Knowing how to tie their shoes is a great matter of pride for children. They feel more grown up, more responsible and more independent. However, it is not easy to say goodbye to their old velcro strapped shoes, because tying shoes requires different things in the fields of space, fine motor skills, time, as well as a certain neurologic and psychologic maturation. In order to give them every opportunity to achieve shoe tying, we will see here what are the essential skills your child will need to have before trying this activity, as well as some tips to ease the learning.
Prerequisites to tying
Every child develops at its own rythme and take more or less time to achieve some learnings: remember, your first child walked at 15 months but your second one took its first steps on its first birthday! Likewise, we generally set the tying skill at 6-7 years old, but some children master it sooner, other later, so here are a few hints in order for you to know if your children are ready to start this learning.
Their fine motor skills are sufficiently developed: they can pick small beads using their thumb and index, they are able to touch every one of their fingers with their thumb without looking at their hands, they can use tweezers to pick up small objects (pompons, dry pastas, etc.). They also understand some fine motor terminology: push, pull, pinch, turn, tighten...
They are able to complete an action sequence: for instance, ask them to bring a book on the kitchen table, then put the remote on the couch, walk around the kitchen before pick up the Legos blocks under the table. Say first all the sequence and let them go, do not guide them, do not tell them if they forgot a step or if they did some steps in a wrong order. Tying shoes request the ability to carry out a series of actions in a precise order, it is why it is important that they already know to follow different steps in their daily life.
Concerning space, your children understand different words: in front/behind, around, inside, through, over/under. Take two or three objects ask them for instance to place the ball in front of the box and the rope on top or to put the rope around the box, etc. You can also ask them to go under the table, behind the couch, in front of the door... They can also choose a place in the living room, the kitchen, their bedroom and describe you where they are: "I am next to the picture frame, in front of my bed, on top of the chair, etc.".
Finally, they WANT to learn! This is what will give them the motivation to try, fail and try again and again until they master! At this age, others are a great inspiration: "I want to tie my shoes alone like my friend Juliet, like my big brother...". Yet, do not use others as a comparison: "Oh come on, Juliet knows how to do it!", this will most likely cause frustration, alteration of self-estime and will freeze the learning process.
A few tips to start
Choose the right moment and take your time: it is better to plan 15 minutes one Saturday morning to start teaching this rather than try to do it when you are in a hurry to go to school, ballet or soccer practice. If you want to ask other people to help you with this teaching, agree first on one method, because if everyone brings his own technique your kid will not remember everything. Make sure you are showing the different techniques with your child's main hand: if he is left handed and you are right handed, show him like a left handed will! You have to be flexible and to adapt to your child so that it will be easier and more efficient for him.
Use laces with different colors: It is an easy trick to help visual kids. The blue lace goes over the red one; the white lace turn around the black one... It will also be easier for you to guide your child.
Substitute laces by pipe cleaners if your child has some difficulties to keep the loops in place. Their metallic structure make them easy to work with and will allow your child to learn the movements sequence without dealing with those loops landing over the laces.
Preferably choose flat laces. Once tied, they stay in place and do not come undone as simply as rounded laces which are more likely to slide.
Mark some colorful dots where your child has to form the loop. That way, they will have visual reference to help them obtain a good sized loop.
Credits: Therapy Fun Zone
Vary props. There are more and more games and props to help children learn to tie their shoes: wooden shoes, books on getting dressed, Montessori plates... Take the opportunity of a game of cowboys and Indians to teach your kids to tie their sibling to the totem or ask them to tie your partenaire's apron to make a cake together. Every single situation in you daily life could be an opportunity to teach while having fun!
Be ready! Practice alone first, taking the time to really break down the action and try to phrase each step clearly. You will be more ready to support your children in their learning and to answer their questions.
A few techniques
There are many techniques to teach shoe tying, a simple Google research will give you at least 15 different methods. Choose one or two of them that make sense to you, that you understand and that seem adapted to your child's capacities.
Josiane Caron Santha, an occupational therapist from Québec propose 3 interesting and easy techniques in this video (in French).
There is a great technique that I always use in my sessions and it is appropriate to every method.
It is called backward chaining. The idea is simple: the adulte do the knot using the selected method while explainig to the child what he or she is doing and let the child do the last step, which is tighten the knot by pulling on the loops. That way, the child get the satisfaction of having contributed in an effective way because he/she is the one who finished the knot. Thus, they are not failing from the start. We then untie the lace and start over, but this time, the adult stops one step before tightening, and the child has to realize the last two steps. We go back and back again until the child is able to do the entire action all by himself.
Usually, we teach all the steps at the same time, so the child has to remember a lot of things from the start in order to finish the knot. With the backward chaining technique, there is only one step to learn each time while being able to finish the knot every single time.
Now it is your turn !
Learning how to tie his/her shoes should be a fun moment to share with one's family, do not hesitate to support and cheer for your child and leave him/her enough time to assimilate each step.
While being a brilliant runner's fine
What counts is setting out on time!