Between 21 and 30 months, children are usually ready to start putting on certain types of shoes with assistance. Putting on socks independently takes longer, and typically happens between 36 and 44 months.
The truth is, many two-year-olds would prefer never to wear shoes and socks 😉 The fine-motor skills involved in putting on (and taking off) shoes and socks are complex, and the process is likely going to take a while.
Here’s how to help your child learn to put on their shoes and socks:
There’s more to shoes than just putting them on and taking them off. Kylie from How We Montessori says, “as soon as the child is walking, they can participate in self dressing. Even the youngest toddler can get their shoes out of the basket and sit down.”
Consider having an area right by the front door where your child has what they need to put on shoes: a place to sit and easy access to their shoes. This “toddler entryway” or “getting-ready station” is a place where your child can practice the regular routine of selecting their shoes from a basket or rack, sitting down, and working to put them on. When it’s time to take their shoes off, teach your child to put them back in the basket or on the rack.
A special chair isn’t a must—a small stool can work just as well—but most children have an easier time reaching their feet when they’re sitting up off the floor. Teach them that when you get ready to go out, they should find their shoes, sit down, and try to put them on. If they need help, you’ll be there soon.
Taking shoes off
Learning to take a shoe off usually happens before figuring out how to put it on—sometime between 25 and 30 months. Often, children’s first instinct when trying to remove shoes (and socks) is to pull from the toe. Instead, show your child that after removing any Velcro or other straps or bands, they should slide a thumb in between the heel of the shoe and their foot, and push it off that way. Another method is to hold the bottom of the foot, under the heel, and pull it off.
Keep it simple—and help your child one step at a time
The goal for children at this age is to learn how to put shoes on their own feet. To do that, it’s best to give them functional, basic shoes, like slip-ons, rubber boots, or shoes with a Velcro strap.
Here are a few tips to teach your child to put on their own shoes:
Consider the Montessori philosophy of only helping your child as much as they need it, and not more.
- With your child sitting, show them how to bring their foot over their other knee. Then, show how to bring the shoe to that foot and slide their toes in as far as they can go. You can also have your child stand, so they can use their weight to help them get their toes inside.
- Getting their heel inside the shoe can be the hardest part, and they’ll need to practice this for a while. If you both struggle with the heel, the shoes may be too small—they should fit snugly, but they shouldn’t be so hard to put on that it causes a meltdown every time.
- For Velcro shoes, show them that they need to pull the Velcro strap snug before affixing it over the top.
- For any shoes that have a pull-tab on the heel, show your child how to use it—some have loops, which they can slip a finger into to make their shoe easier to pull up and on.
Help them with left and right
Kids learn to distinguish left from right between the ages of 5 and 8, so it will be a while before they can reliably recognize which shoe goes on which foot. There are, however, a number of fun ways to help your child learn to identify the correct shoe:
- You can buy specially-made stickers that go on the soles on your child’s shoes, but you can also make them yourself. Using a sturdy sticker, draw a smiley face, ladybug, or anything simple and symmetrical, and cut it in half—then stick each piece directly on the inside archway. Show your child how to line up their shoes to make the sticker whole again as they’re looking down. You can also do this with a permanent marker on the exterior of the shoe, again on the parts that align when the shoes are placed the right way.
- Nearly all shoes, when placed side-by-side, form a small opening in the middle. Some children respond well to “making a hole” with their shoes; if they line them up the wrong way, there won’t be an opening.
- Some shoes come with zippers on the inside. Zippers are an easy feature for kids to identify, and you can tell them “have the zippers kiss” so they can line them up the right way.
Putting on socks
It may be a while before your child can put on their socks without your help—most children can’t do this independently until 36 months at the earliest—but they can start practising now.
Here are a few tips to help your child learn to practice with socks:
- As with shoes and all clothing, choose a designated spot (a low drawer or a basket) that’s just for socks, so your child can go and grab them on their own when it’s time to put them on.
- Consider giving your child socks that are a size too big, which makes them a little easier to handle.
- When you put your child’s socks on for them, show them how you bunch them up—have them place their toes in the end, and see if they can pull the rest of the sock up themselves.
- Children often have a hard time getting the heel in the correct spot. Socks with different coloured heels make it easier.
- A fun way to practice putting socks on is to use hair bands or scrunchies. This mimics the action of pulling a scrunched-up sock up over your foot without all the extra fabric that gets in the way.
- Put some adult-sized socks with fun patterns in your child’s dress-up collection to practice and play with.
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