All tied up in knots!

I expected the first morning back to school after the Christmas break to reduce some of us to tears but to be honest, it went fairly well considering! The tears, when they did come, were not over having to get up early, get dressed and get out the door in time. The tears came from the nine year old when I asked her to wear her outdoor runners to school. Turns out the laces keep opening and she was getting a bit of a slagging from her peers for not being able to tie them.  So after a rush of parental guilt and a quick change of footwear she got out the door with tears dried up and a smile on her face.

photo credit: chriѕ chan via photopin cc 

It did get me thinking though… the guilt obviously… I mean in my day we could all tie our laces by about five years old. How had I let my poor daughter get to nine without this basic life skill? It seems this is a common occurrence in our modern society. We had no choice as children though as most of our shoes had buckles or laces.To be honest I had thought that my daughter had mastered this skill a year or two ago but nowadays most shoes don’t have laces so she never got to keep practicing. When she returned from school we did sit down to learn it and it turns out she was just lacking confidence, not ability and had it remastered within a minute or two… it left her feeling very pleased with herself and me feeling a little less guilty!

So how many times do we need to repeat a task, like tying our shoe laces, in order for it to be learned for life? And what level of dexterity is required? Is there a right and wrong way and does how you tie your laces effect the performance of the shoe? I just had to go find out and you might be surprised by what I found… I was!

What is involved…

Tying our shoes laces is a Fine Motor Skill, requiring the use of small muscle movement and we need to program this movement into the brain before it becomes an accomplished skill.  The part of the brain most involved with this activity is the motor cortex. We can begin to learn fine motor skill by observation but it is through practice that we really “hard wire” the information and retail the skill.

What is the ideal age…

Tying shoe laces is not as easy as we may thing and when I researched the topic a little I found out that many recommend waiting until your child is a least six before teaching them this skill.  As well as the complex dexterity required children also need to be able to remember and follow a number of steps as well as being efficient in Bilateral Motor Coordination (using both hands at the same time).

Do you know your “bunny ears” from your “granny knots”?

While I was researching this topic I found out that I have been tying my laces the wrong way for years and never knew. Check out this video to see if you have been too. If you need even more science on the subject here is another link.

Imagine, all this time I thought I had that one sussed! Now my feelings of parental guilt have turned to feelings of adult ineptitude… and all because of a pair of shoe laces!

What about lacing patterns?

Not only is there a correct way to tie the bow of your lace but research has also been carried out on the effects of different shoe lacing patterns on the biomechanics of running shoes. Now we have no more excuses for laces that come undone or aching feet and limbs!

Some tips on teaching your own child…

If you are thinking of teaching your child this life skill here are a few tips I have picked up…

  • choose a time that is calm and relaxed for you and your child, and allow plenty of time for the activity
  • try to make it a fun project, let your child feel like they have you all to themselves for a while
  • for younger children it can help to use a rope rather than laces to begin with and having one half of the lace coloured can also help
  • as I mentioned, motor skills can be learned, in part, by observation so show the child a number of times first
  • it can be easier for your child to start off on a shoe that they are not wearing
  • if your child seems to be getting frustrated with the task then leave it, maybe they are just not ready yet and as I have now realised… that too is OK

And the last word…

You may be glad to know that my daughter got up this morning and deliberately chose the laced shoes herself arriving up for breakfast fully laced and very proud. That’s my girl!

So that about ties it up for today… if you have any shoe lace stories to share let me know in the comments below


Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!

10 thoughts on “All tied up in knots!

  • January 10, 2014 at 9:08 am

    A bow doesn’t sit right for me unless it is the bunny ears method, it is like tieing a reef knot and leaving the loops in. My parents taught me that knot first and then how to tie a bow. My eldest is nine and cannot tie a bow yet, but he has the reef knot mastered. When we buy him so shoes with laces maybe we move onto the bow…..

    • January 10, 2014 at 10:08 am

      Many people learn both methods but stick with the bunny ears and it is definitely a case of whatever works! I like that your son has mastered the reef knot, the bow will be a breeze for him and he has the confidence of achievement in the mean time! Great idea!

  • January 8, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    My six-year-old wanted runners with laces. I said “Not until you can tie them,” so he sat down and showed me that he could on my runners. I honestly am not sure how he learned. Now he insists on having shoes with laces (which are surprisingly hard to find and explains why he’s currently sporting a rather expensive pair of runners). When my daughter needs to learn in a year or two I suspect she’ll be a lot less proactive and will just avoid laces for as long as she can. Which might be forever, the way shoes are these days.

    • January 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      Wow he is a very quick learner that will stand him well in life! Yes, it is harder than we think to actually get lace up shoes for kids, this is my daughters first pair!

  • January 8, 2014 at 1:16 am

    Looks like I’ve been tying my shoelaces wrong too Naomi. Luckily I probably have a few years before I need to pass the skill on so I should have learned the right way by then.

  • January 7, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    My five year old has been begging for laced shoes and I’ve been putting him off as I don’t want to have to teach him yet- I’ll come back here when I do decide to 🙂

    • January 7, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      Thanks ;0) if he is asking maybe he is ready, you could start with a bit of string first before you commit!!

  • January 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    My son had such a hard time learning to effectively tie his laces. I have no doubt he has a small degree of dyspraxia to go with his dyslexia but ignored it, ( parental denial). However the shoe laces were nearly the death of us. After years of frustration and wearing velcro he eventually got there. Mind you at 19 he still regularly leaves them open, because that of course is the “cool” wear to wear them.

    • January 7, 2014 at 3:46 pm

      I think it is very much down to the individual alright, I worried about my daughter not getting it but she is an excellent piano player so I figured it was more down to the “need” to learn it…. most of her shoes have been velcro up to now. … so you are telling me I’m likely to see her unlearn it in years to come due to fashion ? Ha ha, didn’t think about that – I think I will just take on my own phase of parental denial until the time comes ;0)

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