Teaching our kids how to tie shoe laces

All children can have trouble learning this skill but for special needs children it can be a particular challenge. Our children often have fine motor skill deficits or have problems with learning and remembering multi-step sequences.

One of my friends on Facebook asked if there was an app or other resources she could use to help her son learn to tie his shoes. Oliver and Owen haven’t attempted to cross that bridge yet, we’re still ok with velcro and slip-ons, but I wanted to pull together the resources we found between us for future reference.

If you have any other tips or resources, please feel free to add them in comments.

There is an app for that

My colleague at Smart Apps For Kids, Jill Goodman, recommends this app highly. It’s called Shoe Tying 1 – Activity App. In addition to the app, the developer, Accelerations Educational Software, has a teaching guide on their website. Here’s a review of the app from OTs with Apps.

Using Backward Chaining

Coincidentally, I saw an article that Judy Endow posted on LinkedIn about using backward chaining as a way of teaching children to tie their shoes.


Nail an old shoe to a solid piece of board! If you’re like me and may end up nailing your fingers to the board instead, there are ‘toys’ you can buy to practice on, like the one above, made by Melissa & Doug.

Using different coloured, longer shoe laces

A friend’s OT passed along this tip – the difference in colour and having lots of lace to play with are often helpful for kids who are just starting out.

Shoulder exercises

I’m not an OT but apparently, shoulder exercises can help your child strengthen the larger muscles of the shoulder girdle which in turn provides stability for your child’s smaller muscles in their hands and lower arm, which they need to perform fine motor tasks effectively.


The app uses video modelling of course, but for those that don’t have an iOS device, one friend shared a YouTube video she had used which also has the advantage of having a song which your child can learn to help them remember the steps in the sequence. This video shows the ‘bunny ears’ method.

Curly laces

If your older child desperately wants to wear shoes with laces but hasn’t quite mastered tying them yet, one option to consider for them is curly laces which don’t need to be tied.

Any other tips or resources you have found helpful? Please share!

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8 Comments on “Teaching our kids how to tie shoe laces”

  1. Kofi August 6, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    I’m not shoe lace expert, but it sounds like kids need to try various ways until they find the right modality or method that best works for them. I find that it not a one best scenario that works for all children. They are all different and therefore should be provided various ways to get to the end result. I say this because I work with kids at a local basketball camp and they too are given various methods to complete and activity properly. Hopefully anybody works with kids realizes this and adjusts their methods appropriately.

    • OMum22 August 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

      Kofi, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree with you completely – Ignacio Estrada’s saying summarizes it best I think – If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way the learn.

  2. Kathryn August 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    My son’s therapist saw these and we have been trying a modified version. Only drawback I see is losing the pieces once they are untied.

    • OMum22 August 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Thank you Kathryn – I’ve received a number of additional recommendations, tips and resources like yours which I will be updated the post with.

  3. weareadapted (@weareadapted) August 6, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    My son has Fragile-X and we have developed an award winning app to help with his language. A while ago we met with a work terapeut who used our app for instructions such as tying shoe laces and preparing a smoothie.

    Now, everything we have done so far is in Swedish, but only a couple of hours ago we released an update to App Store supporting 10 languages except for Swedish.

    Here is a Google translated version of a blog post describing how the app is used for instructions.


    If anyone wants to try the app it is found at http://itunes.apple.com/en/app/om-en-bild/id526365139.

    Thank you for a nice site!

    Best regards,
    .daniel, co-founder

    • OMum22 August 7, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your app with us. I wish you further success with it!

  4. Sarah September 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    Using educational devices such as the Tebby Tie can help along the way. Also be silly and use some funny songs. This will make it easier for the kid to remember the steps.


  1. Shoe Tying and Handwriting for Children with Autism and Special Needs — Chicago Play Project - August 6, 2012

    […] or a social story. Try using the simple Pages app to make one quickly. You might check out this blog post  from Smallbutkindamighty on Teaching Kids Shoe Tying and includes a link to a review of a new App […]

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