Conquering the task of shoe tying is one of those childhood milestones that truly sets kids apart as the “big kid”.
But shoe tying is not necessarily easy to learn or teach, especially for kids with special needs. Today I wanted to share a video of a little OT trick to help you in your shoe tying endeavors! After that, I have TONS of special shoe tying techniques, practice materials, and alternative solutions to share with you!! This post contains affiliate links for your convenience (see my full disclosure).
DEVELOPMENTAL PROGRESSION OF SHOE TYING
Developmentally speaking, children are typically capable of independently lacing up and tying their shoes all by themselves by 6 1/2 years of age.
Prior to that age, there is a progression of skills that is expected to build up to that Tada! moment of conquering shoe tying. That progression starts all the way back in babyhood! Little ones are typically able to stick a foot out for you to put a shoe on them by 12 months of age. Then they can remove low-top shoes with fasteners undone by 2 years of age, put shoes on with assistance (needing help with correct feet, fasteners, etc.) by 2 1/2 years of age, put on shoes with supervision for correct feet and fasteners by 3 years of age, put shoes on the correct feet and take shoes off completely (including untying the laces) when told to do so by 3 1/2 years of age, tighten their own shoelaces by 4 1/2 years of age, and tie shoes with step-by-step demonstration and support by 6 years of age.
WHEN SHOE TYING IS TOO CHALLENGING
Occupational Therapists can help parents and children learn how to build their dressing skills and/or modify dressing tasks in order to help children be more successful and independent with this Activity of Daily Living (ADL).
Shoe tying is a complex self-help task that requires a combination of several underlying skills. Occupational Therapists are trained to analyze and break down tasks in order to determine what is contributing to the child’s difficulty with shoe tying, and what the best course of action would be as it relates to either learning how to tie shoes or opting for an alternative solution. Fine motor strength, finger isolation, tactile discrimination, bilateral coordination, midline crossing, praxis (being able to think of, plan out, and execute a new motor task), sequencing, visual perception (including visual discrimination and visual memory), visual motor integration, attention, and self-regulation/emotional control are all utilized when learning to tie shoes.
Children who demonstrate deficits in one or more of these areas may find that learning to tie their shoes is a significant challenge. The website OT Mom Learning Activities has a great post that goes into more detail about the underlying skills needed for shoe tying success, plus tips for how to address each underlying skill. Therapy Fun Zone also has a helpful post with several tips for helping kids learn to tie their shoes.
A LITTLE TRICK FOR LEARNING HOW TO TIE SHOES
Here’s an Occupational Therapy trick that can be super helpful for shoe tying beginners. If you have a child (or are working with a child) who is struggling to learn how to tie their shoes, try this clever OT trick featured in my 40-second video below! It’s a simple but creative #OTlifehack to make learning to tie shoes a little easier!
In case you couldn’t watch the video, or would rather read an explanation, here you go…
Cut two shoelaces of contrasting colors in half, hot glue the cut-off ends together to create a dual-colored lace, lace up the shoe, and see how much easier it is for the child to visually determine which lace is which when practicing shoe tying! This is especially helpful for children who struggle with visual discrimination. I find that tube-shaped laces (vs. flat, floppy laces) tend to be easier to work with because they are a little stiffer and hold their shape better when looping.
This is not an “original” idea on my part by any means! Occupational Therapy professionals have been using a shoe tying trick like this for years. But you may not have come across it before, or maybe you didn’t know it was so easy to make your own modified shoe laces!
MORE SHOE TYING IDEAS, PRACTICE MATERIALS, AND MODIFICATIONS
Special Shoe Tying Techniques:
⇒ Use two different colored pipe cleaners, as shown in this post by Your Kids OT
⇒ Try the “Push and Tie” shoe tying method as described by Therapy Fun Zone (she includes a video demonstration in her post as well)
⇒ Use a rhyme like “Loop, Swoop, and Pull!” as described by North Shore Pediatric Therapy
⇒ Use this pirate story to help with shoe tying, as described by North Shore Pediatric Therapy
⇒ Learn these three different shoe tying methods as described by The Inspired Treehouse
⇒ Print out Therapy Fun Zone’s printable practice shoe to practice these different techniques
Special Shoe Laces and Training Products:
⇒ One, Two Tie My Shoe foam practice shoes (you could modify these laces like in my video)
⇒ I Can Tie My Own Shoe Laces practice book (again, you could adapt the laces if needed)
⇒ I Can Tie My Shoes wooden practice board
WHAT ABOUT NO-TIE LACES FOR KIDS WHO JUST CAN’T TIE THEIR SHOES?
Can a child survive in life without ever learning how to tie their shoes?
Sure. There are all sorts of shoe lace options out there these days, many of which do not actually involve lacing and tying. Children and adolescents who significantly struggle with shoe tying are not doomed to only wearing slip-on or Velcro shoes for the rest of their life (though that is an option if they want)!
Here are some great no-tie shoe lace options available on Amazon (no special therapy website browsing needed!):
⇒ Lock Laces (one size fits all, lots of color options, originally developed for triathletes to cut down their transition time between events, now used to help adults with arthritis and kids with special needs!)
⇒ Hickies Kids’ Elastic No-Tie Shoe Laces (turns any lace-up shoes into slip-ons, lots of color options)
⇒ Laceez Kids’ Elastic No-Tie Shoe Laces (turns lace-up shoes into slip-ons, but looks like regular shoe laces, just without the bow)
⇒ SnapLaces (can be managed with only one hand, good for kids with bilateral coordination challenges, hemiparesis, hemiplegia, amputation)
⇒ PopLaces (elastic laces, tie them once, don’t need to untie in order to get shoes off or on)
⇒ SlackLace (flat elastic shoelaces, tie them once, never need to untie)
I hope this post has given you a few new ideas for the kid(s) in your life.
Please let me know what your favorite shoe tying tip, practice method, modification, or alternative solution is!
Teaford, P., Wheat, J., Baker, J. (Eds). (2010). HELP 3-6 Assessment Strands [Curriculum Based Assessment, 2nd Edition]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
Warshaw, S. (2007). HELP strands 0-3 [Curriculum Based Assessment]. Palo Alto, CA: VORT Corporation.
Join the newsletter!
Want more handy tips & tricks to help the kids in your life?
Subscribe to Mama OT so you can receive updates about new posts, helpful tidbits & a look at what's going on behind the scenes.