Tying their own shoes is one of those developmental milestones that parents REALLY want their pre-schooler to master before they enter kindergarten. But is that reasonable? And what’s the best way to help a child master this very important skill?

Many developmental charts say children should be able to tie their own shoes by the age of five, which, no doubt having seen these charts, is why parents feel they have to push their child master the skill before they go to kindergarten.

In real life though, the age range tends to be much wider, somewhere between four and eight years old. And however old they are, kids do need to be shown how to tie their shoes in a way they’ll understand and be able to grasp without too much frustration.

How do you know if your child is really ready to begin the shoe tying training?

As with teaching any child a new skill, they should be set up for success. Working on shoe tying before your child is ready will just be frustrating for both of you.

Most of us have been tying our shoes for decades. We don’t even think about it anymore; it’s automatic. However, have you ever tried to tie your shoe with even a little impairment, like a band-aid on your finger? You suddenly have to think about it and it gets tricky.

Shoe tying calls for a precise sequence of fine motor movements. Each hand is responsible for its own set of highly dexterous movements. The brain coordinates each hand’s sequence, while mastering the timing to ensure that each hand’s individual sequence coordinates with the other hand’s sequence. When you break it down like this it’s easier to see why some kids struggle.

So, to help ensure success, there are other things you should make sure your child should achieve before learning to tie their shoes. Your child does not have to master all of these skills, but if they are able to complete the majority of the tasks listed, then you definitely have the green light to begin shoe tying!

  • Cutting out simple shapes
  • Stabilizing paper with opposite hand while writing/coloring
  • Buttoning/unbuttoning large buttons
  • Lacing on a lacing board
  • Stringing beads
  • Folding paper in half
  • Tearing paper into small pieces

Are most of these items checked off your child’s list? Congratulations! Time to teach shoe tying!

If not, no problem, just keep practicing! 

Grading the Task

This technique is simply teaching kids small steps at a time, which helps them be more successful and feel less frustrated. Regardless of the method you use, move through this sequence:

Begin With a Tying Board

You can make a tying board of your own fairly easily, or premade versions are reasonably inexpensive and can be purchased from sites like Amazon. These simple tools offer an easier way to begin teaching your child the basics than working with a real shoe in the early stages.

Practice with Pipe Cleaner

Sometimes, the frustration for our little learners is how floppy those shoe laces can be in those little hands, one technique I love to use is adding pipe cleaners. This helps give the "shoelace" structure and makes it easier to see as you teach them each step.


Shoe On the Table

Once they are doing well with the tying board practice with a real shoe, but one placed on a table rather than their foot. This lets your child practice with the real thing but at an angle they will be more comfortable with, and better able to see what their fingers are doing.

Tying Your Shoes

Next up, having your child tie your shoes, or those of a sibling. This gets him into the crouched position needed to tie a show that’s in place but without having to navigate the more complicated process of balancing himself while doing so.

The Big Finish

After your child has mastered all the steps above – and only then – you can have him move on to the final step; tying his own shoes while wearing them. The first few attempts are unlikely to be perfect, but praise them nevertheless. Practice will make perfect, and by breaking down the learning process in the way that we described here that perfect will likely come a lot sooner!

If your child is struggling with fine motor skill tasks like tying their shoes and it’s beginning to worry you don’t turn things into a battle OR give up. Reach out for help instead.



Jessica Barsky