Up until last week, my ten-year-old couldn’t quite tie a shoelace. These days you can easily get away with it, because apart from walking boots, most kids’ shoes don’t have laces. But his new school shoes have laces. So it’s time for us to get this sorted.
I enjoy teaching, but there is this thing called “Expert-Induced Amnesia“. It’s about that skill you’ve had for so long, you don’t know how you do it. When you try to teach it to other people, you struggle. As a parent, I’ve been starkly reminded of this in two examples: One is riding a bike, and the other is tying your shoelaces.
Teaching a child to ride a bike is extra hard, because you know at some point you’ll have to let go and hope for the best. And have the band-aid ready. But the shoelaces thing… maybe it’s just me, but wow, I found it hard to explain what I do and how I do it. My fingers just know. I don’t think about it. It’s muscle memory. And as soon as I try to slow it down and explain it, I can’t even remember what to do. I can only do it quickly, in a blur.
Also, learners need to practice repeatedly to get it right. Explaining this repeatedly can get wearing, particularly as most of the teaching opportunities come when you’re in a hurry to get out the door, and really you just want the shoes on the feet, with minimal fuss.
One of the hardest parts of teaching is patience. Resisting the urge to do it for them. “Oh, I’ll show you,” you say. You think you’re being helpful, but really you’re just being impatient. They need to do it for themselves.
That was a ridiculously long preamble.
The original version of this post was based on a series of diagrams I drew for my sons, to teach them how to tie their shoelaces the way I learnt. But then people showed me two videos which claim to teach revolutionary new shoelace-tying methods which are super-easy to learn.
A video my son and I failed to follow
The second video was supposedly even better than the first, and therefore my 10-yr-old son and I started there:
We played this video, rewound the crucial bit, played it again, rewound it…
Half an hour later, we were none the wiser. The crucial instruction, “pinch both of them and pull” is accompanied by a blur of activity, and no matter how much we watched it, we couldn’t make head or tail of it. My main problem was that if both hands were holding the bits of lace we were directed to hold, then the fingers got in each other’s way and it wasn’t possibly for both of them to pull. Even if we briefly let go with one hand, we got nowhere. It was frustrating as hell but in the end we gave up and had a look at this video instead:
A video my son and I got our heads around in the end
This one had a similar sticking point – “Feed them through each other’s loops”. Again, we had to rewind a few times and replay. Neither of us could work out which bit went through which bit. One problem is that both of these videos are shot from the point of view of a spectator, NOT from the view of the person tying the knot.
In the end I worked out what was going on and added this one extra instruction for myself and my son, and finally we both got it: After you have created the two loops, when you get to the “pull the loops through each other” part, you will have two loops facing you. At this point, one pair of fingers should grab the front of the other hand’s loop. The other hand should grab the back part of the opposite loop. Then each hand pulls the part it holds, through its own loop.
Oh, and that first video is describing the same technique. If you imagine yourself grabbing the front and the back of each loop and pulling it through, and if you turn the “zigzag” into two loops, you can make it work. That’s the only way I managed to make sense of it, but maybe my brain is just broken.
Some really good diagrams
This set of diagrams here is really good, and shows the knot from the knot-tyer’s perspective: https://www.fieggen.com/shoelace/ianknot.htm
My original diagrams
The original version of this post was based on the diagrams I drew below, and I have to confess I’m rather proud of my lovely diagrams. So I’m going to leave the rest of this post in place, despite the fact that I now think the Ian Knot (above) is a better technique. Oh well.
I forced myself to sit down and work it out, step by step. Then I drew diagrams and stuck them to a piece of card with laces attached. Then I gave it to my eldest son and left him to practice on his own. And now it’s my youngest son’s turn, so I dug the card out again (which is why it looks all tatty and old).
And here it is. Apologies for the tattiness. But just in case you’re teaching somebody to tie shoelaces, or learning to do it yourself… here are some diagrams that just might help.
(Also, apologies if you thought this was going to culminate in some fantastic metaphor, where the laces represent the meaning of life, the universe and everything. It really is a post about shoelaces.)