For very young children, each new day presents another new skill to learn. Some skills are concrete and physical, requiring hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, but leading to a definite, measurable payoff. Some skills are more abstract, and these are often a harder sell. These skills often require that a child be persuaded to spend time learning to do something whose benefit is not immediately apparent.
When I was a child, it was an absolute requirement for children entering kindergarten that they be able to tie their own shoes. This makes perfect sense, really: prior to the advent of Velcro, it would have been terribly time-consuming for any kindergarten teacher to have had to tie thirty pairs of shoes several times a class. I remember working very hard to master this skill, even though I found it difficult (those little laces were so small and hard to hold on to), but, of course, eventually I managed. The goal was clear to me–I wanted to go to kindergarten, and being able to tie one’s own shoes was the key.
Tying a shoelace bow gets easier with practice, until, one day, you are able to tie your sneakers while talking to someone, hopping on one foot, and balancing a hockey bag on your shoulder. Who would have thought, watching a five- or six-year-old child struggling to tie a knot, that someday the skill would be as effortless as breathing?
But first comes the practice.
Several companies make toys designed to encourage this sort of practice. Melissa & Doug make a high-top-sneaker-styled Lacing Shoe (MD3018), whose stable construction, large eyelets, and long lace make it a great way for beginners to practice tying their laces.
Manhattan Toy makes a 38cm Dress-Up Princess (MT206450) and Dress-Up Pirate (MT206440) whose various items of clothing need to be zipped, snapped, buttoned, tied, and velcroed. Alex Toys makes a (larger, at 56cm in length) Learn-to-Dress Monkey (AT1492) who–in addition to covering the basics–also sports real, removable socks, sneakers, shirt and overalls. These toys can obviously double as friendly companions as well as teaching aids (they’re pretty cuddly).
For extra practice right on the shoes, parents can make some shoe-tying aids out of boxboard or corrugated cardboard (you can cut up an empty cereal box or even a shoe box).
- Cut out two rectangles about 6cm wide (about the width of the child’s shoe) and about 3cm high. Trim off the corners so that you have a shape that looks sort of like this.
- With a sharp skewer or a pencil, push two holes through the cardboard. The two holes should be about 2.5cm apart and each hole should be big enough to admit a doubled-over shoelace.
- On the shoe, do the preliminary left-over-right lace cross-over (or right-over-left if that’s the way you roll. I don’t mind), then place the piece of cardboard over the kinda-tied laces.
- Push a loop of each lace up through the holes, the right-hand lace up through the right and the left-hand lace up through the hole on the left.
- Pull the loops–gently!–into a “bunny-ear” loop shape.
- Now the child can hold each bunny-ear and practice the over-and-under movement required to tie them together. If he drops a loop, it stays put because it’s stuck in the cardboard holder, and he can just pick it up again.
- Double-tie the bunny-ears, if you want, for longer-lasting knots.
- You can colour on the surface of the cardboard, or give it a coat of glitter, or even cover it with stickers if you want to dress up the pieces a bit.
Now the kids can tie up their own sneakers and go outside to play in the drifts of autumn leaves on the lawn, while Mummy relaxes with a magazine and a cup of tea! Enjoy.