Tie, tie again


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See more Slice of Life posts every Tuesday at Two Writing Teachers.


My son is learning to tie his shoes. It is not easy. It’s not easy to teach and it’s not easy to do. Learning to tie shoes, it turns out, requires desire, patience, persistence and no small amount of fine motor dexterity.

I watch him carefully cross the laces. He does not pull them tight before racing to form the first loop. Bunny ear. He pinches it together, hard, high above the shoe. Too high, I think, but I say nothing because he is already on to the next step, the one that gets us both every time. He takes the second lace, loops it around the first and… randomly stabs it through a space. He pulls. The maneuver does not work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. So far, neither he nor I can figure out what makes the difference. I’m guessing it’s luck; he thinks it’s magic. Same same.

The bus will arrive in a few minutes. Does he have time for another attempt? Before I even finish the thought, he is pulling and pinching, looping and stabbing again. Without looking up he says, “You do the other one.” His focus is unbroken. Nope, it doesn’t work again.

He scooches his foot towards me, “Your turn.” If he is disappointed this morning, it does not show. This is just part of the routine. How many times has he tried this? How many more before he will be able to do this automatically? How many before he is teaching his own child, trying to remember the steps that elude him right now?

When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?

Today, my son stands up, shoulders his backpack and skips out the door. His shoes don’t fall off. He knows that eventually he’ll be able to tie those laces. He’ll try again tomorrow.

23 thoughts on “Tie, tie again

  1. Great metaphor. You know and he knows that in time, he will one day have mastered every little step and be able to tie his shoes with ease. I’m wondering, do we as educators recognize, allow, support learning like this in our classrooms… or are we so driven (not of our own choosing) by standards, goals, testing, and more that there isn’t time to learn and build automaticity in skills? I see this as one of the greatest dilemmas of primary grades. For example, I wonder why we don’t do more story telling (oral) and practice writing skills with the sentence. After all, the simple declarative sentence is the building block of all composition. And it can contain all the elements of an essay.


    1. Wonderful questions and thoughts. I don’t teach primary, but watching my children’s journey makes me rethink much about education; I even see repercussions in my high school classrooms. Time and practice seem so obviously central in my children’s life – now how can we create that space in the midst of our current system?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a bill in NH that pushes for more play-based learning and to leave space for unstructured time in kindergarten based on some recent research studies… sounds like a step in the right direction, I think.


  2. Amanda, in this short piece you have exemplified the quest for mastery of simple acts, the resiliency of the spirit, and the hope that moves us all forward. Wonderful piece of writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So much to applaud in this post: The detail that is both moving yet unsentimental, the vivid imagery, the connection to a larger theme… Most of all I love being able to see your son through your eyes: his amazing unbotheredness with the process of learning and his eventual acceptance of help on his terms (“Your turn.”) When I watch my 4th and 5th graders still take time to tie their shoes, I realize it hasn’t been that long for them and in the age of velcro, perhaps not even that often. So often their movements are surprisingly deliberate and slowed. Tie and tie again is a lovely metaphor for these cycles we pass through as determined learners.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Watching my children progress through the primary years gives me more understanding of some of the basic ideas of education. I love it all. (Well, maybe not all, but a lot of it.)


  4. Great writing! Tying shoes is surprisingly hard to teach. I have a policy against tying shoes for grade 3’s. I will help them learn, but I will not do it for them. Of courser everyone has outsmarted me now and they all have slip-on shoes. But it won’t be learned without practice, and it won’t be practiced if I do it for them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? We’re lucky that our son has a teacher who values this sort of practice. Some teachers won’t allow tie shoes until you are fully able to tie on your own (though I can only imagine the chaos of multiple shoe-tiers). No slip on shoes for us – we’re fully committed to practicing!


  5. Pure joy, and it really sums up the whole Kindergarten experience that I live day in and day out. While tying practice slows us down, takes up time, and frustrates some, it really is essential to honor a child who is willing to give it a go again and again and again. Here’s an amazing video about learning to tie your shoes that I share with parents in the fall. I hope it helps you and your son! Note: Preview it first. There’s a word that is used on the screen early on that I wish wasn’t there, but it’s OK. https://www.safeshare.tv/v/ss56753f9931c16


  6. Oh, I love this post and what it captures about learning and about your relationship with your son. You ask some great questions, especially this one: “When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success?” Someone wrote a wonderful blog post about what we lost when we moved to velcro from shoelaces–it was fabulous, but darned if I can remember who wrote it! You’d love it. (If I can remember or find it, I’ll let you know!)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Patience. Patience is golden. And that knowledge that you’re there to help him out whenever he needs it. Love the moment this post captured. One day he’ll tie without thinking and you’ll forget this time. Savor each precious moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When was the last time I worked like this to master something? When did I last work through failures, secure in the knowledge that eventually I would get it? When did I last believe practice would lead to inevitable success? – I love this paragraph. It reminds me of teaching. After 20 years I feel like I still do this. Year after year I keep trying to master it and though there are failures I keep going because there are successes along the way too and they keep me going.


  9. I struggled so with learning to tie my shoes as a child; once my parents bought me a pair of laceless slip-ons that I thought were the best things ever. Your story so brought it back. Kudos to your boy in persevering in this rite of passage … and the reminder to us all to not give up, ever how hard the challenge.


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