How to Teach Kids of ALL Abilities How to Tie Shoes: Modified Techniques

Learning how to tie shoes can be quite daunting for a child with fine motor issues.  It may not seem like it, but there are many underlying skills needed in order to master this complex task.  Typically developing children are usually able to accomplish this skill around the age of 4-5 years old.  By kindergarten, it is expected that children will be able to manage their own laces when they’ve come untied.  Oftentimes, children with fine motor difficulties and/or executive functioning difficulties have a very hard time learning to tie shoes. I see a lot of parents give up on teaching their kids how to tie their shoes because it seems like they just won’t get it or it takes too much time. If a child can’t tie shoes, there are many fashionable alternatives today. Elastic, no- tie laces have come a long way! But before you go down that road, please try the methods in this post. Five methods are presented here. The first two are rather traditional methods, the final three are adapted to make it much easier. Before throwing in the towel, give these methods a shot. If successful, it will surely build your child’s confidence and independence with their self-care skills.

Skills required for shoe tying:

  • Bilateral coordination
  • In-hand manipulation skills (shift)
  • Hand dexterity
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Visual perception (figure-ground)
  • Hand strength
  • Working memory-needed to remember all the steps required to tie shoes

If a child is lagging in one or more of these areas, chances are they will struggle with learning how to tie shoes.  You may see the following:

  • Using their whole hand instead of the pads of fingertips
  • Awkward fumbling over the laces
  • Making unintentional knots, then unable to untie those knots 
  • Loose knots that come untied as soon as the child takes a few steps

Shoe Tying Methods

Method #1:  Bunny Ears

Traditional method using fun verbal prompts.  

  • Cross the laces to make an X
  • Top lace goes under
  • Pull to make the first knot
  • Make two bunny ears
  • Cross the ears
  • Push the top ear under and through the rabbit hole
  • Pull ears tight

Bunny Ears

Method #2:  Dog and Tree

  • Cross the laces
  • Make a tunnel
  • Dog goes under the tunnel, pull tight
  • Make a tree (loop)
  • Dog runs around the tree from front to back
  • Dog goes through the hole to make a loop
  • Pinch each loop and pull tight

Dog and Tree

Method #3:  Easy Tie

This is a modified method for those who have not had success with traditional methods.

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull tight

Repeat:

  • Cross the laces
  • Make an X
  • Put top lace under and pull to make a loose knot
  • Push the end of one lace through the knot to make a loop
  • Do the same with the other lace
  • Pinch each loop and pull to make a tight knot

Easy Tie

Method #4: Easier Tie

  • Insert the ends of both laces into the first hole to make loops
  • cross the loops to make an X
  • top loop goes under and pull tight
  • repeat, top lace goes under and pull tight
  • pull the tip of the lace out of the first hole
  • Voila! Double knotted in all!

Easier Tie

Method #5:  Easiest Tie (When all else fails, this is often the answer!)

  • Pull the laces out of the first hole on each side
  • Insert both laces back in from the opposite end to form two loops
  • Cross the loops to make an X
  • The top loop goes under and pull tight
  • Repeat, the top loop goes under and pull tight

Easiest Tie

Therapist Tips: 

  • Parents/teachers/caregivers should watch the video to learn the modified technique, then teach the child at their own pace. Skip to method 5 (Easiest Tie) for those who are really struggling. Sometimes it may be necessary to set up the laces for the child (push the lace through the first hole to make the loops). Once set up, you won’t need to do it again.
  • Oftentimes it is better to start teaching shoe tying on a tabletop surface. The laces are easier to see and manage this way. Make sure the shoe is facing away from the child as it would be on their foot (as seen in the videos above). Once the child is able to tie the shoe on the tabletop surface, begin practicing with the shoe on their foot.
  • Use two different color laces to support those with visual perceptual needs, it makes it a lot easier to differentiate between the laces.
  • Try practicing for a few minutes each day, practice really does make perfect. The more opportunities the child gets, the better.

I hope you’ll find this post useful! Have a success story? Please share in the comments below!

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

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