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Tying Shoes, one CAN do step at a time!

Originally posted 08/2015; Updated: 10/14/2021

I frequently see teachers and parents try to teach children how to tie their shoes by telling them all of the steps at one time. To me, that seems like reading over an unfamiliar and complicated recipe and then going into the kitchen and trying to prepare the multi-step meal without ever looking back at the recipe. That is unlikely to go well!

These same parents and teachers are usually very good at breaking down other tasks into smaller more manageable steps and teaching those one at a time before moving on to the next step.

Tying shoes should be no different!

This task can be broken down into many, smaller steps. The idea is to teach your child one step until they can do it with ease. Then teach the next step. Practice that until they can do it with ease. Then teach the next step.

The way it looked in our house was: Big Sister needed to get her shoes on so we could go out. She would like for us to do the whole thing from putting her shoes on through the tying process.

We did do that for a while, especially while she was young. But we have Little W now and she's older, so she can learn to do part. I'll show you the pictures of the steps, but I taught her this a while ago, so these pictures are just for demonstration purposes. I did not do it all in one day!

I first asked her what she can do. "Show me how much you can do." Ok, she could put on her socks and get the shoes on her feet. Great! That became the expected amount for her to do.

I showed her the next step: Pull the tongue of the shoe up. That's it. Pull the tongue up. I had her practice again, this time adding in pulling the tongue up. Success! She could do that, too!

Next day... time to put on shoes, again!

I had her do the things she can do to get it started. She easily put on socks, shoes and with a cue ("remember to pull the tongue up!") pulled the tongue up. Excellent! Now, I could either let her keep doing that step for a few days or add another one. Since that was an easy step, I added the next step immediately. Pull the laces tight. I told her and showed her. Then, I loosened the laces and let her try. Pretty good. We tried the other shoe. I showed her and told her, loosened her laces and let her try.

We did that for a few days. Then added in the next step: cross the laces. She did all of the steps I know she can do and then I showed her while I told her what I was doing. "I'm crossing the laces." Then, I let her try. No problem. I don't complicate the whole thing by telling her all of the steps that I am doing. I only say the step she is learning at that time.

Next day, she did all of the steps including crossing the laces and wanted to know what the next step was (now that she has had success and I've praised her for each step that she has mastered, she is eager to learn the next step). Ok, now put the top lace under the bottom lace. It makes more sense when I showed her. We practiced a few times. The tricky part here was keeping the laces on the right side.

She wanted to pull them tight the wrong way, but that was not the part we are working on. Once she got this step down we worked on pulling it tight. I praised her for getting the step done correctly. (the picture below is her incorrectly pulling it tight!)

Soon we moved on to pulling the half-tied laces tight. This took a few times of me showing her the right way it lays when it's pulled tight correctly and when it's pulled tight with the laces going the wrong way. Then, she practiced and practiced. This one we practiced for a while!

The next step is to make one loop. That's loop. We took the middle of the lace and pull it down to the crossed laces making one loop. She enjoyed doing this part. We started by taking the middle of the lace and putting to the shoe.

What I had her do each morning was go through all of the steps that she can do and wait for me to finish it. So she sat, holding a loop on her shoe until I could get there to finish it!

Ok, the next step was to (this is the way we do it, if you do it the opposite way, change the wording!) wrap the lace around the loop by going toward your body. Practice that a few times.

The next step was to push it through the opening where the tip of your thumb is to make a second loop.

And the final step was to pull it tight. Ta da! A beautifully tied shoe that your child can do and learned to do by being successful one step at a time.

Now, this may take longer than some claims make ("10 seconds to teach your child to tie their shoes") but most children can't learn a whole load of steps all at once. I prefer the slow and steady with a positive attitude and encouraged child method!

I am building confidence in her as well as teaching a skill (a skill that will make mornings go more day! The process can be painfully slow in the meantime!)

Ok, the steps are: (can you see why this is complicated!)

  • socks and shoes on

  • tongue up

  • laces pulled tight

  • cross the laces

  • top lace under the bottom lace

  • pull it tight

  • make one loop

  • wrap the lace around the loop

  • push it through the thumb hole

  • grab the new loop

  • pull it tight

Good luck! Once your child knows how to tie his shoe, life seems just a little bit better! Big Sister would still prefer if we did it for her, but it's her job now and we know she can do it!

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