Learning to Tie Shoelaces

Most children begin to become independent in tying their shoelaces around the age of 6, however some may not master the skill until age 7. Older children who are still unable to tie their shoelaces independently, may benefit from assessment from an occupational therapist to determine where the skill difficulties lie and how best to support the child with developing this essential skill.

Why is my child having trouble with tying their shoelaces?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of an occupational therapist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as tying shoelaces.

Tying shoelaces it is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Praxis – planning and executing body movements
  • Hand dominance – preference of using one hand over the other.
  • Bilateral integration – using two sides of the body together to complete task.
  • In-hand manipulation – holding and moving an object within one hand.
  • Finger isolation – the ability to move one finger at a time.
  • Thumb opposition – rotating the thumb to touch each fingertip.
  • Hand grip strength – force applied by the hand to pull on or suspend from objects.
  • Core strength – ability to stabilise core muscles.
  • Balance – ability to evenly distribute weight to remain upright and steady.
  • Sequencing – to complete tasks in a particular order.
  • Understanding concepts (e.g. left/right, under/over)
  • Being able to follow instructions
  • Attention – taking notice of someone or something.
  • Emotional regulation – demonstrating control and understanding of feelings.
  • Persistence – continuing in a course of action despite difficulty or challenge.

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

It is always important to start supporting your child as early as possible with developing their fine motor skills.

  • Practice tying and untying knots from an early age.
  • Playing with play-dough or modelling clay are great activities to work on bilateral integration, in-hand manipulation, finger opposition, isolation and hand strength.
  • Animal walks and yoga poses are fun ways to develop core strength, balance, motor planning and midline crossing (moving arms and legs across the middle of the body).
  • Obstacles courses and games such as ‘Twister’ and ‘Simon Says’ are useful to work on understanding concepts, following instructions and sequencing, as well as developing a sense of body awareness, planning and praxis.
  • Puzzles and strategic thinking games can assist in developing skills of sequencing, persistence, emotional regulation and problem solving skills.
  • Ensure you give your child ample opportunity to attempt tying their laces – whether successful or not – practice makes perfect!
  • Try not to jump in straight away and complete their laces for them – show them and talk them through the process.
  • Use visuals to support each step in the process – there are books that support children with this process using a story.

How can an occupational therapist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as tying shoelaces. Occupational therapists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as tying shoelaces. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards tying shoelaces may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process.
  • Developing skills through fun and creative activities.
  • Breaking down steps into smaller achievable chunks.
  • Providing a visual guide of steps.

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