You Need to Tie Your Shoes

By Sharon Knapp Lamberth

There was a time when kindergarten students were expected to learn to tie their shoes before the end of the school year. Sadly, like so many other basic skills, mastering the tying of shoelaces while in kindergarten has largely gone by the wayside. Before becoming a school administrator, I was a classroom teacher for many years. Twelve of those years were spent teaching first grade, providing me plenty of time to reflect on the shoe tying issue.

Most children entered my classroom knowing how to tie their shoes but a few children, here and there, started first grade not having mastered this important skill. Whenever I saw a student with shoes untied, I would politely say, “You need to tie your shoes,” to which the child would reply that he/she did not know how. I would then respond with, “Well, then, you need to learn.” I always made sure that several cardboard shoes with laces were available in my classroom for student practice. Additionally, I sent notes to parents informing them that first graders were expected to be able to tie their shoes and requested that they help their child master the skill at home. During the first few weeks of the school year, I willingly helped tie shoelaces. After a reasonable period of time, however, I knew my assistance must end. To my chagrin, once my assistance ended, classmates stepped in to assist, causing me to wonder if the last of the first-grade holdouts would ever conquer the skill.

Initially, the excitement of performing such an important task for their friends was embraced by those seasoned in the art of tying shoelaces. Not surprisingly, however, the thrill was short lived. After all, we are talking about first graders. As classroom helpers grew weary of being asked the question, “Will you tie my shoes?” I began to hear responses like, “I’m not tying shoes anymore. You need to learn to tie them yourself.” Whoa! Now that was a s-h-o-e stopping response for sure. The gravy train had come to a halt! With fellow classmates no longer willing to assist with shoe tying, a new strategy was needed. The best part: I did not have to rack my brain to come up with a new strategy. A solution evolved quite naturally – peer pressure!

In case you are reading this and feeling a bit sorry for the students facing the shoe tying dilemma, keep reading. There is a happy ending to this story. Almost immediately, those who still had not mastered the skill, became highly motivated to learn! During recess or free time, I would observe students sitting side by side, one teaching the other how to tie their shoelaces; not tying for them, mind you, but actually teaching the steps. Talk about warming a teacher’s heart! Research shows that when children teach other children, all parties benefit. In this case, one student learned a new skill and the other how to provide effective instruction. In the end, both gained confidence in their abilities. Hands down, children successfully teaching other children is a win-win situation.

Velcro aside, children need to learn to tie. It is a skill that, barring any extenuating circumstances (of which there are some), can be learned by age 6. Learning to tie one’s own shoelaces is a logical place to start. Conquering this skill is followed by a sense of accomplishment associated with sticking to a task until the task is mastered. The process also develops fine motor skills, visual acuity, patience, tolerance, endurance for frustration, concentration, perseverance, and problem-solving strategies.

Back in the day, we understood that the powerful, residual effects of learning to tie one’s own shoelaces by age 6 would not only help build skills that would benefit children educationally, but also skills needed to optimally succeed in life. Teaching young children to tie shoelaces is definitely an investment that yields a positive return!

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