Friendly Shoes (St. Catherine University)

Caroline Portoghese


Putting shoes on the correct feet can be a challenge for many children. This challenge can be increased for children with cognitive or visual-perceptual disabilities. If shoes are not put on the right feet, it can cause foot pain and injury, and can increase dependence on caregivers. The friendly face image on the shoes helps children to put shoes on the right feet independently.

Keywords: children’s shoes, ADL


Like most children, my daughters had difficulty knowing which shoe should go on which foot and they often got them mixed up. I found that an image with a permanent marker or a sticker on the external medial edge of the shoes was a helpful identifier for them. I told them that if their shoes were on the right feet the “friends” could see and smile at each other.  My children enjoyed this and it was helpful for them.

I heard from my youngest daughter’s daycare that this is a common issue with the preschool classes. Her teacher estimated that about 25% of the preschoolers at their center could consistently put their shoes on the proper feet. I sought out to see if the friendly shoes would be helpful for more children.


Children typically want to be independent with their activities of daily living (ADL) but they often struggle with getting shoes on the right feet. The solution should be easily understood for the child and the caregiver, something enjoyable for the child, and effective.


For my design, I have used permanent, and non-permanent markers and pens, and stickers. They are placed on the exterior surface of the shoes so the child can see the image when the shoes are off or on, and they should be positioned on the medial aspect of the shoes when they are on the proper feet. Ideally, this could be incorporated as an image when the shoes are manufactured, for increased durability with active children. A tactile component to the image would be more functional for the visually impaired.


In a group of children, 17/25 children placed their own shoes on the correct feet. Following application of the friendly faces and a brief explanation 24/25 of the children put them on the correct feet. Children laughed during the activity and stated that it was “fun.”


The children and teachers enjoyed the activity. I have been told there is lasting carryover of this strategy with just the one session. It is expected that children with cognitive and sensory impairments would benefit from this design.

This strategy is not effective 100%

I received the following email responses from preschool teachers and parents:

  • It was great.
  • Thanks so much!  Maddie came home and told me all about it.  She was very excited with this new option.  We will definitely keep the stickers on as long as possible!
  • Thank you, Caroline, for taking the time to engage our kids in this project (with a little bit of research thrown in too). Good stuff!
  • Thank you so much for doing this activity with the preschool children.  What a fun activity and simple a simple way to know where your shoes should go.
  • Thank you Caroline! Isla put her boots on the right feet this morning thanks to the little smiley stickers – great idea!!!


This can be inexpensive and financially accessible to almost anyone, such as use of a marker, or a sticker. It could also be incorporated into the manufacturing process of the shoes, which would have an expense to the manufacturer.


Thank you to Close to Home Child Care Center, the children, and their parents, for welcoming me to come with this activity as a way to celebrate OT Month.


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