As a first grade teacher, Eileen Sloan got tired of tying shoes. Though it wasn't something she taught in her class, she expended plenty of energy helping students tie their laces throughout the day, a skill she says they weren't particularly keen on learning to do for themselves.
To help kids learn to tie their shoes on their own, and make it fun in the process, Sloan invented the EZLeaps shoe-tying tool, a simple plastic card with holes that helps keep laces secure while kids tie their shoes. The device trains kids to slow down and learn, and prevents them from feeling like they're wrangling spaghetti strands.
Sloan began with a prototype she created from a plastic coffee can lid, with holes punched in it to thread laces through. This little bit of hardware allowed the kids to pause mid-tie, keeping the laces from wriggling away as they attempted to tie the loops together. Soon, her students were adding stickers to personalize their plastic lids, and getting far more excited about learning to tie their shoes than ever before.
She found the product so successful in her classroom that she decided to quit teaching to found her own company based on the product, EZLeaps, which opened in late 2012. The flat plastic card, almost like a credit card that has been contoured for easier placement on the rounded surface of the front of a shoe, now comes in a variety of kid-friendly designs, decorated with footballs and cartoon cats and smiling monkeys. Sloan spent time researching with more than 250 kids to figure out the right shape, size, and flexibility for the tool.
In an important departure for the first on-the-fly prototype, the holes are arranged so the product can pop off the shoe once the laces are tied. "When kids do it for the first time, it’s like they just saw a magic trick," Sloan tells Co.Design. "It shows that instant independence," she says, that the product comes off, instead of being attached to the shoe all day as a visible training wheel.
The shoe tying tool is currently being used in monthly shoe-tying classes at Nordstrom stores, and Sloan says the product has been selling out on her company's website, where they retail for $5.49 each. She puts the number of kids the product has helped in the thousands, estimating that it reduces the time necessary to learn how to tie shoes down to a couple days, depending on the child.
The EZLeaps shoe tying tool isn't a mind-blowingly original product (Loopeez offers a similar shoe tying tool for kids with special needs), but it's pretty genius in its simplicity. The colorful piece of plastic is cheap and low-tech, so parents need not worry that their kid will drop it on the playground, and the cartoony set of designs seem perfectly tailored to get kids to beg and barter to collect them all. And surely anything that gives parents and teachers a little more freedom from stooping to tie their kids' undone laces is a welcome advance.