How to Teach a Kid to Tie Shoes

It doesn’t just have to be constant frustration about rabbits going around trees and into holes.

A young child ties his shoes

Tying shoes, for the initiated, feels a little bit like riding a bike, in that it’s easy to do and a little more difficult to explain. This is why it’s hard to figure out how to teach kids to tie shoes, even if they have the best ones for their age group. Tying shoes is easy; there’s an easy way to tie shoes; but can you explain it?

Kids get frustrated when tying shoes too. Learning how to tie your shoes requires fine motor skills that many children are still developing. Many parents stop at the two-loop method, known as the easy way to tie shoes. Others, braver folk, teach kids the most traditional way of tying shoes — getting the bunny to run around the tree and find the hole. But that way of tying shoes requires dextrous, nimble fingers, a working vocabulary, and gargantuan vats of patience. Not every parent has that, especially when it comes to teaching kids how to tie shoes.

Combine young, unpracticed fingers with impatient parents who don’t know how to teach kids to tie shoes and, suddenly, but not surprisingly, tying shoes becomes a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, there’s good news for pissed-off parents. There’s an easy way to tie shoes, so easy and fresh that otherwise ignorant parents might take up this new method on tying shoes. (Disclaimer: it might be far from traditional, but it helps kids immensely.)

“The stumbling block for most kids is following a sequence of ‘do this, do that, do the other, do the next thing,’ ” explains Ian Fieggen, a knot innovator best known as Professor Shoelace. “If you actually break it down further into the real steps that a kid could follow, creating a loop involves: Grab the lace with one hand; use the other hand to grab it sort of in the middle of that lace; fold it in half, and then at the bottom sort of half let go of what you’re holding so that you can grab the bottom part of the other lace with your right hand…” Fieggen trails off. The problem, he explains, is that parents don’t say all that. They just say, “Make a loop.” Then they expect the kid to do it.

How to Teach a Kid to Tie Shoes

  • Have more than one technique at the ready in case one doesn’t work with your child.
  • Learn a new knot with your child so that you can learn together and from one another.
  • Choose soft, easy-to-hold laces.
  • Mark where the laces should be held with a pen or marker.
  • Use light or two-tone laces that allow for contrast so a child knows which lace is which.

That’s why Fieggen recommends parents try the “Ian Knot,” a creation of his own design that requires a single, lightning fast step (once the starting position is correct). It is an incredibly efficient way to tie shoelaces, with the standard end result. Watching Fieggen tie it himself is pretty astounding.

Fieggen invented the technique after breaking one too many shoelaces on the same side due to unsymmetrical standard tying. After deconstructing the standard shoelace knot he essentially reverse-engineered a faster, more symmetrical way to tie shoes.

The Ian knot is a particularly good choice because parents can learn it with their kids. When parents learn to tie the knot alongside kids they can share in the learning and reduce the frustration. Sure, this would be true for any new knot but others are either too complicated for kids or too messy for adult shoes.

“Don’t get too set on teaching a specific way because sometimes a child simply won’t get a specific way you’re trying to teach them,” Fieggen says. “Having a couple of techniques up your sleeve can really help.”

The right laces also make the task easier still. “Choose nice, soft, easy-to-hold shoelaces,” says Fieggen, recommending soft laces, because they’re easier to hold, and white ones so that parents can make marks where the laces are supposed to be held. White also provides enough contrast that a kid recognizes one lace against the other, though there are also two-tone laces that can add additional contrast.

Fieggen compares learning to tie shoes to learning a magic trick. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but there’s something to be said for making the bunny disappear.