‘Knot’ your average literacy activity

ExN Shoot - 371 [Deprimo Photography]Building a cubby seems like a simple activity, regularly labelled as ‘just play’. We believe in the power of a cubby and are not fooled by this guise. Children are learning more than we could ever teach them in a classroom setting while they are ‘just playing’.

ExN Shoot - 364 [Deprimo Photography]Knot tying is a regular activity at all Educated by Nature programs.  We’ve been surprised at the number of children we meet who are unable to tie the simplest of knots (the saying, ‘if you can’t tie knots, tie lots!’ comes to mind here). We also tend to see a lot of Velcro on the shoes children are wearing, and not only on younger children.

We believe in the power of knot tying. The universal skill that everyone should have in their tool kit and the ‘rites of passage’ kind of process children go through when building structures like cubbies, dens, huts and secret hideouts with elaborate forms and constructions, pulleys and contraptions, layers and levels. Even the simple shoelace, kite string, ribbon bow or technique for attaching a cape involves knots. Teaching knot tying isn’t an extra-curricular activity – it is a core skill that not only builds capacity and competence which allows more elaborate play to ensue, but also contributes to the development of the foundations required for so many other important skills (like reading, writing, spelling and problem solving).

KIN 20151008 - 047 [Deprimo Photography]The simple act of tying a knot (whether it be a granny knot/overhand knot, reef knot or square lashing) involves the ‘practice’ of the following skills:

  • Hand-eye coordination to pull at the correct place in the knot, thread the correct end, navigate turns and twists.
  • Bilateral coordination to work both hands on the same task (this isn’t an automatic skill).
  • Pincer grasp to pinch then hold something securely between the thumb and pointer finger (often supported with activities involving pegs, tongs etc. which leads to correct pencil grip).
  • Open thumb web space to make an “O” shaped space between the thumb and pointer finger (did you just make that shape with your hand to see what this one meant?).
  • Hand strength development of the small muscles in the hands (as well as the lower and upper arm, the shoulder and the middle back).

All of these are fancy ways of describing how children are using their fingers, hands, muscles and brain in a connected activity. Super complicated indeed!

KIN Junior - 078 [Deprimo Photography]To go one step even further, the activity of tying knots (and then learning more difficult knots), developmentally supports children reaching the stage of ‘Asymmetrical Bilateral Integration’. Put simply, this is the phase of development where each side of the body learns to perform a different and separate task, but both sides cooperate on the same activity. In this stage, the brain must coordinate two streams of skilled thinking. The dominant hand does the main task, while the non-dominant hand stabilises the action.


KIN Junior - 014 [Deprimo Photography]This phase of integration usually develops when a child is between the age 3 to 5. It is an important precursor to learning to write (hold the paper with one hand while writing with the other), to read (hold the book, scan left to right with their eyes/crossing the midline), be physical (kick a ball with one foot while the other is planted on the ground). When a child has struggled to move through this phase it impacts on their ability to learn and develop other, more complicated versions of fine and gross motor skills. Children who are still developing these skills (at any age) need plenty of opportunities to practice and explore in varied ways.

So tying knots may be a simple activity, one often found within children’s play, but its impact on a child’s ability to learn is crucial and should not be underestimated. We feel very strongly about the immense benefits to nature play, play outdoors and free unstructured play for children of all ages.

Visit www.educatedbynature.com/programs for a list of all the places your children can join an Educated by Nature event and work on some of these important skills!

Extra information:

For more information on the stages of child development relating to Gross Motor skills – check out this link.


We also love the research discussed in this paper – following the development of the understanding behind eye gaze. A child learns a lot from simply watching where your eyes go. When you say a word, the child looks at what you are looking at to get a visual clue of the meaning of the word. This is why it is really important to talk a lot with your child when they are in a position to be able to see you and the world around them at the same time. The new research discusses that following your hand position is more beneficial for cueing attention and supporting language development… check out the link for more information.

“We know that although young children can follow eye gaze, it is not precise, cueing attention only generally to the left or right. Hand actions are spatially precise, so hand-following might actually teach more precise gaze-following.”