way!
There is no right method to tying laces and there are actually MANY that exist as alternatives to the popular “bunny ear” or “loop, swoop and pull” technique. The goal is to find a way that works for your child and maintains tight laces. There are many techniques shared on YouTube. If you are looking for some different methods, watch some videos with your child and see which one they want to try first. Use judgment about when it is time to try a different method or if the chosen method just requires more practice. Here is a small sample of options from YouTube:
Shoe Tying Alternatives:
Need a different option to tying your laces? No problem! Still practice tying basic knots as this is a helpful life skill. When it comes to shoes though, check out some of these different options:
(*please note that this is not a comprehensive list and no products or merchants are endorsed by Grandview)
Curly elastic shoelaces – found on Amazon here
Lock Laces – found on Amazon here
**home hack: check for any unused drawstring bags around the house – take off the securement piece and attach to regular laces
Neo-wows – found on Amazon here
Zubits – found on Amazon here
**note: these magnets are very strong, so while they hold well they can be difficult for some children to open and fingers need to be properly positioned to avoid unwanted pinches
Hickies – found on Amazon here