Teaching Children to Tie Shoelaces

Young child learn to tie shoe laces in Occupational therapy, Occupational Therapist, BondiJunction, Mascot, sydney and randwick

Teaching Children to Tie Shoelaces: A Comprehensive Guide

Teaching children to tie their shoelaces is an important milestone that fosters independence and fine motor skill development. While some children grasp this skill quickly, others may find it challenging. This blog will provide practical tips for teaching children to tie shoelaces, highlight common difficulties, and explain how an Occupational Therapist (OT) can play a crucial role in this learning process.

Why Learning to Tie Shoelaces is Important

1. Promotes Independence Learning to tie shoelaces is a significant step towards independence. It allows children to take charge of their personal care, reducing reliance on adults for everyday tasks.

2. Enhances Fine Motor Skills Tying shoelaces requires precise hand movements and coordination, which helps improve fine motor skills. These skills are essential for other daily activities, such as writing, buttoning clothes, and using utensils.

3. Boosts Confidence Mastering the skill of tying shoelaces can be a confidence booster for children. Achieving this milestone gives them a sense of accomplishment and encourages them to tackle other challenges.

Common Challenges in Learning to Tie Shoelaces

Many children face difficulties when learning to tie shoelaces. Understanding these challenges can help parents and educators provide better support:

1. Fine Motor Skill Difficulties Some children may have underdeveloped fine motor skills, making it hard to perform the precise movements required to tie shoelaces.

2. Lack of Coordination Tying shoelaces involves coordinating both hands simultaneously, which can be challenging for children who struggle with bilateral coordination.

3. Memory and Sequencing Issues The process of tying shoelaces involves several steps that must be performed in the correct sequence. Children with memory or sequencing difficulties may find it hard to remember and execute these steps in order.

4. Frustration and Impatience Learning to tie shoelaces can be frustrating, especially for young children. They may become impatient or discouraged if they don’t succeed quickly.

Practical Tips for Teaching Children to Tie Shoelaces

Here are some practical strategies to help children learn to tie their shoelaces:

1. Use Visual and Verbal Cues Break down the process into simple, manageable steps and provide clear visual and verbal cues. For example:

  • “Make an X with the laces.”
  • “Put one lace under the other and pull tight.”
  • “Make a bunny ear with each lace.”
  • “Cross the bunny ears and tuck one under.”

2. Practice with Different Materials Start with thicker, more rigid laces that are easier to handle. You can also use colored laces to make it easier for the child to distinguish between the two sides.

3. Use Mnemonics and Rhymes Rhymes and mnemonics can make the process more fun and memorable. For example, the “bunny ears” method involves making loops that look like bunny ears and then tying them together.

4. Provide Hands-On Assistance Guide the child’s hands through the motions initially, gradually reducing assistance as they become more confident. This hands-on approach helps them understand the necessary movements.

5. Practice Regularly Regular practice is essential for mastering shoelace tying. Encourage short, frequent practice sessions to reinforce learning without causing frustration.

6. Positive Reinforcement Celebrate successes, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement boosts confidence and motivation. Praise the child for their efforts and progress.

7. Use Adaptive Techniques If traditional methods are too challenging, consider adaptive techniques such as:

  • Elastic Laces: These can be pre-tied and slipped on and off like a slip-on shoe.
  • Lock Laces: These laces can be tightened and secured without tying.

The Role of Occupational Therapists in Teaching Shoelace Tying

Occupational Therapists (OTs) are healthcare professionals who specialise in helping individuals develop, recover, or maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. They play a crucial role in teaching children to tie shoelaces, especially those with motor skill challenges or developmental delays.

1. Assessing Individual Needs An OT will start by assessing the child’s specific needs and challenges. This assessment includes evaluating fine motor skills, hand strength, coordination, and cognitive abilities. Understanding these factors allows the OT to tailor interventions to the child’s unique requirements.

2. Developing Personalised Strategies Based on the assessment, the OT will develop personalised strategies and activities to help the child learn to tie shoelaces. These strategies may include:

  • Hand Strengthening Exercises: Activities to improve hand strength and dexterity.
  • Coordination Drills: Exercises to enhance bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination.
  • Sequencing Activities: Tasks that improve memory and the ability to follow sequential steps.

3. Providing Hands-On Training OTs provide hands-on training and guidance, helping children practice the steps of shoelace tying. They use adaptive techniques and tools to make the process more accessible and engaging.

4. Using Adaptive Equipment For children who continue to struggle with traditional shoelace tying, OTs can recommend and teach the use of adaptive equipment, such as elastic or lock laces. These alternatives allow children to experience success and independence while working on developing their skills.

5. Collaborating with Parents and Teachers OTs work closely with parents and teachers to ensure consistency and support across different environments. They provide training and resources to caregivers, enabling them to reinforce learning and practice at home and school.

6. Building Confidence and Patience OTs understand the importance of patience and positive reinforcement. They create a supportive and encouraging environment, helping children build confidence and resilience as they work towards mastering shoelace tying.

Practical Activities to Support Shoelace Tying

Here are some practical activities recommended by OTs that can help support the development of skills needed for shoelace tying:

1. Beading and Threading Activities like beading and threading require precise hand movements and coordination, similar to tying shoelaces. These activities can help strengthen fine motor skills and improve dexterity.

2. Playdough Play Playing with playdough involves squeezing, rolling, and manipulating, which helps build hand strength and coordination. Encourage your child to create shapes and objects with playdough to enhance these skills.

3. Buttoning and Zipping Practice Practicing buttoning and zipping activities can improve finger coordination and hand strength. These tasks also involve sequential steps, similar to shoelace tying.

4. Scissor Skills Cutting with scissors requires hand-eye coordination, fine motor control, and bilateral coordination. Provide safe, child-friendly scissors and encourage cutting activities to develop these skills.

5. Finger Games Engage in finger games and activities that promote finger strength and dexterity. Examples include finger puppets, finger painting, and playing with small building blocks.


Teaching children to tie their shoelaces is a valuable life skill that promotes independence, enhances fine motor skills, and boosts confidence. While some children may find this task challenging, using practical strategies and adaptive techniques can make the learning process more accessible and enjoyable.

Occupational Therapists play a vital role in supporting children through this process. Their expertise in assessing individual needs, developing personalised strategies, and providing hands-on training can significantly enhance a child’s ability to master shoelace tying. By collaborating with parents and teachers, OTs ensure consistent support and reinforcement, helping children achieve success and independence in this essential skill.

Ready to Master Shoelace Tying?

Does your child need a little extra help with tying shoelaces? Our amazing Occupational Therapists at OneOnOne Children’s Therapy are here to make learning fun and easy! Let’s turn this milestone into a playful adventure. Book a session today and watch your child’s confidence soar as they conquer shoelace tying!

Call us now at (02) 80657837 or email us to get started!

OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is a Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy and ESDM clinic in Bondi Junction and Mascot in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.