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Tying shoelaces may seem like a small task, but for school-aged children, it can be a significant milestone in developing fine motor skills and fostering a sense of independence. This seemingly simple task is actually quite complex involving a range of skills, including: hand-eye coordination, hand dexterity, visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning and sequencing, grading of movements, postural control, problem solving, and more!
Here are 10 occupational therapy strategies to help you teach your child how to tie their shoes!
When a child is seated on the ground, their knees can get in the way of seeing what their hands are doing. When learning a new skill, observing what our hands are doing during a motor sequence is very important. Therefore, when teaching and practicing shoe lacing, place the shoe on the desk. Choose a desk of appropriate height and ensure that the child’s feet are supported. Additionally, when your child is seated and supported ergonomically at a desk, the postural muscles do not have to work as hard and your child’s body can focus more on the task at hand.
he heel of the shoe should be closest to the child and the tip of their shoe should be facing away from them. We want to position the shoe as if the child is wearing it on their foot. This is because the orientation of the shoe changes the role of each hand.
Sometimes the shoe will move around the table and this can be frustrating for the child. Help the child stabilize the shoe by holding it as they practice lacing or put a non-slip mat under the shoe or put heavy objects inside the shoe (e.g., rocks, etc.) to hold it in place.
Sometimes shoelaces can be very tricky to see (e.g., white shoelaces on a white shoe). Using 2 different coloured shoelaces of high contrast (e.g., yellow and blue) can be very helpful. This will help your child see the shoelaces better and helps you provide them with clearer instructions (e.g., put the yellow lace on top of the blue la
Choose shoes with larger eyelets and long laces. Flat laces are also easier to tie than round ones as they do not come undone as easily. This makes the task easier, allowing kids to focus on the lacing process rather than struggling with the equipment.
Start with a double loop (go under twice) which will make the laces less likely to come undone as your child finishes the rest of the steps. This method is also easy to untie.
Diagrams or videos can be incredibly helpful for children who are visual learners. You can find various online resources that demonstrate different lacing techniques. Ensure consistency in the language you use when teaching your child (e.g., bunny ears, etc.) as well as using a consistent method. The one-loop method is recommended as the two-loop method usually requires more hand dexterity.
Do every single step until the last step. Encourage your child to complete the rest. This will help them feel a sense of accomplishment every time as they are completing the activity and will be more willing to practice. Gradually get your child to do more every time (e.g., do the first 4 steps then get your child to do the last 2 steps, and so on).
Encourage children to practice regularly. Repetition is key to building muscle memory and improving fine motor skills.
Learning to tie shoes can be frustrating for children. Be patient and provide positive reinforcement. Celebrate their small victories, and reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. Practice during times when you and your child are not in any rush (e.g., in the afternoon or the weekends). This will help you provide your child the time and patience they need to be successful.
Every child is different, and some may face additional challenges that impact their ability to tie shoes. Our highly trained pediatric occupational therapists at Play On Pediatric Therapy here in Barrhaven (Ottawa, Ontario) can assess shoe lacing and other related difficulties and tailor strategies to address specific needs (e.g, using adaptive tools or alternative lacing techniques). Call 613-699-0787 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if booking with one of our OTs or other pediatric therapists can help your child achieve this or any other FUNctional goal.