When Can Kids Tie Their Own Shoes?

For kids, learning to tie their shoes is the equivalent of mastering quantum physics for adults. This major milestone takes tons of brain power, not to mention motor skills, to learn which string goes where and when to pull them tight. If you've been coaching your child for months with no luck, the reason may merely be that he's just not developmentally ready for this tricky task.


"It's probably one of the most complicated fine motor skills children learn, given they need to coordinate both hands at the same time, together," says Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist at ToyQueen.com. "Plus, there are so many steps to follow. It isn't always about not being able to control their hands, but following such a multi-step process at the same time."

Generally kids are up for tackling this challenge around the age of 5 or 6, says Wilmot. "However, like any developmental skill like toilet training, some children are ready before others," she adds.

Girls also pick up on it faster than boys, says Eileen Sloan, an elementary school teacher and founder of EZLeaps.com who's taught countless kids to tie their shoes. "Research shows that boys tend to develop their gross motor skills earlier than girls, but that girls refine their fine motor skills earlier that boys," she says. Since the latter is what matters with shoe tying, "girls usually master the skill by age 6 and some boys may need extra help and master by age 7."

One way to gauge if your child is ready is the pencil twirling test: Can she rotate a pencil between her thumb, index, and middle finger five times without dropping it or using her other hand for help? "Then they have the skills to start learning to tie shoes," says Amy Baez, an occupational therapist at Playapy.com.

Here's a video from her site demonstrating this pencil-twirling trick:

"This skill should be done with each hand individually since shoelace tying is a skill requiring coordination of both hands," says Baez. "If not, the child and the parent will likely find learning and teaching shoelace tying frustrating."

More from The Stir: Comparing Your Kid's Milestones Is a Mom Problem

In addition to gauging a child's coordination and concentration skills, parents should know that attitude matters, too. So ask yourself a simple question: Does my child want to learn how to tie his shoes? "Parents should know that a child who does not want to learn won't," says Sloan. So make sure your kids are ready and willing before you dive into showing them the ropes.

How old were your kids when they learned how to tie their shoes?


Image © Edith Held/Corbis

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