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how to teach kids to tie their shoes

how to teach kids to tie their shoes


This Quick Trick is admittedly a work in progress. While Owen hasn’t quite mastered tying his shoes yet, he’s getting there. Slowly.

He expressed interest last summer to learn how to tie his shoes, but each time we sat down to try it, he balked. Now, as he’s only a few months away from making the big leap into kindergarten, he’s ready to learn how to tie those kicks, solo.

For many preschoolers and early elementary students, learning how to tie their shoes takes a simultaneous jiving of both fine motor skill readiness and cognitive readiness. Learning how to tie shoes takes a huge heap of concentration, and kiddos must be at a developmental stage where they are able to try, fail, try again, fail again, and re-try until it finally clicks.  That’s the hard part.

Oh, and they have to want to learn how to do it. If they don’t want to do it, forgettabout it.

That’s where were were last summer with Owen.  But now, he wants to learn, and seriously, just like potty training, I feel like I’ve got to jump on this train while it’s here. Or it might not arrive again until he’s in like second–or fifth–grade.

So when I was invited to participate in a Cardboard Box Creative Challenge this week, I knew exactly what we needed to do.  I  grabbed a small cardboard box, some ribbon, and a huge chunk of patience, and I set out to create a little something that I thought would help the O-Man learn to tie his shoes: A Shoelace Box.

Or, as Owen named it, Ribbon Rows.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • How to Teach Kids to Tie Their Shoes:

how to teach kids to tie their shoes Owen cuts ribbon for his Shoelace Box

I grabbed a small cardboard box, a shoe box, and I gathered tons of ribbon and string from our ribbon bag.

I made several holes on the box: three sets of two holes, one inch apart on the top and two sets of holes on each side.


how to teach kids to tie their shoes Owen threads the ribbon through the holes.

I wanted a variety of textures in the ribbons and string I chose so that some would be thick, some thin, some long, some short, some rough, and some smooth.

how to teach kids to tie their shoes


My thinking was that some would be easier than others, and whatever worked we’d go with.

I was also thinking that once he got the tying thing down pat, he could use the other lengths and textures to hone his new skeeeels.

We used the language that I had heard but was not taught–that each loop was a ‘bunny ear’, but that wasn’t sticking, so I moved to something that I knew would: swords.  I used the image of a sword fight, since I thought it would be more enticing than bunny ears. I was right.

Make one sword, then make the other. Then cross them. Bam! This guy ducks under, through, and PULL!

how to teach kids to tie their shoes

Owen tries the loop–or sword–as we called it.

how to teach kids to tie their shoes

how to teach kids to tie their shoes He stayed with it, but it got ugly at times. . .


But it was frustrating, slippery, and challenging for him–even though his brain and hands seemed ready.

So we took some breaks, focused on his successes, which was the first part. He could totally complete the first step in shoe-tying; it was just the blasted bunny ear/ sword part that got him all jumbled up.

We took breaks, and tried and re-tried.  Rewarded and took deep breaths.

And then we had a break-through. . .


BIG CHANGES! BIG CHANGES: two-toned ribbon did the trick!

After a few days with Owen practicing on his Shoelace Box, I noticed he was still having a hard time with the second part of tying–the looping under and pulling through.

So I un-taped his box and took out the red ribbon on the bottom and the white ribbon in the middle; I tied them together so that one side was red and the other side was white, and the two-toned ribbon made a world of difference!

 how to teach kids to tie their shoes

Owen rocks out his *new* box. . .

how to teach kids to tie their shoes

. . . and seems to have an easier time keeping track of loops and pulls.

how to teach kids to tie their shoes

So, so, so, SO happy!

We figured out something that will work–and he wants to try to tie a few times each day. Some days we forget, and some days he’s not feeling it, but most days, he’s ready to practice tying his shoes.

Woot!  Now I have TWO kids who can tie their shoes in ONE house! I can hardly contain my excitement!

how to teach kids to tie their shoes

Many thanks to Rachelle, of TinkerLab, for inviting me to participate in this Creative Challenge! The other participants who stepped up to the plate to figure out a fun way of using a cardboard box are:


Want another few fun ways for using shoeboxes? Check out 2 Cool Ways to Use Shoeboxes or Learning & Fun with Recyclables!

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Comment (44) | Leave a comment

  1. I love, love, love this idea!!!!

  2. My daughter learning to tie her shoes was the most trying parenting experience thus far. Picture starting EVERY.SINGLE.DAY with a daughter crying. It was mainly because she wanted to start learning to do it at 4. We tried and tried and I finally decided she wasn’t developmentally ready. Well, she didn’t decide that at all. Two years later she finally learned it. Hallelujah! Seriously, I’ll take potty training any day over teaching another kid to tie his shoes. Sigh. Unfortunately, I have no more to potty train and two more to teach shoe tying to. I will so be using the sword fighting method. My sons will be all over that!

    • Ha! It’s so different for every kiddo, right? Especially difficult when you have a strong-willed 4 yo who wants to learn but is just not ready! Whew! Good luck with the last two, my friend–

  3. This couldn’t have come at a better time for us! Thank you thank you!

  4. This is such an excellent idea, that I will be trying this soon!!! I have a soon to be kindergartener too!!!

  5. I love it!thanks for sharing.

  6. This is a wonderful idea! My 3yr DD is already wanting to tie her shoe laces all by herself, bcos she is a Big girl as she calls:) Maybe i should make one of this for her to play with.


    • thanks so much, Roopa! Start saving your boxes, my friend!

  7. I am all over this one! Thanks for a great idea that I know will work with my preK!

  8. great idea- especially like the two toned ribbon. We are nowhere near this stage but maybe I’ll remember this. Not that I would change your wording now, but if anyone else is looking for a catchy phrase, sometimes my first grade boys liked, “Loop it, swoop it, put it in the basket.” to teach the steps of tying.

    • Jackie! I LOVE IT! I’ll totally remember that for next time and for my friends–‘loop it, swoop it, put it in the basket!’
      THANK YOU!!

  9. We haven’t hit the shoelace tying phase yet, but I’m definitely socking this idea away for the near future. I’m so glad you shared your process, and especially the creative ideas of using language that matches the child’s interests and the two-tone laces. Brilliant! Thanks for joining the Cardboard Box Challenge — it’s been so fun!

    • Rachelle–
      Thanks so much for writing, friend! And many thanks for arranging the Cardboard Box Challenge! Woot!

  10. firstly, thanks for another great idea! i happened to pick up a shoelace book (a board book w/holes….you follow the little story and can practice lacing patterns and “bunny ear” or the “real way” methods using the 2 toned shoelace provided). we too set it aside for a long while (and ha ha – I too have an Owen, just finishing his K year), but we were forced to buy baseball cleats w/laces AND first grade approaches, so I knew it was time to try again!! Love the ideas for imagery, which totally works with my kid too if its the right terms…big time Star Wars phase is ON, so now you KNOW that I’ll be calling the laces lightsabers!!! I’m actually super excited to practice now!!!

    • Christine,
      You are so funny! Swords, lightsabers–it doesn’t matter as long as we’re rolling with what our kiddos like, right? Hope it goes well, and please keep me up to date with your Owen and his shoe-tying!

  11. Great idea! I see where the colors would make a big difference! I am going to try this with my daughter! :)

    • thanks, Emily! The colors really DID make a difference with Owen–but it still requires tons of practice!

  12. We have been working on this too. Big M is making the big leap into Kindergarten as well. I figured I would spend the summer working on it, but so far he has shown no interest. As you said. . .if there is no want, it’s not going to happen! I love, love, love changing the name bunny ears (we will be driving race cars=) I will be making this today and putting it out on their manipulative table.

    PS Making the ribbons two tone was simply GENIUS!

    • Jill! Thanks so much for writing–please let me know how it goes for your crew and tell me what words worked!

  13. This post found my inbox at exactly the right time! I just finished N’s kindergarten paperwork and orientation is tomorrow morning. I’m definitely starting to think to the fall and my boy who needs to be self-sufficient. Also, his sneakers are on their last legs and I think it’s time for tie sneakers…and this box. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Amy! Good luck tomorrow at orientation–soooo hard to believe!! Have fun and keep a smile on your face because next year, for the first time ever, you’ll have two kids in the same school–woo-hoo!!

  14. Love this!!! This is something we need to work on, love the two color ribbon idea. Thank you :)

  15. That’s exactly what Bear needs – two colors. She gets confused as to which bunny ear is on top and needs to duck under. This would clear it up. Leaving you now to go color one lace with sharpie. Thanks!

    • Julie! Fabulous!! Let me know how it goes for your little one!

  16. Great idea! Our four-year old practiced tying his shoe with an empty yogurt container. (Same basic idea, I just poked two holes in the bottom of a large container and he practiced tying over and over again.)

    • Super–tons of ways of crossing the same bridge, I suppose! I love learning new ways of doing the same thing!

  17. Oh, oh, oh! This will work for my son, especially the swords part and the two-toned part.

  18. Love the post Amy! Great to find your top 10 in my inbox suits so good to Chanel too.
    xx Angelique

  19. Amy, You are a genius. I used your ribbon idea and tweaked it a bit for my 7 year old. He has some problems with his fine motor skills and your advice about the ribbon texture but specifically about the colored ribbons was PERFECT! THANK YOU. I shared your link on my blog today. I hope that is ok. Aimee

    • Omg, Aimee- I am SO not a genius, but friend, I’ll take it. You made my year. I am SO, so, so glad it helped. . .shoe-tying is so stressful for some little guys!! Thanks for reading, and huge thanks for writing, my friend!!


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