Knots and Bows: Fun and Effective Strategies that Develop Manipulation Skills


Tying shoelaces may be one of the most challenging self-care dressing skills. I encourage caregivers to explore alternatives so that children may be as independent as possible while at the same time learning this challenging skill.  Alternatives include:

  • elastic no-tie shoelaces
  • Velcro closures
  • Zippered footwear or
  • slip on shoes

Curly Elastic shoelaces

Opening is Easier than Closing

Begin by teaching how to untie knots and bows because it is easier to learn than closing them.  In addition, children will feel a sense of satisfaction and independence when untying a bow to remove their own shoes.  Here are a few strategies that may help make learning easier.

Color Contrast 

Use laces that are 2 different colors so that the trainer can name the color lace to grasp or manipulate. For example,

  • " pull the red lace with your right hand" or
  • "cross the blue lace over the top of the red lace"

Use thick, firm Cord

Thick, non-flimsy cord as shown above,  is easier to control than using flimsy shoe laces. I have also used thin aquarium tubing and pipe cleaners to practice untying or tying a knot or bow.

Use Large Materials

Many manipulation tasks are easier to learn when the materials are LARGE!  The cardboard shoe shape shown above may be easier to manipulate than real shoes. You can individualize by cutting it to any size that works best for your child.

The two thick, purple strips of fabric, shown below are sewn onto the ends of bean bags (made from socks).  Individuals may untie these before using in an insertion or toss activity. Untying several of these provides lots of practice and becomes functional when used during activities.

Create Imagery!

I like how this occupational therapist uses her words and pictures to create imagery ... and she made the activity fun!

Adding Sensory Stimulation by using Weighted Bags

My clients often responded well to weighted materials. In the following video you will see an individual enjoying repetitive tying/ untying activities that involved movement and manipulating heavy bags.

The following video demonstrates a weighted ball that I wrapped cord around. The ball may be positioned on a surface or an individual's lap for sensory input. The client enjoyed opening the knots. It was relaxing for him and helped decrease agitation. A different individual enjoyed tying the fabric pieces back on. So this became a routine that they both enjoyed.

Teaching How to Form the Bow

There are lots of techniques to try out! 

This boy tucks the laces into eyelets to stabilize while forming and manipulating the bow.

The circle method

The Bunny Ears Method

Magic Fingers Method

In summary, these are just a few strategies that involve

  • alternatives to tying
  • sensory stimulation
  • repetition
  • color contrast
  • enlargement
  • visual cues/imagery and
  • Exploring teaching techniques

Check out these links for more strategies to manipulate Fasteners





Leave a ReplyCancel reply