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How to Teach a Child with Down Syndrome to Tie Shoes


Children with Down syndrome are a wonderfully varied group. They do, though, tend to have particular strengths and difficulties, and both should be considered when teaching shoe tying. The tips below will ensure that this group’s unique learning needs are respected.

1. Before trying to teach a child to tie her shoes, make sure she is ready. Does she use two hands cooperatively for activities like stringing small beads? Does she have a steady pincer grasp? Can she independently perform multistep tasks?

2. If it seems like the right time to proceed, start by getting online and buying a shoe-tying instruction program. The best program will capitalize on the strong visual skills that many children with Down syndrome possess. The Shoe Tying Made Simple Kit by Kelly Wilk (an occupational therapist) uses clear photographs paired with instructional rhymes to teach each piece of the process (it is available at therapro.com, $28). Standard “one loop” shoe tying is taught, as opposed to the “double loop” method, and this tends to be easier for many children. The kit provides a shoelace that is a different color on each end—this way, when the child is tying, he has a different color lace in each hand, making the task visually clearer. You can put a dot on the lace with a permanent marker to show the child exactly where to pinch when forming a loop, adding another helpful visual cue.



3. Teach the task slowly, allowing the child to learn each step before adding on. Following the program’s structure and using the rhymes consistently will help promote memorization of the sequence, which is sometimes an area of difficulty for children with Down syndrome. When you are teaching, place the laced shoe on a table in front of you and the child, making sure that you are facing the same direction, rather than facing each other. Use the photographic cues and demonstrate each step before asking the child to try. Avoid hand-over-hand assistance.

4. Provide frequent teaching sessions so the child is always building on what she has learned, but keep sessions short to avoid frustration.

5. When the child masters tying a shoe on a table, move to tying a shoe he is wearing. Create a place where the child will sit to tie shoes, using a low stool or a bottom step, so he sits with his foot flat on the floor. He should be positioned so that he can see his laces and reach them easily.

It is important to tackle tasks like shoe tying with the understanding that learning is a process, sometimes a long one. As your child works to master this new skill, take care to reward every effort and celebrate every success. Shoe tying is a tricky thing to teach, but helping a child feel like a “big kid” makes it all worthwhile.

Alice Blair is an occupational therapist.

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