Every Tuesday I work in a Primary school where I spend a lot of time in the Prep and Year 1 classrooms. It’s a delightful experience. Over the past couple of years visiting these classrooms I have noticed something that always gives me a laugh: When I look down at the Prep and Year 1’s feet there is a swirl of untied shoelaces! Always. The consistency is almost reassuring in our world that is full of change!

The other day I was talking with a friend who is teaching her son to tie his shoelaces. She exclaimed “It’s like toilet training all over again! I didn’t think it would be so hard. It’s taking him so long to get it!”.

It made me think about what age is the best age to start teaching children to tie their own laces? Or rather what developmental stage? How do we know they are ready? Gosh, how do we know we are ready for this complex teaching process. amongst the business of all the other daily activities we do with our children?

It’s Both Age and Stage

Learning to tie a shoelace involves a range of physical, visual, and thinking skills. Research on the developmental age that a child is expected to be able to acquire the skill of tying shoelaces indicates they should acquire this skill between 5-6 years of age. Some schools, like the one I visit expect children to wear lace up shoes from Prep, others have no such rules.
When deciding when to start teaching your child consider your child’s individual skills and nature, and what you have observed about the way they have learnt to do other activities independently.

  • How did they go learning to dress them self, or learning to ride a bike? This can give you clues about how they will go learning the new skill of shoe lace tying.
  • Can your child perform fine motor tasks of buttoning, threading beads, and other small movement activities with their fingers?
  • Are they able to sequence activities well and follow steps to complete an activity?
  • How do they go copying movements?
  • Do you know that there physical development is delayed or that they need a longer training time to learn new physical skills?

These are important points to consider, as starting your child before they are ready, or due to pressure from others expectations can cause problems and lead to frustration and discouragement.

Give it Time

Learning a complex task takes preparation and practice time.

Preparation:

Before you start teaching your child think about how you will do this and organise the tools and time you will need. Consider:

  • What shoelace tying method are you going to use?
  • How are you going to teach your child?
    • Teaching by telling: Giving spoken instructions
    • Teaching by showing: Modelling for the child what you want them to do
    • Teaching step by step: breaking the task down into small steps and teaching one step at a time.
  • Will you use other resources to help you teach your child (shoes, shoelace length, a book with a toy shoe and shoelace, an App or video from youTube to help guide you)?
  • How will you create a positive learning experience for your child? Special time with Mum or Dad while learning can be the positive reinforcer in itself. Verbal praise, a sticker chart marking off learning of each step, or practice times, working towards a prize or celebration of the child’s learning are other examples.
  • When is the best time to do the teaching within your families schedule? Weekends and School holidays can work well.
  • Who is the best person to do the teaching? Teaching our children skills that are second nature to us can be hard. If you are teaching your child and it is not sticking or they continue to have difficulty it may be helpful to seek help from someone else. If your child has difficulties with their motor skills, having help from an Occupational Therapist to analyse your child’s movement patterns and provide individualised training, can be useful.

Practice:

Our Western culture is very results focussed. We can be so focused on getting to the results, that the process of getting there – the practice and learning – feels burdensome and we wish it away. However it is the process where so much rich experience is gained.
As our children learn skills we can help teach them about the importance of practice and place value on this process rather than the end product. This lesson will serve them well in all areas of their life.

  • Try to make practice times a special and fun time.
  • Use the step by step approach – they just need to focus on learning one step at a time. If your child gets upset and says “I’ll never be able to tie my shoes” you can respond by saying ‘That’s OK – we are just working on crossing the laces over today – that’s all we need to do for now!”.
  • When affirming your child, talk about the effort they are putting in, or how much you are enjoying practising with him or her and seeing her work hard (the process), rather than the end result (the product).

Who would have thought I could produce a whole article on shoelace tying – without even providing a step by step process for the actual teaching! Thankfully there is a great website ‘Ian’s Shoelace Site’ (http://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/knots.htm) where Ian, being passionate about all things knotted, provides step by step visual instructions.

Some children find shoelace tying too difficult, and in the scheme of other more pressing skills they are learning, shoelace tying isn’t a priority. There are a range of devices that hold the shoelace in place without the need for tying shoelaces. At Grow On Children’s OT we stock ‘Ulace customising lace system’, other products can be found through a quick internet search including ‘Discits’ and ‘Lock Laces’.

As always, if you have specific questions or want individualised advice for your child please contact us at Grow On Children’s Occupational Therapy or book a personalised information session through the website.

P.S.
Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Tyrone
Tyrone who?
Tyrone shoelaces 😉