Supporting Fine Motor Skills One Loop at a Time; First Grade Shoelace Challenge Proves a Hit

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
February 23, 2022

It’s a life skill we all need to master sooner or later but for our younger students, tying shoelaces became something of a lost art during the pandemic.

Staying at home meant there was less need to focus on bunny ears and that has meant fewer than expected children were able to take care of this task as they returned to in-person schooling. Instead, the job of re-tying multiple sets of laces a day has fallen to school staff.

Now, first grade teachers at Stratford Landing Elementary School in Alexandria are getting students back on track with a weekly shoelace challenge.

The goal is that by the end of this school year, all first graders will have acquired this fine motor skill.

Teacher Christine Jarboe oversees a student
Teacher Christine Jarboe encourages her student complete the shoelace challenge.


Teacher Christine Jarboe, who has taught first graders for six years, said she saw a stark decline in students' ability in this area when schools reopened in person.

She said, “We noticed an overwhelming number of students unable to tie their own laces when they returned to in person schooling this year. In first grade, we would normally see at least half the class able to do this. The concept was completely foreign to them, they didn’t even know how to try.”

She added, “Kids were at home during the pandemic and it just wasn’t a priority. I have five young children of my own and I know it's often about getting out the door as fast as you can and grabbing a pair of shoes that can be slipped on instead.

“But it’s important for children to learn to take care of themselves and become independent in this regard.”

So Jarboe and her fellow first grade teachers set to work on an idea to encourage their students and last month they introduced The Shoe Tying Challenge.

A young boy sits in a chair in the classroom working on his newly-acquired skills
Students get to practice their new skills in the classroom before demonstrating to their teacher.

Throughout the week students practice at home and when they feel ready, they demonstrate to the class. Some use their own shoes, others use one of a number of specially-designed wooden shoe templates kept in class. It can be a fiddly task but if they are successful they receive a high five from their teacher and their choice of neon laces as a reward.

When they started the program, only one of Jarboe’s twenty students had the skill. Now, If you peer under the tables, each week you see more and more brightly colored laces proudly on display. And one by one, youngsters are ditching pull on shoes for lace-ups instead, she added.

“I’ve been practicing hard,'' said seven-year-old Lizzie Stutts. “It took me two days to learn. The hardest part is doing the loops. But I’m glad I did it and I am proud of myself,” she beamed as she picked out a pair of bright orange laces for her efforts.

The teacher helps her student learn the basics of this self help skill as he sits at his desk
Each Monday students prepare to show their new skill to the class and are rewarded with new neon laces if successful.