by Stacy Kramer  OT Reg. (Ont)


Velcro is every six year old’s best friend.  Learning to tie shoes, which used to be a rite of passage for the average first grader, can now easily be put off until a child reaches the double digit ages.

But grit your teeth, procrastinating parents, because eventually your child will have to learn how to tie shoes.  This is rarely an easy feat to accomplish, but if your child has motor planning and/or fine motor difficulties, the shoe-tying challenge can feel insurmountable.

Broken down step-by-step, shoe tying begins to look like the perfect storm of fine motor challenges.  Shoe tying has it all – the need to perform several very difficult fine motor maneuvers that include bilateral coordination, finger isolation, combining force with movement with material that is not static, and motor planning a long sequence of steps.

But there are some tricks to try to make shoe tying a bit easier.  A few suggestions:

1)     The ‘bunny ear’ technique is often considered easier for young children to learn than the traditional loop technique.  The bunny ear technique consists of essentially the same step performed twice – cross the strings over each other for the first knot, then cross the strings over each other again with loops at the end.  There are some nice videos demonstrating the bunny ear technique on YouTube – some have rhythms to sing when teaching the technique, which could be very helpful for children struggling with motor planning.  An example of one video is:

2)      When it comes to shoe tying, bigger is often better.  Try to use the biggest shoe laces you can find.

3)     Teach shoe tying with the shoe off – this way the child does not have to worry about positioning the foot while learning to tie.  Best to place the shoe on a child sized table – just make sure the shoe is oriented in the same manner as it would be on the foot.

4)     There is a nice technique called backward chaining that is often helpful when it comes to shoe tying.  This involves teaching the last step first – for shoe tying you would first teach how to pull a bow tight.  Once the child masters this step you work your way backwards through the steps of shoe tying, until all the steps have been introduced.  Backward chaining can be more rewarding for children, as they always end with the finished project.

5)     Use two laces of different colors in order to help visualize where each lace is during the learning process.

6)     Practice with pipe cleaners or other materials that is sturdier than standard shoelaces.

7)     Prepare your child mentally for the task:  explain to them that this is a challenging activity and that they will not learn how to tie shoe laces during the first few tries.  Practice 1-3 times several times a week in order to lower frustration and improve success.

Hope this helps! Best of luck to all families facing the shoe tying challenge!

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